Asha - A book waiting to happen!

Author: Dr. Mandar

It is the first day-rather the first night of the new year. 1st January 2006.

My wife and I step out of a restaurant after having a nice dinner. While walking to the car, my mobile rings. On its screen, I see the caller’s name. ‘Lajo Gupta’.

Lajoji is a one of a kind woman; a music-lover, a fabulous writer and a lovely host. Besides having the great fortune of being the daughter of the greatest sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, she has always been involved in many projects and programs on the UAE’s cultural scene. I have participated in a few of those. My first thought is ‘It must be a social call- just to wish me Happy New Year.’

But I am wrong. She starts with a strange question. “Have you written some article on Didi-maa?”

I am surprised. Because the lady she fondly calls Didi-maa goes by the name Asha Bhosle and even though I have written quite a bit on that great lady, there is no recent article to recall. So I try to find out more.

“Which article are you talking about? The one I wrote in Khaleej Times? Or the one I wrote on my site Cinemasangeet.com?”

“No. It is in Marathi.”

“Marathi article? The only Marathi article that I have written on Ashaji is in my book ‘Suur Manaatale’. That was way back in 2001.”

“Yeah, I guess that must be it.”

“So what about it?”

“No, Didi-maa wants to speak to you about it.”

I get goose-bumps! Asha Bhosle wants to talk to me about my article on her.

*********************************************************************

In a flash, my mind brings back an unpleasant memory. It is 2001 August. The book Suur Manaatale has just been published. I am flying to Sharjah the next day and the only thing I want to do before that is to present a copy of my book to the diva. Standing below her building Prabhukunj, I wait for the call from a person who would arrange that meeting. The person calls and confirms the meet. “Just go up and hand over the copy. She has agreed to meet you but keep it brief. No interview.” I happily agree. That’s the only thing I want to do!

I ring the door-bell. The maid opens the door.

“I have an appointment. I am here to present the copy of my book to Ashaji.”

“No- she is not there. She has told me to collect the book.”

For a moment, I am indignant. How is it possible? Barely a minute ago, I had the confirmation to come up and meet her. And now this? But I immediately realize that it is futile to argue.

Frustrated and angry, I just thrust the copy in the maid’s hand. As she closes the door, I catch a glimpse of a lady in the hallway. Isn’t it Asha?

The door closes in my face!

******************************************************************************

It is amazing how quickly the mind scans the past. I then remember my meeting with her in Dubai. It is April 21, 2004. I am attending Asha Bhosle’s press conference to promote her live show in the city. The press conference goes on smoothly. Asha fields all common and uncommon questions with practiced ease. I just ask her one question. “In the beginning of your career, did you follow Geeta Dutt’s rendition style?”

She immediately denies that connection. “No – I never intentionally copied Geeta. But some music directors- especially Sachinda sometimes instructed me to give that ‘Aah’…feeling in some club-songs.” She even sings a few lines to demonstrate that point!

After the press meet, I take my opportunity and give her the copy of that book. She looks at it as if she has never seen it before. Peering over its cover which has her photo placed along with three other stalwarts- Mohd. Rafi, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, she then delivers a strange statement.

“You seem to be a bhakt of Rafi-saab!”

I am surprised by her observation. I say, “Ashaji, not just of Rafi saab but I am a devotee of all you great singers!”

She leaves the conversation at that point; takes her copy and signs mine. There are far too many people in that place who want to share a moment with her! I proudly carry the signed copy home.

***********************************************************************************

Back to 2006, January 1.

I take the call. It is Asha Bhosle at the other end. She starts in Marathi. She is utterly informal and open. It feels surreal.

She begins with- “I read your book.”

I cannot resist being sarcastic. “Oh, did you? I had given it you a few years back.” The mind is still hurting.

She doesn’t take offence and continues, almost sounding like an excited school-girl.

“You know, nowadays my vision is giving me problems. So my reading has gone down quite a bit. Your book was lying with me for a long time. Today I had nothing to do and I started reading it. Believe me, I read it all in one go and that too, in the dim light of my bedside lamp! It is wonderful! I must tell you that you have written it very well. The articles on Rafi-saab, Kishore-da and Mukesh-ji are very good but I was even more impressed with the article that you have written about me. In many places, while reading, I felt as if you were saying my own words, sharing my own thoughts!”

I am stunned. Finally…. finally she has appreciated my efforts! I somehow find my tongue.

“Ashaji, what bigger compliment can come my way? As an author, I can just say that if an artiste about whom I have written with such love and passion, appreciates my effort then that’s it. I do not want any other acclaim. But I have one request to you.”

“What?”

“I would like to write another book on you; in English. But for that I want your collaboration.”

“Oh, why not? Let’s do it.”

“Whenever you are free, just let me know. I will come and start the interview sessions.”

“What about tomorrow? I am free. Let me get back to you. OK. Good night! I called because I just wanted to tell you that I immensely enjoyed your book!”

The phone call is over. My wife does not know whom I have been talking to and it will take a while for her to understand why her husband is looking dazed!

************************************************************************************

A few months pass on. The promised ‘tomorrow’ never comes. The collaboration, the book project- everything becomes a thing of the past.

Then I get another call. It is not from Asha but from her close confidant.

“Have you written something about Ashaji?”

I am stumped once more. I have not written any such article recently.

“Which article are you talking about?”

“I don’t know exactly. It is in some book of yours. I don’t know the exact thing but she is very angry on you. She didn’t like it one bit!”

Now everything clicks. The article most likely to offend her is a chapter from my first book Gaaye Lata Gaaye Lata. Titled ‘Tyaa doghee’ (Those two!) it is a comparative analysis of musical legacy of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.

Yeah. I agree that it is an article giving Lata the artistic edge over her! But then, it is an honest critical appraisal. In fact, the Asha article in ‘Suur Manaatale’ (the one she gushed over) was written later to prove that I wasn’t trying to belittle her and that I had equal respect and appreciation about her mighty musical contribution.

I explain the situation. The person calling me is convinced but is not sure whether Asha would accept that.

And that’s that! I don’t get any more calls from Asha again.

***********************************************************************************

It is December 2013. Seven years have passed in between. Still harboring the wish to meet her and expect to revive that book project, I decide to attend the press conference of her latest Dubai concert. Farouque Sheikh, another favourite artiste of mine is going to compere the event and seeing them together is something I am not going to miss.

The press conference goes as the press conferences go; reporters asking boring questions and artistes trying to be as civil as possible, giving bored answers. Still Asha looks radiant as ever.

At the end, I decide to ask a question or rather just state my observation.

“Ashaji, I think you have always preferred singing complex tunes over than simple ones. Is that a correct observation?”

Asha smiles contentedly.

“Yes. I have always enjoyed singing challenging tunes. Composers have specially created such tunes for me because they know that I would do full justice to them.”

Farouque Shaikh interjects – “Obviously she is going to prefer more complex tunes. After all, she is Asha Bhosle. How can you ask a marathon runner to run and be happy in a 100 meters race?”

The audience has a good laugh! I do not dare to tell Farouque Shaikh that he is wrong to equate the artiste sitting beside him on the dais just to a marathon runner. In athletics parlance, she is a decathlete – a complete athlete able to perform in any major discipline!

As the press conference gets over, the TV, radio and newspaper journos start taking turns to get their ‘bytes’ from the diva. I patiently wait for my turn but it is getting quite late and I have to get back to Sharjah to start my clinic.  I decide to move on. Before leaving the premises, I wistfully look at the octogenarian legend surrounded by journalists, most of whom having no real clue about her great musical innings. I remember that one unforgettable moment where she offered to collaborate on a book project. Who knows? Perhaps it may still happen..

Never say never!

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