Analysing Lata - Part 2

Author: Satish Kalra---

I vividly remember the first time I heard Lata’s voice in 1949 - it was in the film Badi Bahen, which I had gone to see with my (20 years older than me) cousin, rather who had taken me along with him, in a cinema theater in Calcutta.  I had heard the song on the radio too before seeing the film, but I was not aware of who the singer was, etc.  I was too young to care about those things.  The film was also kind of beyond me - it went way over my head, but I could not forget the song "chup chup khade ho..."; with the two ladies singing it, one of them playing the harmonium.  My cousin  (he was already a movie buff) told me the singers' names  were Lata Mangeshkar and Premlata.  The young child in me kept wondering how come the two ladies' names were so similar.  Little did I realize that the names were of two ladies who were not the ones on the screen!

A few months later, my family moved from Calcutta to Rishikesh, and my only contact with the music world was the family radio, a hand cranked gramophone and the few records we had.  One of them included the Badi Bahen song.   I used to play that song repeatedly - so much so that my mother used to get irritated.  Even otherwise, she was not in favor of my beginning to like film songs at that young an age.  Of course, she never made it an issue when I would play the Ram Rajya record "bhaarat kii ik sannaarii kii ham kathaa sunaate hain..."!   Soon enough, I learnt how to tune the radio and somehow was able to find the Radio Ceylon bandwidth, where I heard the Mahal song "aayegaa aanewaalaa..." for the first time.  Each time they announced the singer's name as Lata Mangeshkar, and I would murmur to myself this is one of those two singers.  Needless to say, I was already in love with the voice, and whenever I listened to the radio, I would eagerly await any song rendered by her.   And they were in plenty - songs from Andaz, Barsaat, and Ek Thi Ladki were played quite frequently.  Radio Ceylon used to play other songs too, and in no time I began to recognize various singers' voices just by listening to them.  But it was Lata's voice that appealed to me most.

As the years went by, more and more of here songs were heard on the radio, and around 1951, the Aaraam song "man mein kisiikii priit basaale..." completely mesmerized me.  Even at that young age, the lyrics "is duniyaa mein kisiikaa ho jaa, kisiiko kar le apanaa, priit banaa degii jiivan ko, ek suhaanaa sapanaa, ...jivan mein ye jyot jagaa le.." made me wanting to fall in love with someone.{I was not allowed to buy that record!}  But I saved enough money from my pocket allowance to buy the Albela lorii "dhiire se aajaa rii...", which I would play before bedtime almost every night.  It was kind of finding there was this Lady who had a song for almost all the situations that a tender, young mind can think of or goes through, and they were a big help in putting all those childlike insecurities away.  {I was the second last child out of 10 living, and somehow never received the attention that my elder brothers and sisters or the younger brother recieved.}  In a way, the Lady was the mother like figure that my mind would imagine - comforting and soothing me every which way possible and at every stage of my growing years.

In school, I would hear tidbits about her, that she was a very 'ugly' looking lady, that she was still unmarried, etc., etc.  Being unmarried was probably considered more of a stain than being 'ugly'.  But my mind would sort of keep these 'comments' out whenever I heard any song by her.  As I began to understand more of the emotions, I started liking her voice even more and more.  I remember the year 1952, when Poonam was released and most of my school friends saw it.  {I could not see it, since I was allowed only a film or two - that too if it was a religious film - each month; the rest of the time I used to cheat and go see a film.} My friends would discuss the (climax) situation of the song "aayii aayii raat suhaanii..." and used to comment "what a great scene..".  I finally saw the film only around 1997, and the song's situation in the film was sort of anti-climactic, now that I was seeing the film at an age of nearly 60, rather than the raw early teens. But the song, it was still as magical as it was 45 years earlier.

Come 1953, and Anarkali songs were all over the radio, and the town.  A number of Amplifier/Loudspeaker rental shops had opened up and they would continuously play records to sort of advertise themselves.  These shops were the only places where I could hear Anarkali songs, so I would always volunteer to run an errand.  During the months of July/August, there used to be a 'mela' every Monday at the temple of Shiva in Neel Kanth, about 7 miles from Rishikesh.  Thogh the distance was only 7 miles, it used to take about 7 hours to get there - one had to climb about 5-1/2 miles on the mountain going in, then descend straight down for about 2 miles to get there.  It is a place surrounded by mountains on all sides, and at the peak of the monsoon season, it is no joke to get there.  {Nowadays, I hear there are paved roads to get there by bus/taxi, and the whole "pilgrimage' takes only about 3 or four hours.} Anyway, one of the newly opened up Loudspeaker rental shop owner hired a few coolies, and took all his equipment to Neel Kanth and started playing the Anarkali songs there in the evening.  The best acoustics in the best of auditoriums, even in today's world, cannot match the sound that was heard in those mountains that evening!  There was that natural echo created by the mountains, adding a supernatural touch to the magical voice.  My love for The Lady and her voice was etched in stone just like Anarkali herself got buried alive in stone.

Over the next few and the following years, there were more and more of her songs, some more lovely than before, some forgettable even, but the magic of the voice continued as ever for me.  E.g., although she had just the aalaap and "aajaa re.." to sing with Mukesh in "aa ab laut chalein..." for Jis Desh Mein Gangaa Behti Hai, it is enough to bring a lump in my throat (even now), combined with the effect of the advancing police force on the dacoits from all sides!

Also, as the years went by, I learnt more and more about her from various film magazines, including some untoward gossip.  But somehow, in my mind, I always knew that someone who has such a lovely, sweet voice, must also be sweet in person, no matter if she was not pretty.   Although I have never had the chance to meet her, I was lucky enough to have attended three or four of her concerts.  The last one of them was in 1995 at the Nassau Coliseum.  And she concluded that concert by singing "yeh zindagii usii kii hai....", than by her usual "ai mere watan ke logo....", and I somehow felt as if she had sung it specially for me.


I don't know if I wrote what you wanted - something about her as a person or as a singer, but what I wrote is what I have always felt:  That she has the capability of being a mother, daughter, sister, beloved, all through her songs.  And if you analyse carefully, you would find (at least I do) that she has sung the lullaby songs and the bhajans always more sweetly than the others.  That, to me, is reflecting the true soul of a person!


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