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There is a Lata song for everyone

Lata Mangeshkar’s voice has been the soundtrack to millions of lives for over 70 years. We asked a few of her fans about the one Lata song they feel a personal connection with

Lata Mangeshkar leaves behind a lifetime of memories

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HEARD IT ON THE RADIO

Rana Safvi, historian and author

I have always loved Mora Gora Ang Laile (from the 1963 movie Bandini, which also marked Gulzar’s debut as a lyricist) from the first time I heard it. It strikes a chord. It has a very Khusrau-esque feel to it and I love the total immersion of self in it. There’s so much bhakti in the song. While I have no visual memory, I was probably in school, in my teens, when I heard it on Radio Ceylon. We hardly saw movies as children except cartoons, but we heard Hindi songs on Radio Ceylon in those days.

I was a regular listener of Radio Ceylon. I didn’t miss a single Binaca Geetmala and would also copy lyrics. Those were days of innocence when we enjoyed music, books and each other’s company. All of us would get together to listen to it on Wednesday in front of the radio. Sartaj Geet would often be either Lata Mangeshkar or Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar. Our experiences were about love and inclusiveness and I think that’s what appealed to me about this song. Like Radha, she wants to lose herself in her Shyam.

Also read: The legend of Lata Mangeshkar in 10 songs

THE TUNE OF HOPE

Asma Khan, chef and restaurant owner

At many points in my life I have listened to Bekas Pe Karam Kijiye from Mughal-e-Azam (1960) as it gives me hope. In 2017, we had a small milad (a prayer and blessing) before I opened my first restaurant and a friend sang this song for me. I was struggling so much at that point and he knew it was one of my favourite songs. It is my tune of hope—that I will overcome things with prayer and faith. In fact, Lata Mangeshkar’s songs have formed the soundtrack to my life, there are so many memories linked to them. 

I probably heard this song for the first time on the radio with Ammu, my mother, who would listen to old Hindi songs on the weekend. In it, Lata Mangeshkar is able to communicate deep, complex emotions. You can literally feel the desperation alternating with hope that the almighty may change the situation. This feeling is something I can relate to, particularly during the covid-19 pandemic. I have lost family to the virus, seen repeated closure of my business, illness of loved ones, and yet I have remained hopeful.

A TIME OF DISCOVERY

Amit Chaudhuri, author and Hindustani classical singer

Idon’t have personal memories of Hindi film songs that are separable from the memory of encountering a new kind of art which I had earlier not paid proper attention to. Sometime in the late 1970s, when I had finished ICSE and left school, and was drifting between junior college and doing A Levels, thinking of going to England because I had ambitions as a poet, I had begun formally learning Hindustani classical music. As I was getting deeper into my riyaaz, I heard Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere from Awara (1951), possibly first on radio, which I had begun to listen to a lot at the time. Then, I must have seen the song on Chhaya Geet. In it, Nargis and Raj Kapoor are on a dinghy; it’s a full- moon night. Lata sings for Nargis and Mukesh for Raj Kapoor.

This song is emblematic, in part, of a time of discovery for me—for instance, the fact that some of the Hindi film music of past decades seemed to be art of a high order. It was a revelation to me just how music, words, and the cinematic context of a song could come together luminously; and that there were certain singers in the film world then, including Lata, Asha (Bhosle), who measured up to any standard of mastery and artistry created by Hindustani classical music. It opened up another world for me.

Also, the time of Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere is Lata’s strongest period, I think—the end of the 1940s through the 1950s. In that decade, her voice was remarkable in the lower and middle registers. The singing has the melodiousness, training, tunefulness and the agile but un-insistent quality—the subtlety—that marked her at her best.

'Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere'
'Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere'

PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Atul Dodiya, contemporary artist

Ihave been listening to Radio Ceylon daily, while working in the studio, during the pandemic. The one song I listen to a lot is from the 1953 film Baghi , written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, composed by Madan Mohan and sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It is “Hamare baad ab mehfil mein afsane bayan honge, bahaarein humko dhoondhengi, na jaane hum kahan honge”. This specific song of Lata Mangeshkar and many others have been part of the process of creating a large body of watercolours in small format, titled Walking With The Waves, in the past two years. 

Hamare Baad Ab Mehfil Mein is remarkable for the sheer beauty of the poem—it is probably a ghazal—and the control in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice. When it is a sad or a joyous song, artists have a tendency to do a tad bit more. But she doesn’t do that, and that is the quality of a genius. Though it is a sad song about someone who has departed from the world, it also sums up life’s meaning. One day everyone has to go, but we leave behind stories, which go on forever. 

The past two years have been those of reflection. The world has gone through tough times collectively. And this song captures this moment for me. I feel that the period between 1945-65, particularly, was a golden period. Lata Mangeshkar, together with the songwriters, musicians and composers, did something miraculous at that time.

WHAT LOVE SOUNDS LIKE

Venkat Shyam, Gond artist

When I first fell in love, my beloved’s eyes spoke volumes. At that very moment, I could feel this song—Piya Tose Naina Laage Re from Guide (1965)—in my consciousness. Lata Mangeshkar had the uncanny ability to bring out the actor’s personality in her voice. You can feel the setting, the emotion, clearly. It’s almost like the lyrics play out as visuals in one’s mind. In this song, I can imagine myself as one of the characters. Even today, this song continues to inspire all those who are romantic at heart. I feel generations of people in love would have sung Piya Tose Naina Laage Re and felt the emotion behind it.

'Piya Tose Naina Laage Re'
'Piya Tose Naina Laage Re'

INTERIOR WORLDS

Vikram Phukan, theatre practitioner

Asong that is very personal to me is Humne Dekhi Hai In Aankhon Ki Mehakti Khushboo from Khamoshi (1969). During the 1980s, we would rent a lot of video-cassettes. The only song I knew from Khamoshi was Tum Pukar Lo, and thought of it as a heavy film. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how Waheeda Rehman essayed the role of a woman who owned up to her desires, at least to herself. There was an emotional intelligence to her, that I felt I was watching a film for adults. And I was only in my teens then, so it made me feel very grown up.

At that time, a lot of Bengali film-makers were making cinema in Hindi as well as in Bengali. These films would usually have an introspective scene, with the protagonist sitting in the back seat of a car, in a rickshaw or a bus. It was a journey, not just literally but metaphorically as well. The focus was on the face, deep in thought. In this particular song (directed by Asit Sen, with music by Hemant Kumar and lyrics by Gulzar), Waheeda Rehman is a nurse probing for answers about how to take care of Rajesh Khanna, who is going through emotional trauma. 

In the song, Lata Mangeshkar builds up a space to show the interior world of a woman. It resonates very strongly with me. I too spend time travelling and mulling over things. The lyrics are about ambiguity, about giving yourself the opportunity to move away from a prescribed way of action. There is this flexibility to go this way or that.

HIDDEN FOREVER

Prasoon Joshi, poet-songwriter, communications professional and screenwriter

The most evocative memory which is linked to a Lataji song, honestly speaking, is that of Luka Chuppi. This was the last song to be composed for Rang De Basanti (2006). Originally, there was to be no song in that scene. But whilst seeing the initial rushes, A.R. Rahman and I instinctively felt that the poignant moment needed a gentle touch. The thought that came to me was that of luka chuppi—the childhood game of hide-and-seek. One that is a part of my childhood, your childhood, our childhood. Probably every child has run and hidden from their mother at some point. The only difference here is that the child has passed away...hidden forever.

Lataji has sung many songs where she has role-played through abhinay in her voice. But in this one she taps deeper into her own self. There is a sort of nurturing motherhood in her voice. Also, this song has come in an era where many have left homes for careers and livelihood. Perhaps the separation anxiety, or let’s say the “distance regret” (if I can coin a phrase), from the mother is intense. This song is not just linked to an important memory with Lataji but is also very dear to me.

‘Luka Chuppi’
‘Luka Chuppi’

ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD

Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator

Several years ago, I was travelling from Mumbai to Pune by road, and, getting bored of the same songs playing on FM channels, started playing some Lata songs saved on my phone. The entire playlist was, in fact, made up of songs composed by Madan Mohan and sung by Lata—to my mind, there is no greater combination. The one song that is associated in my memory with that journey is Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai (from Haqeeqat, 1964) but all of them are gems. There is no scope for boredom and monotony—such was the range and variety of this duo.

I had the good fortune to meet Lataji several years ago—I was headed for an event at the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai when I saw her standing near the lift with three-four people. One never knows what to say when you meet someone famous whom you admire enormously—often one ends up saying something clumsy and silly—so I just bowed and did a “namaskar”. To my great surprise, she smiled and told me in Marathi: “Whenever I see you, I feel like you are one of our family.” Of course, she was a huge cricket fan and would follow matches closely, so it’s not surprising that she would have seen me on television, but I was so disarmed by her sweetness and that elusive quality of apnapan she showed that it remains one of my favourite memories.

VERNACULAR AND SUBLIME

Pelva Naik, dhrupad singer

As a 1980s’ kid, I think I am part of the last generation of people who can say that Lata Mangeshkar was a part of their consciousness—her songs were like the background score of our growing-up years. Yet, while there are many songs of Lata Mangeshkar that are interwoven with our memories, the one song that holds a special place in my heart as a Gujarati girl is Ek Rajkan Suraj.

I studied in a boarding school in Bengaluru, so it was when I was home during one of my summer holidays in the late 1990s that my father first played this song for me on cassette. Written by journalist and poet Harindra Dave and composed by Dilip Kumar Dholakia, Ek Rajkan is a philosophical song. The first line translates to, “A speck of dust flies eastwards up to the sky to become the Sun, but thwarted it falls westwards to the ground.” The poet uses the rajkan, or speck of dust, as an analogy to describe the extraneous lives most humans lead.

I think I connected with the song closely because of the lyrics and the way Lataji rendered it: Her diction and the grain in the voice combined to depict the lyrics sublimely. She brought soul to this vernacular song. That was one of her admirable qualities: She held herself well in vernacular languages, be it Gujarati, Marathi or any other. As a singer of popular music, she managed to dissolve the boundaries between different genres. Singing, ultimately, is about going all out in conveying bhaav and she did that in every song of hers. And as a classical musician, if there is one thing I can imbibe from her in the way she conducted her life and profession, it is discipline.

SWEET YET REBELLIOUS

Ashwini Deshpande, economist

The outstanding Sahir-Roshan creation Jurm-e-ulfat Pe (Taj Mahal, 1963) was one of my first points of entry into the enchanted world of ghazals and delicate Urdu filigree. My parents had a beautiful large vintage radiogram with a drop-down cover. I would spend hours with the cover down, using it as a tabletop to scribble song lyrics as they played on the radio. Vividh Bharti was my first introduction to this song. I didn’t understand the lyrics but was intrigued by the unusual format where the sthayi didn’t repeat after every antara. (Years later I learnt this was a ghazal, not a geet or nazm). The phrases were constructed in a more complex way than the Hindustani I was used to.

We didn’t have a TV at home, but back in the day, the entire JNU campus (where I grew up) was an extension of our home. Wednesday and Sunday evenings were Chitrahaar and movie nights; the few campus homes that had TVs had no choice but to let in a bunch of giggly kids. When I watched the song on a black-and-white TV screen, I was fascinated by how Bina Rai’s gently smiling defiance aroused the Queen’s fury. My gut feeling was that if elders are getting angry, she must be doing something right! 

As I grew up and started to understand the lyrics, I marveled at how brilliant this composition was. By then, I had also watched Mughal-e-Azam. The contrast between the more famous ‘jurm-e-ulfat’ (crime of love) song and this one could not be sharper. The flamboyance and grandeur of Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya, as the magnificent Madhubala challenged the Emperor in bhari mehfil, is unparalleled in movie history. The quieter rebellion of the Taj Mahal song conveys the same sentiment, but with an arched eyebrow and a sardonic smile. 

It is a testimony to Lata’s singing that she combined the sweetness and passion of love with the determination of rebellion in both songs but created two very distinct effects suited to the picturization. Roshan’s genius understood that a minimalist melodic and orchestral embellishment would foreground Lata’s ability to pour stirring emotion into Sahir’s sharp exposition of true love transcending power, wealth and status barriers. 

PLAY IT AGAIN

Vineeta Singh, entrepreneur

Classics by Lata Mangeshkar ji take me back to so many childhood memories. My dad would play Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon so often in the early mornings in our house that I remember every word of it, even 20 years after moving out. If I complained about the same song being played for the millionth time, my dad would share how Pandit Nehru wept listening to the song after the India-China war and how this was his daily homage to the great men we lost in battle. My parents will probably be playing this song a million more times in the next few years to get over the passing of Lataji, who has meant more than a family member to them.      

Also read: Lata Mangeshkar: 'I prefer happy endings'

OF FEMININE DESIRE

Manjari Chaturvedi, Sufi Kathak dancer

About 10 years ago, a friend shared a playlist of old Bollywood songs where I chanced upon Lataji’s Silli Hawa Chhoo Gayee. The little-known song is from the movie Libaas (1988). It is an absolutely romantic number and evokes the memory of a beautiful romance from my life. 

She sings of feminine desire in “silli hawa chhoo gayee, silla badan chhil gaya”. As an artist, I know how difficult it could be to generate the rasa of desire in the audience because the artist has to feel it first, and in Silli Hawa Lataji does so with such ease that it would resonate with every woman. 

For me, it remains a very special song because I feel we are uncomfortable with a woman exploring her sensuality. Humein woh devi wale gaane bahut ache lagte hain (we like devotional songs), and we feel comfortable putting a woman on a pedestal as a goddess where she shouldn’t talk about sensuality. Considering how we live in this world, I think it’s magnificent that Lataji could delve into feminine desire and bring it out with such sincerity.

CONNECTING WITH THE SELF

Dolly Singh, content creator

It’s hard to choose just one song but if I have to at gun point, I would say Naina Barse from the film Woh Kaun Thi? (1964). I heard it during the first year of college, when I was going through my first-ever heartbreak. This song and the sadness it captures became my shoulder to cry on. Sometimes when you are upset you enjoy songs that let you stay where you are. Sometimes you don’t need a song to make you happy, bring you out of your misery or transport you to some happy place. Sometimes that misery can be so addictive that you play music that lets you stay with it, and Naina Barse did exactly that for me. 

It still does that for me. Whenever I listen to this, I am instantly transported to that point in my life where nothing seemed all right but still everything made sense. That’s the magic of her voice. It makes you get in touch with yourself.

MOOD LIFTER

Swarup Mohanty, senior wealth manager

My earliest memory of music is associated with Aaja Aai Bahar (from Rajkumar, 1964). I would have been five or six years old when I heard this song the first time. It’s also the first song that comes to my mind when I think of Lata Mangeshkar. It’s my “happy song” and every time I listen to it, it lifts my mood. It gives hope that “kuch toh achha hi hoga (something good will happen)” in the future. 

I recall this one time when this song cheered me up when I was facing one of the lowest points in my life. I always perceived myself to be good in studies but in my class X exams, I got less marks than I had expected. It was a jolt for me. But looking at my marks, this song somehow popped in my head and it helped me feel better. It has pulled me through many other low points in my life. It’s not my favourite Lata Mangeshkar song. However, it has had a big impact on me.

Aaja Aai Bahar
Aaja Aai Bahar

AN AUDIENCE OF ONE

Nasreen Munni Kabir, writer, film-maker and translator

Lata Mangeshkar...In Her Own Voice is a conversational book we were writing sometime in 2008-09. Many of the conversations with Lataji took place over the phone because I was in London and she was in Mumbai.

One day we were talking about the song Aayega Aanewala (from Mahal, 1949). I asked her about the opening lines and said I would like to find the lyrics to include in our book. She said, “Good idea. Write down the words then,” and started singing the opening lines of the song. I cannot put into words the feeling that flooded my heart and still does when I think of that moment. There I was, in a flat in London, 8,000 miles away, almost unable to breathe or believe what was happening. I noted down the words diligently as she effortlessly sang: “Khamosh hai zamana, chup chaap hain sitare...”

A SAFE HARBOUR

Faiza S. Khan, freelance editor

The year is 1991. I am a teenager and already commitment-phobic, and have embarked on what will prove to be a lifetime of engagement with the emotionally unavailable. Someone at home has a cassette with Savere Wali Gaadi (1986) on one side which has fallen into my clutches. It came out in the 1980s when Lata was decades past her prime but old and new make no difference in these years—her reign effects a sort of timelessness, like a benign covid. Din Pyar Ke swells with beauty and infinite possibility. My liaison with The Unavailable—in this case, the insufferable—doesn’t work out. I assiduously avoid the song for years, for promising a world that doesn’t exist. It eventually finds me in my 40s on the radio, I am actually winded by its wondrousness. I realise that it exists not as a promise but as a world in itself, a safe harbour from this one.

MATTERS OF THE HEART

Anita Dongre, fashion designer

Like most people, I have grown up hearing Lataji. But that one song that’s very close to me is Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai from Guide (1965). It reminds me of my first love. I was 19 and had fallen in love for the first time, and I would listen to it on loop, thinking about him. This song made me fall in love harder, I think. Like I would listen to it and want to get up and dance... as if I was under some spell. That’s how you feel when you fall in love, right? You smile more than usual, there’s new excitement, everything looks beautiful, the whole world seems different. This song captured exactly how I felt...that desire to live again. It felt as if it was made just for me. Even today when I play it, it makes my heart full.

—As told to Shrabonti Bagchi, Uday Bhatia, Shephali Bhatt, Avantika Bhuyan, Jahnabee Borah, Rashmi Menon, Vangmayi Parakala, Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran, Pooja Singh, Nitin Sreedhar

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