One of my all-time favourite songs, ‘Kuchh dil ne kaha’ from the movie Anupama (1966), is a beautiful composition with Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics and Hemant Kumar’s music. Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, who lent her voice to Sharmila Tagore, the lead actress in this film, this song brought together artistes who were born in the states of (in the order mentioned above) Uttar Pradesh (North), West Bengal (East), Maharashtra (West) and Andhra Pradesh (South) – an immediate reminder that music transcends the boundaries of religion, geography, history, politics, color and culture, that blur away in all higher forms of human involvement (science and sports included). Clearly, every Indian has felt the loss of Lata-ji’s passing in great measure.
People from different states came together in remembering the martyrs who fought for the nation, when Lata-ji appealed ‘ae mere watan ke logon, zaraa aankh mein bhar lo paani‘ (people of my nation, let us join in mourning …) in the sombre notes of her voice.
She has been the voice of generations of film-stars, and inspired generations of vocalists, becoming in the process, the standard of vocal rendition that even great singers have looked up to … and all this admiration has not just come from the artistes who were younger – ‘Kambakht kabhi besuri nahin hoti’ (she never sings out of tune!) exclaimed the great Indian classical maestro, Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab, who also then immediately added ‘kya Allah ki den hai‘ (what a gift from God!).
Lata-ji’s singing connected people across both space and time, making her a living miracle in our country of great diversity. This goddess of vocal rendition became a Bharat Ratna (the highest civilian honour of India).
In addition to the perfectly rendered notes, the voice of the goddess also had munificent blessings to shower – it did not matter if a vocalist was an established singer or not – Lata-ji always had a ear for vocal skills of significant merit.
On one occasion I remember seeing her tweet that read ‘Main isko aashirwad deti hun ki ye ek acchi gaayika bane ‘(she has my blessings to become a great singer), referring to the young vocalist Samadipta Mukherjee, who effortlessly rendered Mozart’s 40th symphony in Indian music notation.
And these blessings were not just for musicians – an episode of her appearance at a gathering that immediately comes to my mind was when superman himself was in presence of this goddess. By superman here, I of course refer to the cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar (another Bharat Ratna).
Why superman? I can easily defend this comparison – first, human injuries never stopped him from stepping up; second, he powerfully retained his composure through all that sledging and all those scathing remarks that eventually bounced off him like lifeless bullets … and finally, when in action, he was often seen in blue!
On the occasion of Sachin’s 100th international century, Lata-ji sang ‘tu jahaan jahaan chalega, meraa saayaa saath hogaa’ (you will feel my presence wherever you go) for the master blaster – a sign of true blessing from motherly affection.
If every single song she has rendered counts as a miracle, then it immediately follows that Lata-ji has lived a life full of miracles – and we feel fortunate that she shared them with all of us. For this reason, we celebrate her life today, knowing that she will live on through her work, and everything that we have all learnt from her.
‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants’, said Isaac Newton of his own ability to look beyond what others could. It was his open acknowledgement of the works of the likes of Euclid (among others) which were necessary for him to formulate his own ideas.
Euclid lives on through his Elements (a set of thirteen books counted as the most influential textbooks ever written) and he continues to inspire scientific thinkers to this day. The great astrophysicist Carl Sagan, describes the capacity of books to connect people separated by centuries in the following words
‘Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.
Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.’
Lata-ji’s life is not just ‘any’ book, but perhaps more aptly an ‘encyclopaedia’ on vocal rendition for generations of singers to come. Lata Mangeshkar, the institution, will live on, as the goddess of music has now found her eternal home somewhere in the heavens among other gods who will now delight in her music!
Subrato Banerjee is Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay and Behavioural Scientist, Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology (BEST), Queensland University of Technology
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius