The nightingale is silent. Meri Awaaz Hee Pehchaan hai…

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#Lata Mangeshkar, #tribute, Aa jaane jaan

(from left) Lata Mangeshkar with Pakistani singer Noor Jehan and Asha Bhosle. (Image: The Express Tribune via Wikimedia Commons 4.0)

From her first song ‘Chaitrachi Navalayi’ from the movie Pahili Mangalagaur at the age of 13 to her last released song Saugandh Mujhe Mitti Ki on March 30, 2019, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice has been a mainstay of Indian music. She sang in so many languages, you could not begin to comprehend how she stayed true to enunciation and the nuances of each language.

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Today after hearing the news of her passing away, I can only hear her sing ‘Brishti Brishti Brishti’ (rain, rain, rain) as tears pour down from my eyes, because we have indeed lost a voice that was as she says in the song ‘aparup shrishti’ (a magical creation).

My love for the movies began when I heard stories about the way songs were recorded at one time. You’ve all heard, ‘Aayega Aanewala’ from the magical mystery movie Mahal. In those days, there were no sound mixers for effects, and you had to get the sound right. So when recording this song, they placed the microphone in the middle of the studio and to get the effect right, they had Lata Mangeshkar walk up to the microphone while singing.

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Most young people today don’t know the joy of listening to Ameen Sayani talk about songs climbing up a ‘paydaan’ or slipping down on the Binaca Geetmala list, and won’t understand that it was her voice that ruled the airwaves for decades.

They will just roll their eyes at family antakshari evenings when every generation happily bursts into ‘Gore, gore o banke chhore’ (from Samadhi, 1950), ‘Tasveer teri dil mein’ (Maya), ‘Mera salaam leja, dil ka payaam leja’ (from Udan Khatola), ‘Bahaarein phir bhi aayengi, magar hum tum judaa honge’ (from Lahore).

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They don’t understand how these songs take you through flirtation, being in love, to separation and heartbreak. Is there an emotion she did not express well?

I still hate the slavish ‘Aap ki nazron se samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe’ (when you see the movie Anpadh, you realise the context but still), but she sang the most amazing ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai’ from Guide. And that feminist song of freedom, in my opinion is her best song.

But wait, what about Waheeda Rahman in white, dancing to ‘Piya tose naina laage re’ (Guide)? And Jaya Bhaduri dressed in Sanjeev Kumar’s kurta, seducing him with ‘Baahon mein chale aao’ (Anamika)?

Saira Bano in a bathtub has to be Lata Mangeshkar’s voice telling us, ‘Unse mili nazar ke mere hosh kho gaye’ (Jhuk gaya aasman). And yes, she made us cry when she sang, ‘Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar’ (Junglee). Heck she made the Prime Minister cry when she sang ‘Ei mere watan ke logon’.

It’s not just old-timers who sing ‘Pyar hua ikraar hua hai’ and ‘Ajeeb dastan hai yeh’, but she lent her voice to what I think is one of AR Rahman’s best music: ‘Jiya jale jaan jale’ from Dil Se...

And how can you forget songs from Aandhi?

There are more Lata Mangeshkar songs that you can think of. And don’t go by the ‘she sings only sad songs’ label some will put on her voice, she has sung some drunk, happy songs too. First appreciate how gloriously sad those sad songs are! ‘Tu jahan jahaan chalega, mera saaya saath hoga’, ‘Naino me badra chhaye’, ‘Naina barse’…

And the drunk songs? ‘Kaise rahoon chup ke maine pi hi kya hai!’ A drunk Sadhna shocks everyone – Rahman, Sanjay Khan et al while Helen fills her glass of wine. It’s from Intequam, a movie which has Lata Mangeshkar’s only ‘cabaret number’: ‘Aa jaane jaan‘!

You have to read Nasreen Munni Kabir’s book on her to understand why her voice has left a unique imprint since the 1940s. Her Marathi albums of bhavgeets and bhajans are wonderful and no other person has sung the Sant Dnyaneshwar’s Pasaydan (the last nine verses of the Bhagwad Gita) as she has.

Her life was not all diamonds and silk sarees and two long plaits, if you are in the know, then you would have heard how she would use her clout to elbow out competition (and that included her own sisters) but I suppose you would have to be in her shoes to understand the whys and hows. She had a family of siblings to care for, and one does what one has to, I suppose.

Lata Mangeshkar may have played the music game the way she did, but when you open your windows to the morning sunshine, and heard her voice singing, ‘Allah tero naam, eshwar tero naam’, you forget all gossip, and automatically thank the gods for sending down such a wonderful voice.

She leaves behind a legacy of thousands of songs that stay in your head and a family who called her ‘didi’.  Ever since she stopped recording, many singers have tried to take her place, but they don’t have that something heavenly that the Nightingale of India had. Even the musical giant Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saheb said this about Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Kambakht besuri hee nahi hoti.’

Alas, that pure note is no more.

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