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And the Voice Lives On…

February 9, 2022 | By

As the legend falls silent, Ratnottama Sengupta pens a heartfelt requiem for Lata Mangeshkar whose songs lulled her at every milestone in her journey through life. A Silhouette tribute.

Lata Mangeshkar Painting by Raghuvir Mulgaokar

Lata Mangeshkar painting by Raghuvir Mulgaokar. Shiva impression refers to their family deity Shiva or Mangesh from Shri Mangesh Temple, Goa (Pic courtesy: Ratnottama Sengupta)

1949.

That night. In the Mahanirban Road house.

It was probably midnight. All the noise in the neighbourhood had died down save the stray car passing by in the distance. I was preparing to go to bed.

Kanaklata switched off the light.

And that’s when someone put on a record in some house wrapped in darkness.

Aayega aayega aayega

Aayega aanewala aayega… aayega…

I pricked up my ears. It seemed to me some lovelorn virahini from another world was singing about her separated beloved.

When the record stopped playing in that unknown house, Kanaklata spoke, “What an amazingly bewitching song go!”

I nodded, I couldn’t speak a word.

Kanaklata spoke again, “This is a woman singing but my heart says, this is everyone’s voice… It speaks of the yearning and anticipation in every person’s heart. A woman wants the man of her dreams and a man desires the complete woman he has always imagined and sings with conviction, Aayegi, aayegi, aayegi aanewali...”

I was wonderstruck by her analysis. “Right!” I said.

“It’s a mesmerising song!” Kanaklata responded. “Buy the record tomorrow,” she signed off for the night.

(Nabendu Ghosh in his autobiography, Eka Naukar Jatri/ Journey of a Lonesome Boat)

Aayega aanewala (Mahal, 1949) Khemchand Prakash / Nakshab Jarchvi / Lata Mangeshkar

***

  1. A house in Lake Gardens.

I am mourning.

No, I am not mourning Lata Mangeshkar – she is deathless.

I am mourning that the Voice which expressed every emotion I have felt at every turn of my growing up into what I am, has fallen silent…

Radha na bole na bole: Meena Kumari in Azad

Flashback to mid-1950s. There was a Murphy radio in our house in the Mumbai-suburb of Malad. And every time the radio played Radha na boley na boley na boley re, the toddler I would pick up a hairband lying in front of the mirror and dance to it. Lata Mangeshkar? Meena Kumari? Dilip Kumar? Azad? None of these words meant anything to me. Why will Radha not speak with Krishna? Because he broke her earthen pitcher while she was fetching water from Jamuna? The chhed-chhad, the annoyance-vexation-exasperation – above all, the love between two souls – all these emotions were alien to me. But to this day I cannot forget the lure of that Voice on the radio.

Years pass. I’m in 1970s. And once more I’m enchanted with the give-n-take between the Eternal Symbol of Love. It’s the same voice, heard this time on an LP record titled Chala vahi des. Envious of its closeness to Krishna’s lips, Radha has spirited his bewitching flute. Krishna is beseeching her to return the whistle that steals every heart. Because? “Yeh bansi mein mero pran basata hai… my heart dwells in this little instrument!” It’s Purushottam, the Best of all Men, wringing his heart out – but the kaleidoscopic Voice is of Lata Mangeshkar!

Radha pyari (Meera Bhajan in Chala vahi des album)

aja re pardesi

Aaja re pardesi: Vyjayanthimala in and as Madhumati (Pic courtesy: Twitter)

In 1949 the Voice had enticed my parents too, as it sang Aayega aayega aanewala. And in 1957 the Voice sang an opposite tune as Madhumati beckoned, “Aaja re pardesi… main toh kabse khadi iss paar…” Over an aeon I’m waiting on this shore, my eyes tired of scanning the path… Contra emotion, but the same magic spell! Is it the melody or the Voice that casts its spell on generation after generation?

The same phenomenon repeated itself in the rendering of two Anarkalis. Bina Rai journeyed into immortality singing Alvidaa alvidaa... And the Voice engulfs us with the immense sadness of succumbing to the frightful might of a ruthless ruler. Anarkali released in 1953 and the world crooned Yeh zindagi ussi ki hai jo kissi ka ho gaya, this life belongs to the one who belongs to love. Who’d foresee that in 1960 the same Voice would personify Defiance as the assured lover tells the Mughal-e-Azam,Pyar kiya toh darna kya?” Both the songs were, are, and will continue to be the last words in love – Valentine’s Day or not.

Pyar kiya to darna kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960) Naushad / Shakeel Badayuni / Lata Mangeshkar

1959. I’d watched a horrible granny throw an infant Sujata at the mention of the despicable word “Achhut!” What acted as a balm on the revulsion felt by my little being? The Voice, as it sang Aaja re aa nindiya to aaa…Lullaby has never been so endearing, I realised as I sang it 30 years after Do Bigha Zamin to lull my son into sleep… And 50 years after Aradhana I sang Suraj hai tu mera chanda hai tu for my grandson. Which other repertoire has been as abiding?

Sawan ka mahina, pawan kare sore: Nutan and Sunil Dutt in Milan

1967-68-69. The Voice sang Sawan ka mahina pawan karey shor. “Arre baba shor nahin sore, sore!” rebuked the irritated male. “Jiyara re jhoome aise, jaise ban ma naache mor!” The Voice was everywhere from Vividh Bharati to Radio Ceylon when our train travelled from Malad to Dadar and back. Folksy rendering? Playful? What’s new? Wasn’t the Voice also teasing, “Aaj Somwar hai… Hai! Na na na na…” And when I was travelling to Elphinstone College? It was Bahon mein chaley aao... How I wished I had the power of seduction that was spilling out of the Voice! Sacrilege? Then I better not sing “Aur zara si de de saqi aur zara si aur!” – My tiny bro Raja, barely four in 1969, would lisp it after the Voice in Inteqam.

“Kambakhat kabhi chukti nahin!” – Bade Ghulam Ali Khan once reportedly said. The Ustad of the Patiala gharana, which is renowned for its melodious singing, spoke in admiration, not exasperation. My mother, just a good woman of domesticity, once said: “When Latabai sings Bindiya chamkegi, you can imagine Mumtaz on screen. And when she sings Piya bina basiya baaje na, you know it’s Jaya singing.”

Yes, my Maa, my Didis, my batchmates, my nieces – none have escaped the magic.

1969. Growing up in Mumbai I was humming “Aai baapanchi laaranchi lek mee laari…” And for more than a decade then, my cousins were singing “Ekti Parul bon aami tomar…” Until I reached the double-digit age, I was blissfully unaware of Hemant Kumar and Salil Chowdhury. Being a ‘Mumbaikar’ by birth I was privileged: I could hum in Marathi and tap in Bengali. So it never struck me that the Voice from the Maratha heartland was not born to my mother tongue – she’d mastered the fluency, the accent, the sonority of Bengali as dexterously as she had the gutteral depth of Urdu.

Saat bhai champa jago re (1961) Salil Chowdhury / Salil Chowdhury / Lata Mangeshkar

Ekbar bidai de maa ghurey aashi…(Bid me farewell once, oh Mother, I will return) a kochi chhele, youngster sang this song bidding adieu, to his home or hearth? Mother or motherland? His youth or his life? In 1908, Khudiram Bose was only 18 when the British judge sentenced him to death by hanging. The song first composed by Charan Kavi Mukunda Das was recorded by Lata Mangeshkar for the film Subhas Chandra. A hundred years later I lived in Alipore – and everytime I passed by the Judges Court, the Voice rang in my ears: Shanibaar bela 10 taar parey Judge Courtey tey lok na dharey... The price we paid for freedom has seldom been documented so poignantly.

And the price we pay to safeguard our freedom? When the Himalayas were ravaged and our freedom was challenged? In 1962 or 1999?  In the six decades since the Chinese Aggression the Prime Minister’s nameplate has changed from Nehru to Gandhi, VP Singh to Rao, Gujral to Manmohan, Vajpayee to Modi. Residents of Rashtrapati Bhawan have changed from S Radhakrishnan to Zakir Husain, VV Giri to Zail Singh, SD Sharma to Kalam, Patil to Mukherjee… But the story of the jawans Jo laut ke ghar na aaye has never stopped being played, on Republic Days and 15th August, over mikes and on our heartstrings. As the Voice narrated the determination of the blood-soaked men, koi Sikh koi jaat Maratha, koi Gurkha koi Madrasi, we – every single Indian – fought to hold back tears. We still do.

Flashback again to 1961. I knew then that ‘Bapu’ was the Father of the Nation but I did not know Ishwar Allah tero naam was popularised by Mohandas K Gandhi. We, Hum Dono brothers, cousins, friends, we chorused “Allah tero naam Ishwar tero naam! Allah is your name, Ishwar too is your name – Bless all your children with sanmati, the good sense to realise this, O God!”

Some years down, in 1968 another ‘bhajan’ got engraved in my soul. I was blissfully unaware that it was from a movie scripted by my Baba… tears rolled as Master Sachin saluted his mother, Maa hi Ganga Maa hi Jamuna Maa hi teerath dhaam! Three decades after Majhli Didi tears streamed down my cheeks when Maa passed away – and again in 2016 when I offered shraddhanjali to my mother by marriage.

Tears still roll as the Voice rings in my ears – Maaa! Maaa!

Maa hi Ganga Maa hi Jamuna Maa hi teerath dhaam (Majhli Didi, 1967) Hemant Kumar / Neeraj / Lata Mangeshkar

More to read

Remembering Phani Da

Blue as the Sky… Sunil

‘Bimalda Spread Happiness’ – Jagdeep on Bimal Roy

Shailendra’s Teesri Kasam: Sapne Jagaa Ke Tune Kaahe Ko De Di Judaai

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A National Award winner for her Writings on Cinema, Ratnottama Sengupta is a natural writer with keen understanding of Cinema and Visual Art. A Journalist since 1978, she has been with The Times of India, The Telegraph, Screen and been the Editor of the online magazine CineBengal.com. Daughter of writer Nabendu Ghosh, she writes extensively on Cinema and on Art. She has contributed to Encyclopedia Britannica on Hindi Films, and has to her credit many titles including on Plastic Arts. Ratnottama has curated 'Little Languages Film Festival' in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata; 'Prosenjit: A Retrospective', Delhi; 'Bimal Roy Centenary', Goa, Kolkata; 'Bengali Cinema After Rituparno', Delhi; and initiated the 'Hyderabad Bengali Films Festival'. * She has been on IFFI Steering Committee; National and International Award juries; with CBFC; and on NFDC Script Committee. She scripted Mukul, a short film on Nabendu (2009). She debuts as director with And They Made Classics.
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