It’s awfully saddening to see the people I know so closely slowly fading out one by one. Pandit Ravi Shankar was one of them. I last met him on his 88th birthday in London, but we had been in touch regularly on the phone. He called me very often from the US. I spoke to him about a month ago, when
he shared the state of his health with me and said, in a very down and defeated tone, “Mai bahut bimaar hun, Lata. Ab jaane ka waqt aa gaya hai’ (I am very ill, Lata. It’s time to go now)”. It was disturbing to hear that, so I asked him to avoid talking like this. But I never thought he meant it seriously.
I have always been a huge fan of the sitar maestro, even before our friendship began in 1948. I used to look forward to his concerts and saw to it that I attended most of them, if not all. I really used to keep a track of his work, just the way he kept track of mine, which he told me later.
Not many people know this, but I have worked with him. In his rare forays into Hindi cinema (other than Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and a film called Meera), Ravida composed the music for the Raj Kumar-starrer Godaan and Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s Anuradha. He offered me the chance to sing in both the films. I sang one song in Godaan, but he insisted that I do all the songs in Anuradha. I readily agreed and readjusted my other assignments. But I was never so stressed out in my entire career than I was when I was about to record Panditji’s classical compositions in Anuradha. The thought that I could let him down constantly troubled me, but Panditji was very generous in his guidance and made me thoroughly comfortable. He also gently expressed his joy that he was working with me. “Mere liye yehi prasad hai ki aap mere gaane gaa rahi hai (it’s my honour that you are singing my songs),” he said. That was a huge compliment and comforting factor. ‘Kaise din beete’ from Anuradha is still one of my favorite songs. I still remember how many people at that time were sarcastic about his foray into film music. They thought he would be a disaster. But they were all wrong. Every song of Anuradha was a success. From my heart, I acknowledge him for using my vocals in classical music. Panditji came to my Peddar Road house few times and also invited me to his house in the US several times. But though I have been to the US often, I never could visit him at home. We’d just meet for dinner at restaurants.
Today, I only have some lovely memories of the man I was a fan of. And with a heavy heart I say, ‘Panditji you will always be in my songs’.
(As told to Afsana Ahmed)
-Lata Mangeshkar is a renowned playback singer