Excerpt: Lata Mangeshkar: A Life in Music by Yatindra Mishra
This extract from a new translation by Ira Pande of the National Award winning biography Lata: Sur Gatha presents the close relationship between Lata Mangeshkar and her sister Asha Bhosle
Generally, the image that her fans have of Lataji is that of a serious, sober, reserved person. Her early struggles and the burden of family responsibilities left little space in her youthful years for her to indulge in the carefree pranks that many girls like to play in their girlhood with friends and companions. However, it is a joy to discover that underneath a disciplined and very quiet exterior is a mischievous girl, a marvellous mimic and a person who enjoys a good joke. She once narrated an incident that must be included here. Asha Bhonsle and she were once rehearsing a fun-filled, joyous duet for ShankarJaikishan. Now while Lataji was wrapped in her usual white sari, her bubbly, younger sister Asha was proudly wearing a gold necklace that she had just ordered for herself.
Suddenly, Lata ji noticed that two strangers were sitting in the recording room with the music director. They were probably friends of Shankar-Jaikishan who had wanted to see a live recording or fans of Lataji who wished to hear her sing live. Whatever the reason, these two (who looked like important government officials) attracted her attention. She pointed them out to her sister, saying that they looked like Income-tax officials and had probably come there to question her about the heavy gold necklace she was wearing. Asha fell for the gag and asked nervously, “What should I do?”
Listen: Yatindra Mishra on his earlier book Akhtari; The Life and Music of Begum Akhtar
“Why should you be nervous?” Lataji retorted. “After all, you have been earning well, so what if you have bought an expensive piece of jewellery?” As she saw the unease on her sister’s face, she burst out laughing and told her she was merely pulling her leg. The two laughed heartily and that set the tone for the mood that colours the song.
The song was a frothy number, sung for Asha Parekh and a friend in the film Professor (1962). It is a great example of how the carefree life of two young girls comes across, “Koi aayega, aayega, aayega. Hamare gaanv koi aayega, pyar ki dor mein bandh jayega . . .”
This little anecdote makes it even more entertaining.
One of Tagore’s poems (Ami tomay jokhun shuniyechhilem gaan) speaks of the haunting quality of a song he had once heard and the poet asks when will he hear such a voice again? Listening to Lata Mangeshkar’s voice these lines become clearer to my mind. One wonders whether the ragas, the bhajans and the songs that Lataji has sung can ever be sung by any other singer. When will we hear such a voice again?...
Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle were undoubtedly the most popular female playback singers of the last seven decades. Interestingly, despite being sisters who grew up in the same home, they had clearly distinct voices. One was like a river of sparkling water, the other was like a dancing brook in mountains. One sister’s voice remained steady and unchanged down the decades while the other moulded hers according to the changing times.
Listen more: Yatindra Mishra on his earlier book Akhtari; The Life and Music of Begum Akhtar - Part 2
This is why while Lata’s voice was sought by those composing devotional numbers and songs of love and longing, it was to Asha that they went when looking at a lively cabaret number or the saucier love songs. Their individual genius is best expressed by Gulzar who once declared: “Lataji’s voice takes one to the moon. She is our Neil Armstrong, who first landed on the moon. Asha ji was also on the same flight but she sat by another window, so she landed just a little later.”
There are hundreds of songs they have sung together to produce unforgettable melodies and it becomes difficult to decide who outdoes the other. Here a few examples: Yeh RukiRuki Hawain, Yeh Bujhe-Bujhe Sitare, composed by K Datta in Daman (1951); Yeh Barkha Bahar, Sautaniya Ke Dwar, Na Ja More Sanware Piya by Shankar–Jaikishan for Mayurpankh (1954) and Kar Gaya Mujh Pe Jadu Sanwariya for Basant Bahar (1956); O Chand Jahan Woh Jayein for C Ramachandra in Sharda (1957); Sakhi Ri Sun Bole Papiha Us Paar for Hemant Kumar in Miss Mary (1957); Ruthi Jaye Re Gujariya, Na Bole Re for Vasant Desai in Do Phool (1958); Janeman Ek Nazar Dekh Le for Naushad in Mere Mehboob (1963); Sajan Salona Mang Lo Ji for Roshan in Dooj Ka Chand (1964) and Man Kyun Behka Ri Behka Aadhi Raat Ko for Laxmikant–Pyarelal in Utsav (1984).