Voice of a Nation

Updated on May 22, 2009 11:03 PM IST

With a new government being sworn in, celebrate India with a just-out book on Lata Mangeshkar- the voice of our nation.

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HT Image
ByNaushad Ali
One day in 1942 or 1943, a young girl came before my eyes. Today the world calls her Lata Mangeshkar. She was wearing a white sari. And I asked her to sing and she sang me a song. A few days later, she recorded ‘Haaye chhore ki jaat badi bewafa’ with the famous playback singer of the era, G M Durrani. It was a duet I had composed for Chandni Raat and she sang it with great feeling. She then sang my songs in Dulari and Andaaz. The first song we recorded for Andaaz was Darna mohabbat kar which was recorded by Kaushik Sahib.
Well? Do you really need anything said about these photographs of Lata Mangeshkar?

I remember the poor girl would come by train to the studio, drenched, holding her umbrella in her hands. I used to offer her tea. She was always very affectionate. If I felt unwell, she would come to my house to see me. Her decency and her affectionate nature are praiseworthy. She has such intelligence and perception and immediately understands how a song must be sung. Her singing range is across a full octave from C3 to C5 and she can reach as low as G in the alto range.

She can sing half notes too, and though time, has increased the range of her voice and sings from one octave to one and a half octaves effortlessly. Have you heard Bekas pe karam ki jiye from Mughal-e-Azam? In that naat (a song in praise of Prophet Mohammed) she reaches F natural and sings an even higher pitch.

Some singers sing to make money. For another kind of singer, singing is devotion and prayer. From the very beginning, Lata has had this devotion. She sits in front of a statue of Goddess Saraswati and practises every morning, whether or not she is recording a song on that day. Unless singers believe they are remembering God through music, their singing will never have an effect on the heart. Lata's respect and love for music is a form of worship. When she used to record a song, she'd leave her chappals at the studio door, as one does when entering a temple. Her actions proved she has never regarded singing as a profession, but a form of religion.

Rafi Sahib and Lataji sang many duets together and music lovers unfamiliar with their names have never said when listening to their songs: ‘Mohammed Rafi is a Muslim and Lata Mangeshkar is a Hindu.’ This is because music is a creed in itself. I believe when God created the world, He gave it one image and man then created boundaries. The one thing that has never been bound in chains is music. It breaks all frontiers, carrying a message of love from one country to another. In sacred temples in Ayodhya, Mathura or Benaras, people can hear the bhajan, Mann tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj (I long for the sight of Lord Krishna) and at the shrine of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz or Deva Shareef, a voice echoed Bekas pe karam ki jiye, Sarkar-e-Madina ( Show grace to the weak, O Master of Madina). Those holy men, those sufis, did not know a Hindu girl called Lata Mangeshkar was singing that naat.
Unless singers believe they are remembering God through music, their singing

will never have an effect on the heart.

When Lata first came on the scene, music directors such as I and others more learned and experienced, including Ghulam Haider, Anil Biswas, C Ramachandra, Khemchand Prakash and Shyam Sundar, were composing music. Those excellent composers guided Lata onto a fine path. A guide shows the way but the traveller must have strong feet in order to walk the path.

Some places can never be filled. Kundan Lal Saigal, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Hemand Kumar have gone and their places are left empty. May God keep Lata Mangeshkar alive and well for a thousand years. But I will say that her place will always remain empty. She cannot be replaced.

(Extract from Lata Mangeshkar…in her own voice, Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir)

Niyogi Books, May 2009

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