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Hridaynath speaks on Lata Didi

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

1st October, 2015. The time is 7.30 pm in Dubai. I am sitting with Pt. Hridaynath Mangeshkar in the drawing room of his hotel apartment. The maestro is all set to perform the next day.

What strikes me most is the man’s inherent simplicity. There are no airs, no demands, no tantrums whatsoever. Before beginning the interview, I tell him one thing that always comes to my mind whenever I think of his music- “Balasaheb, I have always felt that unless the listener understands your Marathi songs, he won’t ever understand the true depth of your music. Meera, Ghalib, Lekin- they are all brilliant albums but I don’t think that music fully represents the real Hridaynath Mangeshkar.”  

His eyes light up. His serene face breaks into a broad, happy smile. He calls out to his wife and says, “Bharti, listen to what he is saying.” Then he turns to me and nods. “Yes, you are absolutely right. Meera, Ghalib, Lekin… that is not the real Hridaynath. I love Marathi language and Maharashtrian culture deeply. They define who I am at core.”

The master is happy. Now it is time to begin our main interview.

When did you realize that Didi’s was a special singing talent?

(Smiles)

Right from the beginning! When all of us young siblings would sit in our house to sing my father’s compositions, even as a small child of five, I could sense that Didi was someone special. My father too had realized that very early. When he heard Didi’s singing when she was just three years old, he told my mother, “Dinanath is dead today.” When Maai admonished him not to say such bad things in the late evening, he pointed his finger to Didi and said, “Look - the new Dinanath is singing over there! Now, you don’t have to worry anymore.” Didi was singing a ‘cheez’ ‘He sadarang nit uthkar det duhaai, kaaj duniyaa ke beech kyun phanse’.

Later Bade Ghulam Ali Khan once said about her, “Saalee kabhee besuree nahee hotee!” Of course, he fondly used the word ‘Saalee’ there but that’s the sentiments she evoked in such great artistes.

The world sings praises of the rising sun and it turns its back on the setting sun. Didi is neither a rising sun nor a setting one. She is like the ever-bright ever-glowing sun at noon. She will always remain like that. She brooks no comparison.

How is your relationship with her- both, as a brother and as a composer?

Didi is very much like my Baba. Her singing, speaking, smiling, thinking; even the softness and the shape of her hands- everything reminds me of Baba. I often feel that it is just fate that she was born a woman and became Lata Mangeshkar; had she been born as a man and had a beard and moustache; she would just be like Dinanath Mangeshkar!

Since I too have the similar mental make-up, we are like two sides of the same coin. The way we think, the way we analyze…it is very similar. It is as if we both are connected with an invisible string. Once we are convinced about doing one particular thing, then we do not bother what others would think and say about it. We just go ahead and do that thing.

I did not have to convince her much to sing for my albums. She realized it much before anyone else that the works such as Bhagavat Geeta, Dnyaneshwari and Meera Bhajan are going to outlast her film-songs. We have argued over certain points at times but it was never a fight, always a healthy discussion to make that song better.

You just saw how she phoned me to find out if my staying arrangements were okay. Now I am nearly 80 years old but still she won’t feel alright till she has made sure of my well-being. Such is our bond!

You have composed many different non-film musical albums for Didi. Each album has a definitive thought-process and a musical thinking behind its making. Let’s talk about those experiences.

It is a very interesting question and needs a detailed answer. Before we do that, let me tell you one thing. This musical journey has a lot to do with the way my reading and thinking developed. If I like music 100% then I like reading 101%. When I was 5 years old, I developed an infection in my leg. The pain was so bad that I would just be sitting at home. I could not walk, I could not play. It was not financially possible to have any formal education in school. To entertain myself, I would keep pestering my mother to tell me stories. She started off by telling me stories from her life in Thalner; then she moved on to tell about Baba’s life and stage experiences and when that was over she started reading from the books that we had at our home.

So she started reading from religious mythological books such as Hari Vijay, Ramayan, Mahabharat and Dnyaneshwari. Once that was over, we started reading Baba’s old plays like Gadkari’s Raj Sanyas, Veer Savarkar’s Sanyast Khadag and Veer Vamanrao Joshi’s Ran Dundubhi. Later I started reading on my own and was bowled over by the poetry of B.R. Tambe, Keshavsut and Kusumagraj. In the latter years, I started exploring what kind of spiritual poetry was written in other states and started reading the works of Meerabai, Kabir and Surdas.

So I was never really exposed to typical children’s stories or rhymes but instead got attracted towards language and philosophy of such great masters from an early age. I can trace the origin of my values like love for poetic Marathi language, patriotism, spirituality and a strong sense of Hindutva to these childhood influences.

So does that explain your fondness for composing tunes for serious, meaningful, original poetry rather than fluffy frothy film-songs?

When I started composing music, then I realized that I don’t like the typical syrupy song-lyrics; I like to compose tunes for words that make me think, that make me look inward. There is a verse by Dnyaneshwar – “Vishwaache aart maajhya manee prakaashale.” (The sorrows of this world lighted up my mind). My musical philosophy can be explained in that one line.

Dnyaneshwar’s another verse- “Baap Rakhuma devi varu sahaj niTu zaale’ made me realize that true art is created effortlessly. Such art comes naturally from within and it is timeless. That is why I always felt uncomfortable in film music. There is a lot of effort involved in it. One needs to please so many people and cater to their different expectations about situational demands and marketability. I found that I did not enjoy this effort- this workmanship and that in turn made me feel stifled in that medium.

Your music turned many beautiful poems like Tinhi saanja sakhe miLaalya into songs, which made people remember them word by word.

While making a song like Tinhi saanja skhe miLaayaa, I was impressed by the deeper philosophy in those romantic words. There the poet B.R. (Bha. Ra.) Tambe talks about making a romantic bond that is as permanent and timeless as the five elements of nature. The only thought was to present such a fine poem to the world- here the original B.R. Tambe – poem was like the rich Paithanee sari, my tune was like a border, and Didi’s voice was like the decorative spots. We first made that song for Akashvaani where the singer would just get 150 rupees and the composer 75 rupees per recording.

Music has always been used to memorize words. In ancient times, Sama Veda was created to help memorizing the Vedas through music.

Dnyaneshwari was an unforgettable album. How did you choose the verses?

We had chosen almost 100 verses – 50 abhang and 50 virani-s. The music company decided that they would make a record of about 5-6 songs. So I chose the verses which were relatively easy to understand and which I felt would touch people’s hearts.

There was an English commentary in the first Dnyaneshwari record. Whose idea was it?

That was HMV’s idea. Zul Virani did that English commentary introducing each song. The music company felt that no one would understand Dnyaneshwar’s words. I was against that decision. I argued that the listeners have the intelligence to understand and feel those emotions through the music.

Music needs no words to understand. It is felt as a direct sensation, unlike words which need a language, a state, a country and a culture as their crutches.

You composed music for 2 chapters (adhyaay) of Bhagwat Geeta in 1967.

Actually I wanted to set all 18 adhyaay of Geeta to music but the company allowed me to record only 2 of them. They were right in their own way. After all, as an idol, Sri Krishna is sold in the temples world over but tell me, who really wants to buy Sri Krishna’s philosophy?

The making of that album must have been a challenging task, especially since it comprises of ancient Sanskrit verses.

Bhagawat Geeta album was 10000 times more difficult for Didi than for me. I just composed the tunes and my job was over; but hers was just beginning. To ensure that the Sanskrit pronunciation is correct, we consulted many experts. Then to guide us, we brought home one such expert- the famous Marathi author G.N. (Go. Ni.) Dandekar. He was a strict taskmaster who insisted that Didi should get up at 4 am, take a bath and only then start learning from him at 5 am! These rigorous practice sessions would go on for at least 3 hours every day. In those days, Didi used to have up to 6 film song recordings per day. So she stopped all of them for a few months.

All this effort was taken, not because we wanted a Hridaynath or a Lata Mangeshkar song to sound perfect but because we felt that we should be as accurate as possible while singing verses which were originally rendered by none other than Lord Krishna himself.

Of course, there might be better Bhagwat Geeta experts elsewhere who would still feel what we did had flaws; but we gave it our best.

We always strove to get the pronunciations right. Even while doing Ghalib ghazals, Didi would learn the Urdu pronunciations from Mohabbat Khan Maulavi.

Did you purposely make Didi sing at a higher than usual pitch in Ghalib ghazals?

We recorded all those Ghalib ghazals in the evenings in the HMV studio. In those days, there were a lot of electricity problems and voltage fluctuations. It seems that the recorder speed got affected because of that and that’s why you sense a higher than usual pitch in the recordings. It was a machine error. But when we noticed that the release date for the record was very near and the company decided to go ahead with the album as it was.

I don’t think I have done that album from the heart. That year (1969) was Ghalib’s birth centenary and the company requested me to do an album; so I did it.

Later on I listened to few of Mehndi Hassan’s ghazals on a cassette, which Asha Tai had brought for me from London. That time I realized that I was not really cut out to compose for ghazals. He (Mehndi Hassan) was in a different league in ghazals!

But that was not the case with bhajans. I felt that I could do total justice to that genre because I did it from heart. Masters like Madan Mohan and Pt. Ravi Shankar have told me that few could ever compose bhajans better than me!

Your Meera Bhajan are exquisite…..

Chala Vaahi Des was an album composed around a story-line. How Meera descends from the fort to how she leaves everything behind! Usha-tai had drawn and designed the record cover. That picture on the record cover (showing just an Iktara lying on sand and away-going footprints) was opposed by many in the music company but I stuck to my guns.

What about the Meera Bhajan that you composed before Chaala Vaahi Des?

I think I was a sort of a newcomer in that genre while composing those tunes and that inexperience shows at times. One thing I must tell you that I never changed Meerabai’s original lyrics to suit the popular tastes or recording company’s demands. Even when we knew that it would be difficult to understand for common listeners, we did not compromise and used Meerabai’s authentic poetry. So in my music, you won’t get ‘Mere to Giridhar Gopal’; you would get the original ‘Mhaara ri Giridhar Gopal’! Sometimes we have done 20 takes to get just a single word right.

Shiv Kalyan Raja was an album to commemorate 300th anniversary of (legendary Maratha king) Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation. The poetry used for making those songs was simply exceptional.

Right! There were lot of arguments and counterarguments before we made that album. I was told to get new songs written for the album. I objected; I wanted songs, poems closer to that era. That way we would get emotions which were actually felt at that time. In those years I had many talented poets like Shantabai Shelke, Suresh Bhat, N.D. Mahanor, Mangesh Padgaonkar and Shirish Pai around me, but I wanted a perspective from the earlier times, rather than just get the present day poets to write something new.

So we researched and found such poetry. The verses of Sant Ramdas and Kavi Bhushan that we used in the album were actually written in those olden times. The emotions in them were genuine and right from those historic moments. Then we chose older masters such as Govindagraj (Ram Ganesh Gadkari), Veer Sawarkar and Kusumagraj (V.V. Shirwadkar). There were many other historic poems including a powada which were apt for the album but could not be accommodated for want of time.

The only exception that I made against my wish was to include a new song specially written to celebrate Shivaji Maharaj’s Coronation ceremony. I did it because (veteran collaborator researcher) Babasaheb Purandare insisted for that. But even today I feel uncomfortable while listening to that song (Shatakaanchyaa Yadnyaatoon UsaLe written by Shankar Vaidya). This is not to say that the poet who wrote that song was not talented; but to me it feels as incongruous amongst those classic poems as a modern sari would look amongst classy old Paithanis!

When we were recording the song ‘Myaanatoon usaLe, tarvaareechee paat’ we had another argument. Our main expert Babasaheb Purandare told us that the word should be pronounced as ‘talvaar’ (which is a word based on the Marathi word ‘taalewaar’ meaning aristocratic or a high positioned person!) whereas the other expert Professor Shankar Vaidya opined that it should be pronounced as ‘tarvaar’,  which is the Arabic original word for a sword! To settle that argument, we visited the original poet Kusumagraj aka V.V. Shirwadkar at his Nashik home. He settled that argument by telling us that he had used the Arabic original word ‘tarvaar’!

Is it true that the song ‘Sandhikaali yaa ashaa’ was inspired by Sajjad’s Dil mein samaa gaye sajan (from Sangdil)?

Yes, it is 101 percent true. I was always a great admirer of Sajjad’s music. Dil mein samaa gaye sajan was such a superb tune. I definitely used it as the inspiration while composing ‘Sandhikaali yaa ashaa.’

Asaa bebhaan haa vaara seems like an extension of your Koli-geet theme.

No…not really. I liked the poetry….JaTaa pinjun yaa laaTaa, vikhaaree jhep hee ghetee. The song became popular but I think there was a lot of ‘kaaragiri’ (workmanship) in that. It was not a song that happened as naturally or as effortlessly as the Koligeet like ‘Raajaa saarangaa maajyaa saarangaa’!

So tell us how did those Koiligeet happen?

Koligeet album happened because the music company wanted it. My compositions like ‘Jivlagaa’, 'Hee vaaT door jaate' and ‘Ye re ghanaa’ had become big hits and the company felt it would be a good idea to engage me for a new album.

I told the music company executives that it would be difficult proposition to make these fishermen songs because I don’t know much about their way of life, I don’t even eat fish. When I told Shantabai Shelke that she was to write these songs, she was also in a similar fix. She then made rounds of the fish market to observe the fisherwomen. She saw that many men would be loitering in the fish market- not to buy fish but just to stare at the young fisherwomen. Instead of getting flustered, these ladies effectively neutralized those unwelcome advances by calling those men ‘dhaakla deer’ (younger brother-in-law)! Shantabai cleverly used the word ‘dhaaklyaa deera’ from that observation. She was a great poetess. The way she has portrayed the entire picture of the stormy sea on a full moon night in ‘Aali punawaaa suTalay damaan, daryachyaa paanyaalaa aaj aayalay udhaan’ is simply brilliant!

One important thought behind making those tunes was to create folk songs without actually using the typical traditional folk music idiom. I didn’t want to just imitate the traditional age-old fishermen tunes and words. Instead I thought that we could create something fresh and original. That’s why the poetry, the compositions and the overall treatment- everything was original and totally different from traditional fishermen songs. I did it as an experiment and once it was done, even after receiving stupendous success, never repeated that.

Later ‘Jait Re jait’ music followed the similar thought process of creating folk flavor out of original tunes and poetry, which were not based on any traditional folk songs.

Why did you use Hemant Kumar’s voice in Dolkar?

The popular singers in Marathi such as Arun Date and Sudhir Phadke did not have the heavy bass voice I wanted in that song. Hemant Kumar had a lovely bass voice. He was a very nice person, who was very sophisticated and educated. I felt that his Bengali sophistication would in fact make him sound like an awkward outsider in his Marathi folk rendition. I wanted that rawness in ‘Dolkar’. Initially he was supposed to sing only the ‘mukhda’ but then I got an additional ‘antara’ written specially for him.

Once while listening to Didi’s Marathi Koligeet, my Bengali college-friend exclaimed that those songs were copied from Bengali music! Those Bengali versions were done at the behest of Salil Choudhury…right?

Yes. Salilda was my Guru and it was because of his encouragement and efforts, many of my Marathi songs were later recorded as Bengali versions. Whenever he liked a particular song, he would ask me its meaning; then he would write its Bengali version and arrange for the recording. Didi already knew the tunes. So making those Bengali songs required no real effort from my side.

There was a hoax message circulating on Whatsapp that R.D. Burman arranged for ‘Doore akaash shaamiyana’ (tinhee saanjaa sakhe miLaaya’s Bengali version).

(Smiles).

No. R.D. and I never worked together. The recording company would often suggest to do something different; and the modern arrangements of Doore aakash were as a result of that.

These Bengali versions sound so beautiful. I am even more partial towards Bengali versions of Salilda’s songs for Didi.

I had produced a film called Sunbaai in 1962. There as an experiment, I wanted to bring Bengali music in Marathi films. So I asked Salilda to compose songs.

I love the Sunbaai songs, especially Preet phule maajhee soneree soneree and Preetee vinaa sukunee jaaee.

Unfortunately only a few appreciated those songs.

You must have attended many of Didi’s recordings for other great composers. How was that experience?

Actually as a matter of principle, mostly I did not attend her recordings. But there were a few exceptions. I attended the recording of ‘Main piya teri tu maane yaa na maane’(for Shankar Jaikishan’s Basant Bahar)  because I wanted to see (famous flautist) Pannalal Ghosh play flute. Later Madan Mohan once personally called me over to see the ‘Woh chup rahe to mere dil ke daag jalte hain’ recording for Jahan Ara. He used to call me – “Hruday”!

The most significant memory is of Kahin deep jale kahin dil’s recording (for Hemant Kumar’s Bees Saal Baad). Before that song, Didi’s voice was giving her trouble while singing. It was breaking in between. Doctors said that there was a nodule on her throat (vocal cords). She had tried a lot of treatments but nothing was succeeding. Ustad Amir Khan then suggested her to stop singing completely for some time. He said that he had also faced a similar problem in his career and taking a total break had helped him.

Didi then stopped singing for some months. She went to Panhala and rested. ‘Kahin deep jale kahin dil’ was her first recording after that long break. That time I attended her recording because she wanted someone close to her to give her an impartial opinion whether her voice, her singing was alright. She sang that day and how well did she sing! Her voice was better than before!

Who made Hridaynath Mangeshkar?

Every artist makes his own destiny. No composer, whether it is Naushad or Shankar Jaikishan or anyone else can claim that he made Lata Mangeshkar. She made herself. Similarly neither Lata Mangeshkar nor Asha Bhosle should get the credit for making Hridaynath Mangeshkar.

To let go of the beaten path and to chart your own course requires a lot of guts, conviction and a devil-may-care maverick attitude. I did that from very young age. Of course, a lot of this rebellious attitude has come genetically from my father but finally I had to persist with it. It is difficult to do that when you are being criticized from all quarters and when you are facing difficult times where no work or money is coming your way.

Even my own family members opposed and advised to let go of my steadfastness. Asha-tai would say, “Why do you have to keep tuning the poems? Why can’t you compromise and embrace film music? Hasn’t it brought success for us?” My mother would say, “Your Baba composed such great music at young age. What are you doing?” Didi was more supportive but even she was worried about my future.

In spite of all these difficulties, I kept doing what felt right to me. I walked on the path where stones and thorns were plenty. It is a lonely road but finally you do find angels who would help you. After spending years in my journey, I have finally reached some place. That’s why I can definitely say that Hridaynath Mangeshkar is self-made!

About the author
Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

Lata Online’s editor-webmaster-curator Dr. Mandar V. Bichu is a pediatrician based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, who is also a prolific writer-journalist. His fascination for Lata Mangeshkar’s music has resulted in two books-Gaaye Lata Gaaye Lata and Lata-Voice of the golden era, and many published articles.