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Koyal Boli

by Nikhil Bhagat

When Mandar called me a few days ago, requesting an article on what Lata Mangeshkar and her songs have meant to me personally, I told him and myself, 'How on earth does one write an article on Lata? One can write volumes'.  Generally, I am an optimist and feel nobody is indispensable. The show will go on. But in Lata Mangeshkar's case, the equation changes. I have found myself telling others that such a voice will not resonate on the face of this earth for the next millennium, to say the least.

Like many, I was introduced to Hindi film songs through Chhaya Geet/ Chitrahaar on TV. I used to ardently watch the half-hour show, note the songs I liked, discuss them with my friends and get them recorded on cassettes. Being a Gen-Xer, I was fascinated with R.D. Burman and that brought Lata and her songs to the fore. So, in a way, I gravitated from songs like Baahon Mein Chale Aao and Pal Bhar Mein Yeh Kya Ho Gaya (a Rajesh Roshan special) to the music of Madan Mohan and others.

Growing up was hard at times and often, there were occasions when I felt that the forces of universe were conniving against me and were out to get me. Also, I desperately wanted to be something in life, but on my own terms, in my own way. At this time, I was influenced by Lata's Ae Mere Dil-E-Nadaan Tu Gham Se Naa Ghabrana, from Tower House. That song inspired me no end and guided me through turbulent times. Especially the part where she sings: Ik din to samajh legi duniyaa tera afsana.

Then, when I was in college and dating the girl I eventually married, she brought to my attention another Lata gem from Himalay Se Ooncha:

Pyar jisko kehte hein ik baar kiya jaata hai
Dil jisko kehte hein ik baar diya jaata hai.

To date, I love that song from the pair of Kalyanji-Anandji and Indeevar.

And during my all-important BSc exams (I had to do well to get into UDCT, Matunga, for otherwise what would my life be? It was such a big deal then!) when we had the study break to prepare for the finals and when I could not meet her as the college was closed and we were preparing for our exams, it was Lata's: Hai tere saath meri wafaa, Main nahin to kya  from Hindustan Ki Kasam, which kept me afloat and inspired me to do well in my exams.

My father had bought me a Philips deck system and I spent countless hours in the living room of my house and the adjoining balcony, in the lap of nature, preparing for my exams and listening to Hindi music during a break. It was a thrill to witness the different times of the day and night sitting in the balcony on the swing, listening to what I call 'situational' songs or 'time of the day' songs. And Lata's songs came to the rescue once again. If it was the pleasing, mellow night-time, I would listen to the lovely strains of Yeh Raatein Nayi Purani  from Julie and Aao Tumhein Chand Pe Le Jaayein  from Zakhmee. At sunrise or early morning, it was the classic Bhor Bhaye Panchi Dhun Ye Sunaye from Aanchal or Jaago Mohan Pyaare from Jaagte Raho. And in the evening, it was Roz Shaam Aati Thi, Magar Aisi Na Thi from Imtihaan. And during the rains, nothing could beat the lilting Rimjhim Gire Saawan from Manzil.

The unusual quality of Lata's voice was its multi-faceted-ness. It could be the voice of a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, an angel or an apparition. And a common, searing aspect was the overpowering sincerity in the voice. Be it the devotional Allah Tero Naam from Hum Dono or Maai Ree from Dastak or Hum Tere Pyar Mein Saara Aalam Kho Baithe from Dil Ek Mandir or Kis Liye Maine Pyaar Kiya from The Train. Then there was the voice which could convey intense pain and anguish, as in the heart-rending Rangeela Re from Prem Pujari and the stinging Tu Kya Jaane Bewafaa from Haath ki Safaai. Her voice could be naughty, playful, innocent and a lot of fun, in Julmi Sang Aankh Ladi from Madhumati, Yeh Jab Se Hui Jiya Ki Chori from Us Paar, Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar from Shagird, Oye Budhho Lambo Lambo from Buddha Mil Gaya and Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka Sab Ka Kehna Hai from Hare Rama Hare Krishna. (To digress, as far as the Hare Rama Hare Krishna song is concerned, I have always chuckled at the part when Pancham tells Lata, Ek Hazaaron Mein Teri Behna  Hai. As it turned out, he did marry the one-in-a-thousand sister after all!) And then there is this unusual and rarely heard song from Paap Aur Punya, picturised on Sharmila Tagore: Main Hun Jodhpur Ki Jugni. It is a lot of fun and sheer delight to hear Lata sing that song.

In Raina Beeti Jaaye from Amar Prem, she was absolutely mesmerising and much later, continued to strike a pleasing chord in Dil To Hai Dil from Muqaddar Ka Sikander. Then you chance upon the street-smart Prem Ka Rog Bada Bura from Dus Numbari, Dilbar Dil Se Pyaare from Caravan and think, wow, she can play elusive and also express raging jealousy.

Woh Chand Khila, Woh Taaren Hase from Anaadi must've been the nth time she confidently soared, regardless of who was singing along. Indeed, it feels like the earnest, simple voice of Mukesh just falls in line, smitten, and only remembers the refrain, Na samjhe woh Anaadi hai...

And then, in the 70s, along comes the familiar, yet sprightly, fresh-sounding voice, unbelievably 16-year-oldish, matching the youthful voice of debutant Shailendra Singh-Aksar Koi Ladka from Bobby. When you hear her in Solah Baras ki Baali Umar Ko Salaam from Ek Dujje Ke Liye, you feel like telling her, aapke mahaan voice ko salaam. And who can forget the two solos from Kora Kagaz : Mera Padhne Mein Nahin Lage Dil and Roothe Roothe Piya. The two delightful solos from Kacche Dhaage: the title song and Haay Haay Ik Ladka Mujko Khat Likhta Hai. Could she be any more endearing?

The way Lata Mangeshkar sounded with Madan Mohan was unique and out- of-this-world. Madan Mohan brought out the best of her and vice versa. Such intense songs, with an eternal, yet ethereal quality about them. A treat for music lovers. Some of my favourites include Betaab Dil Ki Tamanna Yahi Hai from Hanste Zakhm, the heart-breaking Do Dil Toote Do Dil Haare from Heer Ranjha, Woh Bhooli Dastaan Lo Phir Yaad Aa Gayi from Sanjog. The haunting Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim from Woh Kaun Thi is a perennial favourite of mine.

Talking of haunting songs, Lata has outdone herself in Hemant Kumar's Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil from Bees Saal Baad. Personally, I feel that nothing in life is perfect. It is almost-perfect. But her voice in that song is perfect. The story goes that Lata had a major throat problem then. She went to Hemant Kumar and told him that she was afraid she might lose her voice and that he should record the song with someone else. But Hemant Kumar dispelled her fears and told her he wanted to record the song with her alone and was prepared to wait. And after three months, this was the first song she recorded and to me, it feels like she immortalized it.

She had a different equation with Laxmikant-Pyarelal also. She sounded magnificent in their debut film Parasmani--the exuberant Mere Dil Mein and the opening number, Ooi maa, Ooi maa. Her duets with Mukesh under Laxmikant-Pyarelal are timeless masterpieces. Namely Ik Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai from Shor, Main Na Bhoolunga, Main Na Bhoolungi from Roti Kapda Aur Makaan and Sawan Ka Mahina from Milan. Lata Mangeshkar refused many cabaret songs in her career. But just to prove a point about her versatility, she recorded Aa Jaanejaan from Inteqaam with Laxmikant Pyarelal, and what a performance it was!

I have felt that she was on the right side of any moral and personal issues that she stood up for. She has believed in herself and has not been afraid of the consequences. She had a fallout with Mohammed Rafi over royalty issues and refused to sing with him for a while. She also took on the great Raj Kapoor over the royalty issue. There was also the misunderstanding with Sachin Dev Burman and there was a period when they did not record any song with each other. But then they got back together for Bandini and who can forget the enchanting Jogi Jab Se Tu Aaya Mere Dware? There are many songs of hers which have not become as popular as the male versions of the same song but they are still a treat to the ears--Jiya O Jiya from Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai, Jeevan Ke Safar Mein Raahi from Munimji, Chanda O Chanda from Lakhon Mein Ek and Ulfat Mein Zamane Ki Har Rasm Ko Thukrao from Call Girl.

For me, her voice has unravelled so many mysteries of life, penetrated so many silences and at the same time made me appreciate them. It has provided so many fun-filled moments, inspired me, made me cry, laugh, enlivened and enhanced the many facets of nature. It has made this life worth living and made this earth a better place to live in. It has been a medium to my soul, a blessing, a benevolence. In Is Duniya Mein Jeena Ho To from Gumnaam, she sings:

Main albeli chingari hoon nachoon aur lehraoon
Daaman daaman phool khilaoon aur khushiyan barsaoon
Duniyawaalon tum kya janon jeene ki yeh baatein
Aao meri mehfil mein, main yeh do baatein samjhaoon.

Well, Lata Mangeshkar, I have been in your mehfil for a long time and will unabashedly continue to do so. And in parting, when I think of what her voice has meant to me, I am reminded of Jaan Nisaar Akhtar's words from Khayaam's Aap Yun Faaslon Se Guzarte Rahein from the movie Shankar Hussain:

Gungunati rahi meri tanhaiyan
Door bajti rahi kitni shehnaiyaan
Zindagi, zindagi ko bulaati rahi.

Thanks a lot, Lata Mangeshkar, for everything.

About the author
Nikhil Bhagat

Nikhil Bhagat is a BSc Tech in Intermediates & Dyes from UDCT (University Department of Chemical Technology), Matunga, Mumbai, and has an MS degreein Chemistry from The University of Iowa, Iowa City. He has worked as a Research Scientist and a Quality Control Scientist in the chemical industry. His interests include sports, music, travelling, reading and writing. He resides in Mumbai.