My Didi

by Mrs. Lavanya Shah

I call Lataji "Didi". I have had the privilege to know her personally because of my lyricist father late Pandit Narendra Sharma, a famous Hindi poet. Hers is a voice that is interwoven with the very fabric of my life. Like the billion or more Indians, I, too have enjoyed Didi's voice which to me is ' Divine "! In my humble opinion our Didi is the undisputed " Swar Samragnee", the empress of Music and Melody.

Every Sept. 28th, we celebrate Didi's birthday and rejoice with her melodious songs. As one performs the puja of Mother Ganges with its holy water, for us, the celebration of Didi's magical life cannot be complete if it is without her honey sweet voice and her immortal songs. We listen to the treasure trove of great songs that we have with us and marvel again and again at the inherent simplicity, sweetness and beauty of her amazing voice. I silently, worshipfully call her -   "Adwitiya Swari "! 

Didi is the bridge, which takes me back to my childhood home.  I have had the great fortune of knowing Didi from a very early age. To us children she was that smiling sweet lady who walked in with her golden payals making melodious tinkling sound as she came into our home and did Namaste to us in reply. Much later, as it was our privilege to be present in her august presence and to listen to her talk with my papaji late Pandit Narendra Sharma and my amma Smt. Susheela N. Sharma. Those were idyllic days. I often thought that those days would never end. But alas they did! Now papaji and amma are gone but the memory of those days remains, fragrant as ever in my heart and the images still vibrant and alive and as colorful as ever. 

Didi’s generosity is boundless and her affections are true. I recall once when she saw us kids running to borrow ice cubes from our neighbor's home. Didi did not like that and sent a fridge the next day. Papa did not want to accept it. He lived a Spartan life. Only after much imploring, that fridge was accepted!

Didi said on Papa's 60th birthday that she would arrange a musical concert for Papa's birthday but he said, “If you are my daughter, come for a good simple meal and please do not bind me with maya or I will leave you all and head off to Kashi." The proposed concert never took place but we all did eat together, a home-made meal prepared by my amma!

There are so many such memories which are present forever in my heart. I can vividly see, Didi arriving for our weddings with silk sarees and asking amma to keep it for us as we looked with tear-filled eyes at our didi who never got married but was gracious and kind when we, her younger sisters were getting married !

How can I ever forget such warm and loving and selfless gestures?

Didi has shouldered her responsibilities with great aplomb and courage. After Master Dinanathji's untimely demise, she took charge of the family. Those hard times soon became a thing of the past as Didi excelled in Hindi film music field with one super hit one after other and became an icon by '50's.

 Dinanathji was himself a classical master and his children have followed in their esteemed father's footsteps taking the family name ever higher and higher to glory and to a non-perishable eternal shining fame. As I look at the musically gifted Mangeshkar Family, I often remember Sant Gyaneshwar's family. There is a divine similarity between them. The Mangeshkar siblings also have the sweet songstress, our versatile Ashatai; the singer with a rustic appeal Ushaji; the reserved and shy Meenaji and the youngest sibling and a singer-composer-connoisseur Pandit Hriday Nathji, all whom are expert musicians and artists of world class caliber. Among these 5 shining star siblings, Lata Didi is DHRUVA! The fixed North Star that guides us all to our homes.

Didi is a beautiful lady, inside and out. She is what she comes across in her singing. An honest and sincere kalakaar, a komal hridaya woman and above all this, a great human being! Didi's voice is the sound of the eternal. The anahad naad which can be heard in sweet tones is Didi's voice that we hear is the prasad of Mata Saraswati.

Lata-Didi's aalap and then soft sign off lends the song a signature, a stamp which is hers and hers alone! On a lighter note, I recall this incident at the recording of a " Satyam Shivam Sunderam " song " Sunee jo unke aane ki aahat, garibkhana sajaya humne " written by Papaji Pt. Narendra Sharma. We were at the studio that day. Raj Kapoor saab was strictly instructed by Lataji (via someone) not to enter her recording space. Raj saab, always a very mischievous fellow, put just half of his leg inside as he came near to request in his inimitable style, “Please kuchh aalaap jod dijiye na , Lataji is gaane mein!" ......

Didi fumed and said under her breath," Alaap hi alaap se poori record bhar doongi  ! Phir aise hi gaaana  release ker dijiyega!" and we all burst out laughing ....!

Recently I heard her song:

 ' Kaise piya se main kahoon mujhe kitna pyar hai,
aankhon ko intezaar hai, dil bekaraar hai '.

I was instantly bowled over by the sheer surge of pride and joy and a zooming kind of tranquility descended upon me. The effect of this song was mesmerizing. I felt, what I'd felt many a times before. Didi was singing this song just for me! A voice, which belonged to an angel, who had descended from the highest heavens to earth to soothe us mortals for few hours with her manna, was singing this song just for me.

Then I called her and told her how much I loved this song. There was yet another privilege; to hear her tinkling laughter which I always compare to tiny bells made of pure gold. It is like the sheerest, softest purest muslin cloth, which can pass through a ring!!

Today as I share this page from my memories I cannot help but smile and re-live those wonderful moments and I wish to Lord Almighty to keep my Didi, safe and happy and smiling!

There is no one like her. I'm her bhakt perhaps like all of you here.

How do I compare thee o Didi?
To what shall I compare thee?

You are the one and only Lata Didi; my Didi!!

(*Mrs. Lavanya Shah is a writer-poetess based in US. She is the daughter of famous Hindi poet-lyricist Pt. Narendra Sharma.)

About the author
Mrs. Lavanya Shah

Mrs. Lavanya Shah is a writer-poetess based in US. She is the daughter of famous Hindi poet-lyricist Pt. Narendra Sharma.