BY SUPRIYA NEWAR
She commanded a most incomparable run. She ruled charts and hearts. She shattered all barriers of every imaginable kind. She was bestowed with the tallest accolades.
She was 92. She was ailing, suffering. She had already fought one round of Covid. She was well past her prime. And yet, on Sunday morning, as I drove my car and the news alert started beeping one after the other, I stopped to glance at the headlines.
Lata Mangeshkar was no more. The nightingale had finally flown.
I had an instant sinking feeling. And to my surprise, within that one moment, my eyes had welled up. But I had to re-start the car and drive to attend my meeting.
The gentleman who I was meeting with, is a voice of reason and good sense. When I mentioned the news, he articulated that as sad as it was, it was also time for her to go. And that as tides turn, new voices, new artists must come to the fore. Of course, I understand that. We all know our very nature is mortal. Besides, the best way to respond to life such as hers would be to celebrate it. Not mourn.
But mourn we did. The nation, the state, its people.
When I returned home by noon or so, I was trying to carry on with my tasks at hand. But even without switching on the TV or scrolling through my mobile, a voice kept gnawing at my heart.
Lata was no more.
So then, I decided to articulate for my own myself, why her demise felt so shattering; what her loss meant. To me and maybe to millions of others.
Her voice was multi-generational. At least three generations of any Indian family had been deeply affected and touched by her songs. You could share the ache of Tum na jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye and Ae mere watan ke logon with your elders, group sing her many songs with friends and peers and watch gen-next groove to many of her re-mixes or even attempt a 50-year-old Ajeeb dastan hai yeh…
In an age and world that seems more ephemeral than ever, especially in the light of the last two years, when you heard Allah tero naam or Mere saaya saath hoga you feel anchored. Held. Bosomed.
I can’t remember having gone without Hindi film songs for more than 48 hours at a stretch in my life, in the last 25-30 years. Starting from Hemant Kumar, Talat, Mukesh, Rafi, Kishore, even Bhupinder, Suresh Wadekar, Shailendra to Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Suraiya, Lata, Asha and more, I’ve always found time to listen to at least some of them every single day. But as much as I’ve loved their songs and voices (and words), I’ve not had a chance to grieve most of their demises. That’s because barring a few, most of these legendary singers were gone before my listening had matured. Fortunately, Lata (and Asha) outlived almost all of their peers. I suppose in some odd way, I had therefore reposed my entire musical legacy, more in Lata than anyone else. And in her passing away, that legacy came to its final fall, leaving a sense of void that is unexplainable.
She taught us to listen to music better. Listening to even the lightest songs by Lata, made one a better listener. And when you listened to her finest in Ae dil-e nadaan, or Satyam Shivam Sundaram or Is mod se jaate hain or Piya bina piya bina or Lag ja gale se, you saw why the greatest of classical vocalists bowed to her. You saw how a ‘popular’ artist could also be an institution. Or how one single voice was able to capture, honour, and render every possible human emotion. In her demise, you lost a guru who you had never personally met but encountered often.
No article, book or tribute can do justice to a phenomenon named Lata Mangeshkar. But many of us will write, express, share, and vent. Because that day, we didn’t lose an artist or a voice. We have lost a preciously guarded heirloom, one that we were passing down generation after generation. One whom we could proudly claim as our own.
In her passing away, we’ve lost a source that could effortlessly connect us from the mundane to the divine in just a few moments.
We bow to you Lata Mangeshkar. We will remain eternally grateful.
A Calcuttan, Supriya Newar is a bibliophile, music aficionado and a zealous traveller. An author and a poet, she’s seriously dabbled with wordsmithery for over two decades and has several hundred bylines and books to her name. Her last book ‘Kalkatta Chronicles’ received wide appreciation and acclaim.