Lata Mangeshkar: A religion beyond saffron or green

Written By: Subhash K Jha
New Delhi Updated: Feb 06, 2022, 11:38 PM(IST)

File photo of Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph:( IANS )

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Lata Mangeshkar's songs owed allegiance to neither saffron nor green. They were a religion of their own. A colour so vibrant, deep, tapestried and rich, it had no human definition

I had decided to not write an obituary on the Goddess Of All Melodious Things. Obituaries are written for the dead. A Goddess cannot die. She will live through thousands of her songs for as long as civilization exists.

Even a single song of Lata Mangeshkar, not even the thousands that she has rendered to infinite durability, is worth infinitely more than entire body of songs sung by any other singer. Think Raina Beeti Jaye, Aaj Socha Toh Aansoon Bhar Aaye, Ae Dilruba, Kitni Dard Bhari Yeh Raat Hai, Abke Na Sawan Barse, Saawan Ke Jhoole Pade and many more.

Those who talk about her 'monopoly' now when she is gone should hear these songs. I can send you a list of 200 songs of hers, each one a consummate, self-contained masterpiece at par with Picasso’s Mona Lisa or the legendary Kohinoor diamond. 

I have heard Main hoon Teri Prem Deewani, Mere Saiyan Mera Raja Diljani, at  least  500  times since it was first released in  1978. the obscure RD Burman composition is from a potboiler titled Azaad which doesn’t deserve this gem of a song.

I still can't figure out how she has sung it. The pauses she takes between the lines, the way she carries the notes from mid-wave to the highest octave within two lines: no singer in the world, not Tansen, not Bhimsen Joshi, not Pavarotti can do this. Lata Mangeshkar was beyond any human explanation of excellence.

I am embarrassed to praise her when She is gone. I had vowed I wouldn’t. After a lifetime of deep unconditional uninterrupted veneration, I had decided to not join the chorus of panegyrics after her going. But then I saw some deeply cynical writing accusing her of going saffron after singing for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. I heard discordant voices questioning her political allegiance.

Yes, she was fond of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She, on many occasions, spoke to me about him warmly. I remember, on her birthday in 2019, when I called her in the morning to wish, she gently asked me to call later.  

“Abhi Modiji ka phone aane wala hai,” she said  I couldn’t compete with that .

There was mutual fondness between the two, that transcended politics. Lataji’s Allah Tero Naam, Ishwar Tero Naam was no empty rhetoric. If she is being mourned in Pakistan as much as in India, then it’s only because she sang for mankind, not for the details on the passport. 

The Goddess’s songs owed allegiance to neither saffron nor green. They were a religion of their own. A colour so vibrant, deep, tapestried and rich, it had no human definition.

Keep her out of all political prattle. She was neither right nor left. She was. She is. She will be.

Since this morning I saw 'tributes' in which she was slyly accused of 'sabotaging' the careers of singers like Vani Jairam, Hemlata, Preeti Sagar and  Suman  Kalyanpur. With due respect to these singers, no singer in this world was competition for Lataji. Because she was not of this world. We Lata bhakts believe she was Saraswati Ma reincarnated. 

I have not even begun to process her departure from this world. I can’t believe I will never be able to speak to her again.

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