“The dark shadow of death”, in the words of William Shakespeare, has eclipsed India’s Queen of Melody and her nightingale, whose haunting melodies buzzing in our ears continue to nourish our souls. The voice that resounded in all hearts for almost seven decades fell silent when Lata Mangeshkar said goodbye to this world. Those who have listened to her melodies over the past decades will continue to miss her, but the treasure she left behind will continue to comfort, as it has for generations.
As the legendary singer leaves this world, the most fitting tribute seems to be one of her own, popular songs from the second half of the last century, “Guzra Hua Zamana Aata Nahin Dobara, Hafiz Khuda Tumhara” from the 1956 film Shirin Farhad, as if chosen decades ago for this final moment. “Rahen na rahen hum, mehka karenge, ban kay kali banke saba bagh e wafa mein” is also suitable for the occasion. The treasure is so long that one can choose a song or several for each situation touching his life, romantic or tragic personified. However, it becomes equally difficult for someone to choose a few of the plethora of beautiful songs from his melodious voice. Her smooth, captivating voice has been a hallmark of Bollywood Hindi-Urdu music with lovers across generations.
My memories take me back to when I was still a toddler, playing on parents’ and grandparents’ laps in the mid-1960s, when Bollywood music was at its peak. Once tickling my dad’s toes, I remember him whispering one of Lata’s famous songs “Raja Ki Ayegi Baraat, Rangeeli Hogi Raat, Magan Main Nachungi…”, while feeling a sweet light smell of his cigarette. It was loaded with love and affection for “Raja”, derived from my original name (Raja Ehsan ul Haq Fazili). Every time I listened to this song later in my life, I felt a sweet hint of that cigarette smoke, rooted in fatherly love and affection.
Three decades – from the 1950s to the 1970s – saw a large number of Bollywood films with the hard work of people associated with its various fields. Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi occupy the first place in the list of singers of this era. “I have decorated Lata Mangeshkar’s photo in my house. When I enter the room, I look at her photo and greet her,” comments Ab Wahid, a senior doctor, formerly at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of medical sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar in a fb post. “No one could replace Mohd Rafi. No singer was as good as Rafi. I greet you on your birthday Rafi Sahib. And today I pray for a long life for the subcontinent nightingale Lata Mangeshkar. No one can replace her too,” he wrote in another post recently.
One of the immense treasures of Lata’s moving songs, Mughal-e-Azam’s “Jab Pyar kiya toh darna kya………” is graced by the queen of melody with her opening verse “Insaan kisi se Duniya mein ek baar Muhabbat karta hai, Iss Dard Ko laker jeeta hai Iss dard ko Lekar Marta hai.” There is still a plethora of soulful songs that leave an impact to match any situation in the heart, especially its romantic side.
“Tera janaa, Dil k armanoon ka lut janaa”, one of the high-pitched songs (Anari), has no match that touches the heart strings. Equally touching are compositions like “Na shikwa hai koi na koi gila hai…” and “Teray Sadqay balam…”. (Amar, 1954) or “Ehsaan Tera Hoga Mujh Par Dil Jo Kehta hai….” by Junglee and “Aaj Phir Jeenay Ki Tamanna hai….” (Guide). Lata’s duets with a number of male singers are no less in quality and impact. Only a few of them “Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni mein hum tum milay to veerane mein bhi aa jayegi Bahar (Chori Chori), Pyar hua Ikrar hua hai pyar sey phir kyon darta hai dil (Shree 420) or “Dum Bhar Jo udhar munh phere ……. (Awara), “Jo wada kiya woh nibhana padega…” (Taj Mahal) and “Yunhi tum mujsay baat karti ho, ya koi pyar ka irada hai…”. (Sacha Jhoota).
As a playback singer, Lata’s voice was the most lip-synced to heroines or other women’s faces on the movie screen for over seven decades, from black and white to color films. Heroines of yesteryear like Madhubala and Nargis Dutt, in particular, had a great affinity and love for this voice, as it matched their expressions, based on the story. Tears were streaming from his eyes because of his voice, Nargis Dutt had once said aptly. Madhubala, the most famous actress of the 1950s-1960s, had a column included in her contract that all songs filmed about her were to be sung only by Lata Mangeshkar.
Undoubtedly, the singing icon ruled hearts. His voice was even part of the 1988 TV song “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” promoting national integration and unity in diversity. DD production in Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu featured respective locations. Towards the conclusion, it featured Bollywood actresses Hima Malini, Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman, Tanuja and Shabana Azmi, with Lata’s reading, like those in the movies, adding life to the presentation. As the short ends with her face singing “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara…..” the most popular voice rings out.