An excerpt from the book Peerless Minds, Edited by Pritish Nandy and Tapan Chaki. 

Interviewed by KHALID MOHAMED

‘I would like to continue singing till my voice gives up on me. Singing is all that I know, all that I care for.’- Lata Mangeshkar.

Inevitably, the musicians and back-up singers were in awe of Lata Mangeshkar. A day before flying to Canada for a round of concerts, the troupe was chilling at the Hilton bar. She strode in to check out what the musicians were up to. Were they being looked after? Freeze frame. All covered up their drinks with napkins (including me), we couldn’t possibly guzzle spirits within her eye range. Noticing our scared-to-death expressions, she smiled, said, ‘Cheers!’, laughed lightly and exited the bar as suddenly as she had entered it.

That’s the Lata Mangeshkar I know. Perceptive and of genius talent. So how come nobody has ever called her a diva? The excerpts from my two-session interview, I hope, will give you a clue on why she’d rather be a people’s chanteuse than an inaccessible goddess.

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Khalid Mohamed: Do you ever reflect on your achievements over seven decades? Are there gnawing thoughts—khwaishen aur bhi baaki hain—or is there a sense of contentment and satisfaction?

I abstain from replaying my songs because that would be far too self-indulgent. It would be like saying, ‘Dekhiye logon, I am now thriving in the past, on the Sunset Boulevard of my mind.’

Lata Mangeshkar: I do not consider myself as a reflective, brooding person. I would just end up tying myself in knots. Time has gone by in a blur, the beginnings seem just like yesterday. Today there’s that instinct to do more. No singer can stop because of one’s age or the startling shifts in taste and trends in music. Since you’ve asked me the question about whether I do reflect, I would say there’s an overriding feeling of immense gratitude.

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Gratitude above all to Bhagwan, to my father, to my gurus and to the nation who showed me the way to pursue whatever I have done with diligence and shraddha [faith]. Many artistes forget their debts to those who showed them the path; success alas breeds forgetfulness. Gratitude keeps an artiste grounded, enticing him or her to hang on to hope. There is no point in wallowing in the past. Only a narcissist would wallow in the past, ignoring the todays and tomorrows. I would like to continue singing till my voice gives up on me. Singing is all that I know, all that I care for.

KM: Then why don’t we hear more of you either in films or in niche recordings—be it the genres
of the classical, devotional music or ghazal?

LM: Is that a question to ask? Sangeet filmon mein raha hi nahin [Music has vanished from the movies]. As for classical music, it continues to be the way it was.

My generation’s kind of film music has come to a full stop. Filmmakers and composers actually tell me, ‘The market has changed. The youth wants an entirely different sort of music and entertainment.’ With the advance of technology, synthesizers and digital effects have replaced expert instrumentalists and orchestral back-up support. The vocals are often so hurricane-paced that the lyrics can be barely deciphered. The human factor is secondary. Machine-made sounds and voice-tweaking have become paramount.

Gratitude above all to Bhagwan, to my father, to my gurus and to the nation who showed me the way to pursue whatever I have done with diligence and shraddha [faith].

Instead of straining my ears to figure out what the new millennium music is all about, I have stopped listening even to the chartbusters. I don’t mean to sound supercilious at all. I have also stopped listening to my own songs and the vintage film hits of my colleagues. I believe there is an ever-growing listenership for the melodies of yore, the ‘bhule-bisre’ geet [forgotten songs], which is not surprising. Clearly, the yesteryear songs were special, and superior if I may say so. I abstain from replaying my songs because that would be far too self-indulgent. It would be like saying, ‘Dekhiye logon, I am now thriving in the past, on the Sunset Boulevard of my mind.’

KM: You don’t listen to music at all?

LM: No, no, to come to that stage I would have to cut off my ears. Whenever the mood grabs me, I listen to the ghazals of Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali, and the classical vocals of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Amir Khan.

I couldn’t sing in the pure classical form since I was steeped in film music. Ideally, I should have been able to sing in the popular and classical idioms simultaneously.

Image Credit: HarperCollins India/Pritish Nandy

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Excerpted with permission from the book Peerless Minds by Pritish Nandy and TapanChaki, HarperCollins India.

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