New Delhi: When I was a teenager my eldest brother who was a poet at heart once said ‘Lata Mangeshkar was the best thing that happened to India’. That for the legend, Basant Panchmi turned out to be the last day of her life was in a way the ultimate tribute to her as the singer with the ‘gift of Saraswati’ who would take the voice of India to all corners of the world. She was a Bharat Ratna who was also honoured with Legion of Honour by France — a country symbolising the best in the European culture — confirming the universality of Lata Mangeshkar’s musical appeal and civilisational heritage. That she was cremated with national honour with Prime Minister Modi personally appearing for her last rites, was a dignified gesture of a grateful nation. India has produced great sons and daughters but what is certain is that there would not be another Lata Mangeshkar for this nation.
This uniqueness is both about her singing talent as well as her persona as a star nationally respected as Lata Didi. Her story was a fabulous illustration of the journey of a self-made person who began with shouldering the responsibility of the large family as a teenager and through a rare self-belief, commitment to a value system and the unwavering devotion to the goal in her life, rose to become the ‘Nightingale of India’. At the height of her fame she lived a life on her terms, preserved her lively interest in cricket and cars and remained an embodiment of Indian womanhood in terms of generosity, innate wisdom that enabled her to be stable in success and a healthy interest in the state of the nation. What would remain unchanged about her was her white ‘sari’, a red ‘bindi’ and the two braids. It is remarkable that as a legend she carried this image of purity till the end in an effortless way. Her memory will always inspire respect, affection and admiration for her singing genius.
Talking of her fame as a playback singer, there is no doubt that the haunting initial four lines of the famous song Ayega Aanewala rendered without a rhyming tune – ‘Khaamosh Hai Zamaana’ – established the unparalleled beauty of her singing. Some of the greatest songs of the genre of impactful sadness sung by Lata Mangeshkar include Mushkil Hai Bahut Mushkil, Ye Zindagi Usi Ki Hai and Tum Na Jane Kis Jahan Me Kho Gaye. Of the melodious tunes, songs like Bande Mataram of Anand Math, Jago Mohan Pyare of Jagate Raho and Gaaye Chalaja of Hamlog will remain in memory. And of course there are immortal romantic duets like Pyar Hua Ikarar Hua Hai, Kitana Hasin Hai Mausam and Yaad Kiya Dil Ne Kahan Ho Tum with Manna Dey, Chitalkar and Hemant Kumar. Some youthful songs of lilting tunes have their own place for the fans- Ziya Bekarar Hai, Thandi Hawaein and Kare Badara Tu Na Ja Na Ja. And of course Lata Mangeshkar sang a number of songs totally based on classical music such as Thare Rahiyo, Raina Beeti Jaye and
Preetam Daras Dikhao directed by Ghulam Mohammad, RD Barman and Madan Mohan. One can have a collection of her songs including duets for a spell of soothing music of one’s choice.
Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar’s greatness lies in her exceptional contribution to national unity through her art and influence -bringing together Indians of all communities, classes and regions as her fans. She represented at the highest levels the universal beauty of Indian music rooted in our tradition and quickly became the cultural ambassador of India in distant lands beyond the subcontinent or the diaspora. That she was totally apolitical reinforces the civilisational strength of India which has to be preserved and fostered for the interest of all countrymen. The message of culture does not need a language and supersedes the lesser divides inflicted in the name of religion, language and ethnicity by politically motivated elements.
Lata Mangeshkar leaves behind a legacy of how our national icons must carry forward India’s image and prestige in the world outside and thus contribute to nation’s strength and standing as a promoter of universal peace and human welfare. Cultural nationalism unites people at home and does not create conflict with the world outside- religion represents differing modes of worship but provides an input to culture that helped to socially unite people. It is the projection of religion into politics – mostly the doing of community leaders of the minorities – that induces divisiveness and impedes national unity. Lata Mangeshkar united India in a manner that was as effective as it was subtle and sublime.