As Lata Mangeshkar completed her 90th birthday in 2019, noted singer-composer Shankar Mahadevan had said, “The sound of Indian film industry music is Lata Mangeshkar.” Today, as the world mourns her passing, tabla maestro Bickram Ghosh agrees with Mahadevan and adds, ‘The ‘Nightingale of India’ as she was popularly known, has defined the sound of generations.”
The ‘Melody Queen of India’ fell silent today at the age of 92 at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, after a month-long struggle against post-Covid complications. The death of the national treasure, who was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award besides several national and international honours, has left the country and the Indian music industry in deep mourning.
Renowned Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty remembers Lata with great humility. “She was very dear to me. I remember the year she received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, I had also got the award for best male playback singer. She was so soft-spoken and humble. Despite being the foremost voice of India, she always used to say, ‘Main toh ek mamuli playback singer hoon (I’m just an ordinary playback singer)’. She knew my family well, and we learnt so much from her, especially the use of a microphone and how to control one’s breath while singing,” he says, and adds that for him, if the goddess Saraswati can be compared to any singer, it would be Lata and the late Carnatic legend MS Subbulakshmi.
Having begun her career at the age of 13, the iconic singer has sung over 30,000 songs in more than 36 languages, Bengali being prominent among them. She has sung nearly 185 Bengali songs, and almost all are classic hits. Each of her collaborations with Salil Chowdhury, Sudhin Dasgupta and Hemanta Mukhopadhyay touched a chord with Bengali audiences. Be it ‘Bujhbe Na Keu Bujhbe Na’ from Kabita (1977), ‘Gachher Patay Roder Jhikimiki’ from Rag Anurag (1975), ‘Mangal Deep Jwele’ from Pratidan (1983) or ‘Chole Jete Jete Din’ from Mon Niye (1969), Lata’s voice has immeasurably enriched Bengali music.
For Bickram Ghosh, it is uncanny that Lata has left us forever on the day of the immersion of goddess Saraswati in Bengal. “But she will continue to live with us through her voice forever,” he says. Ghosh says some music transcends time. He then mentions the music of Pt Ravi Shankar, Sudhin Dasgupta, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, and Lata. “The Bengali songs of Lata are timeless. Perhaps not everyone from today’s generation is listening to them now, but when they reach 30, they will listen. Legendary works define the character and identity of a nation’s music. God gave her a long life and we are lucky that we have more than 30,000 songs to listen to. She defines the gamut of Indian music… and not just film music either. Her bhajans are a treasure trove in themselves,” says the tabla wizard.
The news has left singer Haimanti Sukla speechless. “She is goddess Saraswati. I was fortunate to share the stage with the icon in Medinipur and Durgapur. I remember after her performance she asked me, ‘Haimanti, thik raha (did I do all right)’? Can anyone imagine such humility?” says the veteran vocalist.
Composer and singer Jeet Gannguli recalls the ‘single’ moment when he met Lata. “I got only one chance to record a song with her and that too, a bhajan for Kasauti Zindagi Ki. It was like meeting goddess Saraswati in real life. Music directors like me can talk about her only if I put in at least another 25 years in the industry,” he says.
Singer Surojit Chatterjee considers the Lata-Madan Mohan and Lata-Salil Chowdhury collaborations iconic. “The voice of Lata Mangeshkar will never die. As long as music lives, she will stay with us,” he says.
To honour the legendary singer, a two-day national mourning will be observed and the tricolor will fly at half-mast today and tomorrow.
“Anguished beyond words, Lata Mangeshkar leaves behind a void in nation that can’t be filled. Coming generations will remember Lata Mangeshkar as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose voice had unparalleled ability to mesmerise people,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has announced a half-holiday tomorrow in Lata’s honour. “I pay my heart-felt tribute to the departed icon of India, Bharatratna Lata Mangeshkar. While offering my sincerest condolences to her family and the billions of admirers that she leaves behind all over the world, I express my deepest sadness at the demise of the genius that the Nightingale of India truly was,” Mamata tweeted.