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Lata mangeshkar, 70
  She still has the same devotion
Naushad

I first met Latabai in the '40s -- in 1942 or 1943. She used to come to sing for the chorus in Marathi films that were being produced by Kardar Productions.

There was a boy called Jayram in our office. He told me about this Marathi girl who was a very good singer. He asked me to listen to her and I asked him to bring her over.

That is how I met her. It was Jayram who brought her to me in my music room.

I asked her to sing. She sang the Noorjahan song, Mere liye jahan mein na chain hai na karar hai. I remember telling her it was okay, but she had to improve her pronunciation. Otherwise, I told her she had a good voice. I asked her to keep in touch and promised to do the best I could.

She used to come. Getting off at Parel from a tram. With an umbrella. Wet in the rain.

Her first song for me was a duet that she sang with G M Durrani. The song was Ae chorre ki jaat badi bewafa. I made her sing that for Rs 60 then! She was ecstatic and her hands were quivering with excitement. I had then told her it was nothing and she would make much more. Only that she would have to practise. Practise is everything. Only hard work would pay off. So, she would practise regularly.

I am not implying that I should be taking credit for her success. She practised, worshipped and worked hard and achieved success. And she practises till this day.

Her whole family had good singers. Her father Dinanathsaab, her younger brother Baal (Hridayanath Mangeshkar), who also sang his first song with me. That song was from Baiju Bawra -- Saacho tero naam Ram -- which is sung by a child in the film.

I want to say one thing. Many singers who sing on stage donít mention music directors. But Latabai always made it a point to at least mention music directors like Madansaab (Madan Mohan) or me.

This is a very good thing because behind a singer, there is always the composer. Crediting him for his work is a civil thing for the singer to do.

I have made her sing the maximum number of songs. In fact Mehboobsaab would tell me that she is a Marathi girl, her pronunciations are not right and I was making her sing a ghazal. I took the responsibility of making her perfect her pronunciation.

So, in Andaaz she sang for Nargis for the first time. I made her rehearse the song for 20 days. I told her I have accepted a challenge from Mehboobsaab that she would sing the song perfectly on the first take. Those days there were no tape recorders. We would record directly on the optical track of the film.

I rehearsed with her, got her pronunciation right. She learnt the whole ghazal by heart. I had to explain the ghazal verse by verse. She had to understand the meter so as to figure out when a line in an Urdu verse begins and ends. This helped her improvise on her breathing techniques.

I donít know whether she remembers all this but I had made her do all this.

So I took her to Central Studios for recording, which was in Tardeo those days. Now it has turned into an AC Market. So there are no old memories left of those days.

The song was recorded there amidst Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Sardar Akhtar and Mehboobsaab. They were all sitting on the track. I told Lata that they were all deaf. Even the musicians are deaf. Only she was intelligent and knowledgeable and she should sing away confidently. So, I gave her confidence this way and she got her song right on the first take itself.

Raj Kapoor was ecstatic on hearing the song -- he lifted her up and asked me where I had found her.

These were singers who have learnt singing -- Lata, Asha, Rafi, Manna De and Mukesh -- unlike todayís singers who are untrained.

Todayís singers copy the old singers. Old songs are still being played today because a lot of hard work went into them.

Age is always apparent. There is a lot of difference in Lata's voice then and now. Nobody can escape that. There used to be a transparency in her voice then. But it is not her fault. She still is hard working, has the same devotion, only she is older now. She can't help that.

Lata had a rare sense of loyalty. Not only would she want to sing perfectly, she would want everybody to do the same. She got her sisters to me once to sing in the chorus, because she didn't want even the chorus to go wrong. This was always very endearing about her. She always endeavoured to make things easy for me.

She wasn't alone those days. She had competition from singers like Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnatki, Shamshad Begum, Noorjahan. They were all good singers. But when they started retiring one by one, Lata got her chance. She sang with them too and did well. She accepted the challenge to be as good as them or be even better.

You become a legend when nature blesses you with such a talent. Not otherwise. Just because you have lived for more years doesn't make you a legend. I have done something like 67 films, that is not much from the industry's point of view. You can call me a legend because of that.

But Lata's contribution is much more. You can call Pankaj Mullick, Anil Biswas, R C Boral legends, and Lata can be called one too.

She used to be always very respectful towards me. When recently my latest book Aathwan Sur was released in London, she came for the inauguration and said a few words.

Her voice was definitely a gift from the God. Take any creative art. You can learn all the creative art that you want to, but you got to have the talent too. She had that, as did her sisters.

Today, the respect and honour that she commands is because of her talent and training. Even now music directors want her to sing their songs. So that the song is given the rare respect a Lata song gets.

This kind of luck and devotion are commanded by very few people, I am glad that Lata got that attention.

Now we are celebrating her birthday. Once before too, I had written a few lines for her birthday. I will repeat those for you. I hope you will understand the affection and respect I have for her.

Today, nobody really cares for one another and when somebody actually remembers your birthday and wants to celebrate it, then that is an amazing thing to happen.

Lata is daher (duniya) mein jis mein khushi milti hai kam sab ko

Mubarak ho tera jashne massarrat aaj hum sab ko

Tujhe nagmo ki jaan, ahele nazar yunhi nahin kehte

Tere geeton ko dil ka hamsafar yunhi nahin kehte

Suni sabne mohabbat ki jaban awaaz mein teri

Dhadakta hai dil-e-hindustan awaaz mein teri

Teri taanon mein husn-e-zindagi leta hai angdayi

Khuda rakkhe tere nagmo ka andaaz-e-masiyayi

Ke tu hai pyaar ka ek saaz is nafrat ki duniya mein

Ganimat hain teri awaaz is nafrat ki duniya mein

Dukhi hai laakh, phir bhi mutmayin hai dard ke mare

Teri awaaz ki shabnam se dhul jaate hai gam saare.

I will congratulate Lata on behalf of the music lovers in this country and my musical staff -- that she prosper more and we should be able to hear her for many more years.

As told to Sharmila Taliculam


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