Ankur Pathak in Mumbai
'Aao Huzoor Tumko.. Sitaaron Mein Le Chaloon.. Dil Jhoom Jaaye Aisi, Baharon Mein Le Chaloon.'
Indeed. Every time one listens to an Asha Bhosle song, one is enchanted. It's like being transported to a different world altogether. Her rhythmic flexibility is unparalleled and unrivalled.
From the seductive Aaiye Meherbaan to the flirtatious Ishaaron Ishaaron Mein Dil Lene Waaley, the romantic Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko and the playful Oh Mere Sona Re Sona Re, the morose Abhi Na Jao Chod Kar and the unabashed Dum Maro Dum, Bollywood would be less colourful without the contributions of the great Asha Bhosle.
An exceptional singer with a gifted voice that revels while being versatile, she can make a song dance to her tunes.
On September 8, Asha Bhosle turns 79 and completes almost seven decades in the entertainment industry -- a feat that is unheard of and is unlikely to be matched. It is rivalled only by her elder sister, Lata Mangeshkar.
If you ask her if the voice of any singer of the younger generation resonates with her own, she says promptly, "Are you mad? The kind of variations I have had in my songs, I personally don't think anybody from the younger crop has managed to achieve.
"I am not saying this out of arrogance, neither am I implying that the singers today are not talented. But you see it for yourself: most singers have bracketed themselves in a safe zone and have a tendency to tread only that path."
Celebrating her birthday early on September 5, deliberately planned so it coincides with the launch of her debut feature film Mai, Ashaji arrived at the venue wearing a light blue sari.
'I make it a point to practice every morning even today'
Her vivacity belies her age. She listens intently to every question and has an unassuming sense of humour.
"I still don't know English because we went to vernacular medium schools. Once, at an international concert I was performing along with Boy George, he asked me in his thick English accent, 'Asha, what does Churaliya Hai Tumne mean?'
"I started fumbling; I didn't know how to respond to this guy. So I was like, it means 'I have stolen your heart'. He blushed!"
So what are her thoughts on her long innings in the entertainment industry?
"Like every kid takes birth, so did I. What is the big deal about 80? I'm only 80, no?" she ripostes with a smile.
What has kept her going?
"Honestly, it is not so complicated. It is my willpower and desire to sing and entertain others. Even today, every morning I make it a point to practice. I have to stay honest and sincere to my talent."
The one thing she wishes for on her birthday, she says, "is that the love that I have received from the people continues to stay for as long as I live. I have just got too used to it and it makes me feel warm and comfortable. You know that feeling when you are home."
'I was very fond of milk and sweets but we were too poor to afford much'
She had many interesting anecdotes to relate about her childhood.
"I was a very naughty kid and grew up doing a lot of mischief. Lata was the sober one but she was the one who would be caught since she had long hair, easy to get hold off! I'd run and climb a tree and then tease my mother to catch me!
"I was very fond of milk and sweets but we were too poor to afford much. So I would go to my neighbour's house and steal sugar from her containers. She never caught me red-handed though she devised unique ways to do so. Eventually, I was confronted but would still get away.
"I also had this huge thing for magic. I wanted to learn it and pursue it, but didn't quite because of other things. I picked up a few tricks and would fool the other kids, but once, I was embarrassingly caught. I never tried it again, but would love to still do it."
She dismissed Raj Thackeray's threat of disrupting a TV reality show in which she will feature with Pakistani artistes, by breaking into an impromptu song: "Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna...
"Politicising any creative field is the worst thing that can happen. I don't want to think about it," she says.
At the event, singers who Asha Bhosle had mentored or sung along with, and most times both, paid tributes by singing their favourite Asha tracks. Almost everybody agreed it was a painfully difficult choice for them to single out any one chartbuster.
Musicians like Shaan and Anu Mallik, Sulaiman and Wajid, Sukhwinder and the great Suresh Wadkar sang different songs, culminating in a rousing Happy Birthday to you.
But the electrifying moment came when Suresh Wadkar went on stage and crooned Sapno Mein Milti Hai from Ram Gopal Verma's Satya, composed by Vishal Bhardwaj with lyrics by Gulzar.
Ashaji joined Suresh Wadkar on stage and an impromptu duet ensued.
'I hope this love stays with me as long as I live'
Asha Bhosle then presented a cheque of Rs 21 lakh to the Mai Foundation that supports lost and forgotten members of the film industry.
"All these years I have only received love and respect from the industry and they have all been my family. With Mission Mai, I am trying to do a little bit for them. The elderly do not always get the financial support they need to see them through the last years of life. This is an effort to put things right."
In fact, Mai, her acting debut directed by Mahesh Kodiyal, is on this very theme. It is about a delicate mother-daughter relationship after the son decides to abandon the mother when she needs him the most, to settle abroad.
The film will be released on November 23.
Winding up the evening, Ashaji explained what keeps her going.
"Over the years, I have sung all sorts of weird songs but people loved me nonetheless. Not everyone is fortunate to receive the love of so many people. I hope this love stays with me as long as I live."
The songs will stay forever, and the love will only grow, Ashaji.