'There is so much division in the country. People are getting more and more into 'Main Hindu hoon woh Mussalmaan hai'.'
'This climate of suspicion and hostility must stop,' The Legend, 92 today, tells Subhash K Jha in an exclusive interview.
Another year, another birthday, Didi, how do you feel ?
Main aapko sach bataoon? Main andar se dukhi hoon. There is so much division in the country. People are getting more and more into 'Main Hindu hoon woh Mussalmaan hai'. This climate of suspicion and hostility must stop.
I had hoped and prayed that this kind of divisive atmosphere would have long ago ended. But I am sorry to say it's getting worse. People are killing one another in the name of religion.
The one factor that unifies all Indians is your voice.
That is music to my ears. Believe me, when you say this I feel very humbled. At the risk of sounding immodest...
You and immodest? Impossible!
(Laughs.) Nahin mujhe bolne dijiye. I feel I've received more love and respect than anyone else in this country. Indians everywhere love me. They react with strong affection at the very mention of my name. And this has been the scenario for more than 75 years of my life.
It is because you have given us so much joy with your songs. More so now in these dark desperate times of corona.
These are indeed terrible times. Logon ne ek doosre se milna bandd kar diya. In our home every year from my childhood we have had Ganesh Chaturthi for ten days. This year we had to bid adieu to Ganpati Bappa in one-and-a-half days.
One can't breathe properly because of the masks, let alone sing. Waise bhi logon ka milna-julna kamm ho gaya tha. Corona ne toh khatam kar diya.
I've seen and heard you interact with the biggest of politicians and the smallest of fans. Your attitude and tone remain the same.
This is what my father and my mother taught me. I don't pretend to be humble. I truly feel I am a speck in the universe. What right do I have to discriminate between two human beings?
I think some of our entertainers need to learn humility from you.
I have known you for 25 years. I've always treated you like my younger brother. But let me tell you, I am very clear in my likes and dislikes. If I don't like somebody I'd say it to his or her face.
Didi, when do you plan to return to active singing ?
I do plan to sing again very soon. Well-wishers and dear ones like you have been urging me to return to singing. But this pandemic has made it difficult for me to venture out for anything. Aap sochiye ke mere liye kitna mushqil hai gaane se door rehna.
What do you have to say about the new generations of singers who seek inspiration from you?
I will not lie. I don't know what the singers today are doing. I listened to the voices like Alka Yagnik which came earlier. But now, from what I hear the young singers sing a lot of the song by me and Asha (Bhosle).
If they are not being original, it is because they are not being allowed to be original. I don't know what the music of today sounds like. But there must be something amiss.
Why else would people still listen to the compositions of Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan and R D Burman?
What is your message to your fans on this birthday??
Think like an Indian, Not as a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi.
We come from a land of great cultural and philosophical knowledge. From Ramkrishna Paramhansa to Swami Vivekananda, our land is filled with truly learned and knowledgeable thinkers. There is so much to learn from them.
I consider myself very very fortunate to be born in this great country. If I had a chance to be reborn, I would want to born only as an Indian again.
We wouldn't allow you to be born anywhere else. Tell me, how does it feel to be so universally loved? The great classical vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan once famously said...
Lataji interrupts.) Kambhakt kabhi besuri nahin gaati.
So this myth is true.?
Absolutely true. Aap dekhiye uss ek shabd 'Kambakht' mein kitna pyaar hai. Itna pyaar mujhe mila. Mujhe aur kuch nahin chahiye.
Every singer envies Lata Mangeshkar. Is there anyone you envy?
No one. No one at all. I consider myself blessed. People at my age are either gone, bed-ridden or confined to a wheelchair. By the grace of God, the blessings of my parents and the love of my well-wishers I am still here, still thinking, talking to you.
I can't imagine a world without you.
It will be the same. Nothing stops for anyone.