She came like a whirlwind to wipe out, in one stroke, practically all female singing competition, recalls Raju Bharatan.
Maybe it is saddening to hear Lata singing the way she does today on television.
Even more diminished do you feel -- as a knowing listener -- as you divine that Lata appears blissfully unaware of how much she is hurting your ears by performing in a norm calculated to vindicate Naushad Ali's assertion that vibrato has crept into her voice.
Is this -- you wonder -- the same Lata of whom Bade Ghulam Ali Khan said: "Kambakht, kabhi besuri hi nahein hotee?"
This is the point about Lata -- that so public-cherished still is her original 1948-1973 oeuvre that nothing could make us forget how she came like a whirlwind to wipe out, in one stroke, practically all female singing competition.
You just did not want to hear any other female voice once you absorbed Lata warbling for Anil Biswas, say, Beimaan tore nainva -- on Tarana Madhubala.
Maybe Geeta Roy held on -- in her own Thandi hawaa O P Nayyar metier. But Shamshad Begum, then number one, just did not know what hit her.
The remaining singers, some of them truly formidable, just melted away.
Shamshad Begum herself got to the essence of the matter as she told me that, when she came to render Dar naa mohabbat kar le with Lata for Mehboob's Andaz, she logically assumed -- following her runaway success under Naushad's baton in Nargis-Dilip Kumar's Mela (1948) -- that her voice was going on the same heroine, Nargis, in this film too.
It therefore came as a shock to Shamshad when, upon finally viewing the Mehboob movie, she saw her Dar naa vocals fixed on Cuckoo.
Though Raj Kapoor's Barsaat is identified as marking a watershed in Lata's career, it was Mehboob Khan's Andaz that put the stamp on our icon as the neo-singer nonpareil.
It was while taking in the wonderful results Sangeet Samrat Naushad was getting out of Lata's throat in Andaz (the film in which Raj Kapoor so memorably co-starred with Dilip Kumar) that RK took a spot decision to go, all the way, with this fresher's vocals on Nargis in Barsaat too.
Naushad did not fail to underline that it was his Uthaye jaa unke sitam that happened first (on Nargis), while his mentor Khemchand Prakash's Aayega aayegaa aayegaa came after -- on Madhubala in Mahal.
Lata herself has talked of how, after recording her maiden for Raj Kapoor -- late into the night -- as Jiyaa bequaraar hai for Barsaat, the RK unit came out of Tardeo's Famous Studios and sat on the footpath, wondering what would happen to the song.
As Lata said that at an HMV function in Bombay's Taj Mahal Hotel, Raj Kapoor, seated by her side, nodded nostalgic assent.
But for Radio Goa's playing, almost nonstop, the double-sided Aayegaa aayegaa aayegaa 78-rpm record in its daily farmaish programme, it is open to question if this Madhuballad would have made the Lata-everlasting impact it did.
The late Raju Bharatan was Cinema Editor of The Illustrated Weekly Of India . He was the author of Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography, priced at Rs 295, a book now out of print.
This article was first published on Rediff.com on July 7, 2008.