Since I was 5 or maybe 6 years old, I believe that God lives in THAT voice. So many, so many years later, that hasn’t changed. To hear Lata Mangeshkar sing is to have known God. To have known it personally is to have found moksha far beyond what any recognized religion can teach you.
I got to know her very late. For decades, I worshiped her as a hero from afar, as we do for the Gods. If someone asked me why I haven’t met her personally, I would reason ridiculously, “You worship God, you don’t shake His hand.”
Or such nonsense to explain my fear of meeting in person the God I worshiped. Suppose she turns out to have feet of clay?
But as luck would have it, Lata Didi turned out to be as beautiful in person as she was in voice… Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. No personality can ever match THIS VOICE. Not at all. Not even Lata Mangeshkar herself.
(Apart: Which heroine is able to carry Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in the most adequate way: Meena Kumari, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Madhubala, Vyjanthimala, Sadhana, Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore? Answer: all and none of the above .).
For years and years, I trusted only my ears and continued to worship the voice from afar. It was the faith of childhood. At 6 years old, I believed that the VOICE was without incarnation. Just something created to assure humanity of the existence of God.
It was my dear friend Sanjeev Kohli, the son of the illustrious composer Madan Mohan, who organized my first meeting with her, a meeting that has turned into a kinship that has lasted for 28 years now.
I vividly remember my first meeting with her at the Shiv Sena Bhavan in Mumbai. She was supposed to arrive in the evening at a specific time to rehearse for a concert which was hosted by Anupam Kher. I met Anupam. But I haven’t met my God. She was not well. She sent me a message to meet her the next day at the same place.
“I think she’s just pushing me away,” I told my friend over the phone. I could hear the sound of my broken heart. My friend joined me the next day in Mumbai. And we both went to Shiv Sena Bhawan.
I was sure she wouldn’t show up. But she did. How would you describe the moment I first met her? I will not do it. Because there are no words that reproduce the way my heart was waltzing in my chest. It must have been so magical for Meerabai when she saw Krishna.
The magic remained for 28 years. I consider myself extremely privileged to have known her. I know so many who just want to see it. Dozens of people stand under his house, Prabhu Kunj on Peddar Road in southern Mumbai, hoping to spot him on the balcony.
I remember a friend texting me excitedly that she had JUST seen her on her balcony as she drove down on Peddar Road. I never broke her heart telling her the devastating truth: Lata Didi never goes out on that famous little balcony of her residence where she has lived for 40 years, and where fans watch her in the hope of seeing her. But this is where I feel blessed. I not only sat for hours with her in this comfortable family home in Prabhu Kunj, I also had the privilege of seeing her room where no one is allowed to enter.
Once, during our long telephone conversations, I mentioned to him that I would like to see the sanctum sanctorum. Several months later, when we met at Prabhu Kunj, she remembered my request, “Did you want to see my room?”
And she took me to the sparkling and neat little room, which none of her bhakts have ever seen, I’m sure.
Thank you, Didi, for taking me where few have the honor to go, for being the only God I have ever known. Thank you for those hundreds of songs that lit up the darkest days of my days. What would I be without them?
Lata Didi, thanks for the music.
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and film expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)