By Subhash K Jha
As the dimpled diva of delectable ditties turns 81 on Sunday, you marvel at her resilience and verstality all over again.
Ask the timeless aural enchantress about the turning points in her life, and she ponders, “There were three turning points. After doing ordinary work for many years there came Naya Daur and I started getting the heroine’s songs. In 1968-69 came another phase with Teesri Manzil! Then, another phase with Umrao Jaan. OP Nayyar, RD Burman, and Khayyam projected my voice in new ways.”
Among these three composers who harnessed and tapped her potential whom did she enjoy working for the most?
“All three have their own style. With each I have conducted myself as a pupil. Being a playback singer I have to adapt myself to different styles. My favorite OP Nayyar songs are Raaton ko chori chori, Piya piya na laage mora jiya and Chhun chhun ghunghroo bole. Among Pancham’s cabaret songs my favorite is Teri meri yaari badi purani from the film Charitraheen. There are so many beautiful compositions and nobody remembers them because the films flopped. The sad part is, others copy the same tunes and make hits.”
Speaking on the much-discussed rivalry with her sister the legendary Lata Mangeshkar, Ashaji says, “ It’s true Didi hamse badi hain. I’m four years younger, so I’m placed lower. If I was from another family I’d have been given an equal status. I am now used to being placed lower. I don’t mind, she’s like my mother. Lekin haan, nobody ever composed a song specially for me in those days in the 1950 and 60s. No composer said, ‘Yeh gaana sirf Asha ga sakti hai’(laughs). Even Pancham (RD Burman) has gone to Didi for the songs that suited her. I still haven’t escaped those comparisons. Didi and I had to be different singers.”
Ashaji attributes her resilience and staying power to her honesty. “I am like glass. You can see right through me. I also refuse to cling to negativity. I like to move on. I am blessed because I get so much respect both in India and abroad, even at places like Spain and Portugal. No one has ever misbehaved with me in public . I think this world is beautiful. Not that I’ve forgotten any of the pain that I’ve gone through. It’s there all stored away. I am the soldier who has taken wounds on my chest. I am proud of them. I faced all the adversities.At 81 today I am happy and peaceful. No regrets. God gave me endurance power and because of Him I am still standing tall today. Main Bhagwan ki laadli hoon.”
She is enthused by food as much as music and is proud of her growing chain of restaurants. “In my opinion khaana comes first, gaana later. You can live for three days without music. But you can’t live without food for a day. I am a mother by nature. I love to feed people.I started cooking for my children. Then later when I became good at it my son suggested I write a cookery book. But I refused. Who cooks from books? But my son wanted to take his mother’s food to the people. That’s how the first restaurant came about. Now we have ten restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc.”
Ashaji personally supervised the menu at these restaurants. “I had two kitchens for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. The design and décor , menu card have all been done with great care. The menu card has rare picture of me and other singers. I not only put my own recipes on the menu, I also included recipes I learnt from my colleagues. For examples there is the Sultanpuri Kebab. I got the recipe from the poet-lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri Saab. The restaurants are dotted with my pics with Lata Didi and others who figure in my life.”