By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Quietly and without fanfare, the Nightingale turned 83 on September 28. Nothing about Lata Mangeshkar is ostentatious. At a time when her peers, colleagues and even juniors have hung up their boots, she continues to rule the roost. The Nightingale spoke at length with Subhash K Jha.
Q.After more than 65 years of singing, you continue to be our national treasure.What summits remain for you to conquer?
A.(laughs) It’s difficult to put full stops to an artiste’s goals and achievements. Speaking for myself as a singer, new destinations have appeared during the journey of life. One needs an incentive to keep moving forward. The day an artiste feels she has done it all, she’s finished. Whether it’s a writer, actor or a star, he or she should never feel I’ve nothing more to achieve.
Q.You said you can only speak as a singer. But you’re much more than that. You’re a symbol of national integration and cultural unity. Every Indian all over the world feels a patriotic pride at the mention of your name. Does that make you feel proud and responsible?
A. No, certainly not proud. But yes, it does place a huge responsibility on me. If people expect so much from me, I have to give them something in return. Yes, it’s a huge responsibility. Whatever I’ve got in life is because of the Almighty. You may not agree with me, but I feel I’ve got much more fame and recognition in life than I deserve. Jo diya hai Maalik ne usske liye main jitni baar jhuk ke namaskar karoon kam hi hai.
Q.You’ve always said you don’t consider yourself an extraordinary singer.
A.But it’s a fact. I don’t. If I start thinking I’m as good as people say my growth as artiste would cease. Humility is the mainstay of an artiste, pride is her downfall.
Q.Fans behave with extraordinary restrain with you. They never mob you. They worship you from a distance. Has it been difficult for you to live up to their expectations?
A. I’ve had to make many sacrifices all my life. When I was a child my father passed away. There were only sacrifices to be made thereafter. Karna hi padta ttha. I was the eldest child of a family of daughters with only one brother who was the youngest of the lot. Hridayanath was only 4 when our father died. I had to shoulder all the responsibilities. When a person is young he or she’s tempted to shrug off family responsibilities and move on in life.This didn’t happen with me. At least not as far as I know. Even if I strayed, I didn’t keep flowing with the current. I came back and did the right thing by the family.This was God’s will.I had to shoulder familial responsibilities. But whatever I got beyond that, is due to a bit of hard work—yes. But I always feel I’ve got much more than I deserve. Maybe that’s why I have evolved as an artiste.
Q. You never set up your own home. Wasn’t that a tremendous sacrifice?
A. Han, main maanti hoon. To me, my family and I are one. I never thought of a life separate from my family. Yeh baat kabhi mere dimaag mein ayee hi nahin. Ab to aane ka koi sawaal hi nahin. I have crossed that time in my life.
Q. People want to know why you aren’t singing more songs these days.
A. Achcha (laughs). Who told you this? Main jitna araam se gaa sakti hoon main gaa rahi hoon. If the younger composers feel they’ve something substantial to offer me – and I’m sure they do – why do they speak about this to others? Why don’t they ask me about it? No one has stopped them. If I want to tell them I don’t want sing for a specific reason then that’s another matter. But unless they ask me how would I know they want me to sing? Mujhe koi sapna to nahin aayega na?
Q. Why do you think they hesitate in approaching you?
A. Perhaps because I’m such a senior artiste. Maybe they feel inhibited because of my seniority. But I’ve worked well with younger music directors like A.R.Rahman, Vishal, Anu Malik and Jatin-Lalit. I don’t behave any differently with them. I learn a song from them exactly the way I did from more senior composers. I never try to exercise my will on them. Haan, agar mujhe gaana nahin achcha lagta main na keh deti hoon. Lekin mujhe recording mein jaa kar tan-tan karna achcha nahin lagta (laughs).
Q. Do you intend to concentrate on non-film albums now?
A. I do want to do non-film albums. But not at the cost of my other obligations. As far as singing for films is concerned, I’ll continue to do so for filmmakers with whom I have a personal tuning, like Yashji. He’s like family. I like singing for him. My relations with Rahman are also excellent. I love singing for him. I’d love to continue doing songs like these. Whatever I can do at my age, I will. Naturally I can’t run from studio to studio all day long like I used to.
Q.And where are the songs to run around for?
A. (laughs) This is a new trend.Youngsters like things like re-mix. So many singers are re-mixing our Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi songs. This too shall pass. We cannot say anything for sure about its impact. Only when it’s done with shall we know for sure. Singers who do re-mixes and cover versions of songs by Rafi Saab, Mukesh Bhaiyya or me do not benefit in any way from singing our songs.They have no repertoire of their own. I wonder what they get out of it!
Q. Do you find this deluge of Bhangra music to be healthy for film music?
A. We always had Bhangra-folk in film music. But earlier it was used sensibly with reason. It’s okay for a lark. But nowadays they sing and dance the Bhangra wearing anything from skirts to shorts. I can’t see myself approving of this trend, and never mind if people think I belong to the ancient times (laughs). Recently some of my Marathi compositions sung by my sister Asha were very badly re-mixed. My other sister Usha’s lavni songs from Shantaramji’s films – unka bhi halwa banaya (laughs). What to do about it? Aaj kal koi kissi ko kuch nahin keh sakta.To each his own. It’s better to remain quiet. The trend has to end somewhere. Better to sit quietly and watch the show.
Q. That’s what you’ve always done.
A. Achcha hai na? You suffer less that way and you don’t end up abusing anyone. If you ask me about present-day music I’ll say this much. It’s not all noise. Mohabbatein has melodious music. And didn’t Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam have lovely music?
Q. Only you remain the artistic link between the last and current centuries.
A. Again I’ll say it’s my parents’ blessings and God’s kindness. Mera contribution hai, yeh main maanti hoon. But what has really kept me going is I’ve never indulged in any kind of politics. I’ve never criticized or pulled down anyone. Perhaps that explains why I’m liked so much even now. Whenever I’ ve been required to sing for the country or for charity I have never stepped back. I’ve always tried to be useful to the country and society. All of us in my family lead a very simple middle-class existence. Right from the start, we’ve never indulged in mud-slinging of any kind.
Q. At one time you were accused of indulging in a melodious monopoly.What do you call the monopoly of cacophony today?
A. I wouldn’t like to say about that. But people who accused me of practising a monopoly were wrong. The media fuelled the rumours about my monopoly. The first question I was always asked during interviews was about my supposed monopoly. Once I was even asked if I tampered with the equipment during other singers’ recordings. Ab bataayiye main kyon aisa karun? I never bothered with what other singers were doing. When Runa Laila came to India for the first time, I went to her first recording for Kalyanji-Anandji even though I had a fever. They said I was just indulging in dikhawa, that in fact I had gone to see how she sang. Arrey mujhe kya padi hai kaun kaisa gaata hai! Runa Laila met me with lots of affection. Later she too was poisoned against me. Even Vani Jairam, I praised all the time.S e still turned around to say I wouldn’t let her sing. Do you know Anuradha Paudwal sang the first song of her career for my brother in a Marathi film directed by Vasant Joglekar. Arrey, forget about female singers, even some male singers accused me of trying to stop them from singing. Ab isska kyon jawaab hai? Anyway I wish them all the best. If they were happy abusing me, then all the best to them. No abuse can make a hole in my soul.