Asia’s legendary voice Lata Mangeshkar turned 86 on September 28. In an interview she tries to lift the curtain off the mystery that is Lata Mangeshkar.
What is the greatest gift you’ve received in your life?
The love that I’ve received from my well-wishers and fans! Woh pyar nahin hota toh na jaane hum kahaan hote (if it wasn’t for that love I don’t know where I would be).
On your birthdays and even on normal days hundreds of people stand outside your house hoping for a glimpse of you. I’ve never seen anyone else anywhere get this kind of enduring love?
Yeh bhagwan ki kripa hai that I still continue to get this kind of affection. What more can I hope for?
Not a day passes when we don’t marvel at your voice. What about you?
You mean do I marvel at my own voice? Of course not! If I did I’d probably have gotten smug and self-satisfied. I don’t even listen to my own songs. My voice is a gift from God and my parents. My father’s voice was beautiful. The little time that I got to be with him – he passed away when I was 5 – I learnt so much from him in that little time.
You don’t listen to your songs?
I try not to. But when I do hear a song of mine I feel I made an effort to put across the composition. I could’ve done much better. When I recorded songs I’d rush out of the recording. I never stayed back to hear my songs. This was a matter of great annoyance to many of the music directors. But I couldn’t help it. I just had to flee after recording. I couldn’t bear to hear myself.
Why have you always said no to an autobiography?
I don’t see the need to reveal every detail about my life. Most importantly, people go away with their written words hurting a lot of individuals and families. Sach aksar kadwa hota hai. I don’t want hurt anyone. In any case people don’t need to know everything about me.
So are we to presume there are many unrevealed secrets in your life?
In my opinion every human being has areas in his or her life that is to be kept away from everyone. Time teaches us to shift between the good and the bad, between the truth and the lie. Some things are best left unsaid.
Even your saddest songs bring so much solace. You’ve given us so much joy. Are you a happy person? Or do you cry when alone?
I believe, let the past be buried. Bahot logon ne mera dil dukhaya hai. That’s their karma, their destiny. Why should I turn around and abuse them?
You are an extremely positive person. How have you fobbed of the temptation of hitting out at criticism?
So many singers have accused me of stealing their songs. I never did that. And I never saw the need to protest. The truth will always remain the truth.
So many of your colleagues are no more. Which ones do you miss the most?
So many of them. All of them. I’ve learnt so much from so many people. I don’t want to name them right now. But the one name that I must mention is poet lyricist Pandit Narendra Sharma. He was a father-figure to me. He taught me self-restrain. When I was young I had a violent temper. I used to fight back at injustice. But Panditji taught me to pay no heed to the naysayers. Then there was my Baba in Kolhapur used to call me Gyaneshwar, said I had so much to learn. My mother was also a great source of inspiration. My father passed away when I was very young. So my mother was like both my parents.
What was the most valuable lesson you learnt in life from your mother?
Zindagi ne bahot kuch sikhaya. To value those who are down and out. The world tends to ignore and abuse the weak. My parents taught me to always help the needy. We saw very hard days. In our home, there were free meals for every guest. But when we fell on hard times there was no food for the family. There were days when my siblings and I didn’t eat the entire day. I learnt to share what I had with others. Believe me the joy you feel in giving is much greater than the joy one feels in receiving. Whenever someone comes to me for help I do all I can. Ho sakta hai kayee log mujhe bewaqoof banake chalen jaate ho. But I believe in giving what I’ve got.
You’ve also been generous in your career and yet many of those singers you helped turned around and accused you of practicing a monopoly?
Was it my fault if composers came to me? I never went to them. I only asked for work in the beginning of my career. Once I was established I left work for other singers. They later turned around to abuse me. And they continue to abuse me.
Anuradha Paudwal, for example?
I don’t want to name anyone. But even when I was new and struggling, I never took away anyone’s work. I remember I was rehearsing for a song with Bappi Lahiri. We were ready to record. Kavita Krishnamurthy had sung the scratch recording. When I heard the number I refused to re-record. I told Bappi to keep Kavita’s version.
She never turned around and badmouthed you?
Never. She is a decent woman. She has always spoken well of me. Also Alka Yagnik. She loves me too. Some singers who came later took my helping gesture in the wrong light saying, ‘Bada humpar ehsaan kar rahi hai‘.
When you stormed the film industry in 1947 you wiped away all the prevalent voices?
Do you think I did black magic to get rid of the competition? (laughs). It was God’s will.Shayad mere kundali mein yeh likha ttha. This had to happen. And it did. Trust me when I was establishing my career I had no time to think of the competition. I just did my work. Other singers would sometimes badmouth me right in front of me. Once I turned down a song, another popular singer did it instead. Later she came and announced loudly in taunting voice that she had recorded that song.
How did you react?
I congratulated her. I used to be taunted quite often. There was music director, a Muslim gentleman who loved me like a sister. He was keen that I sing one of his songs. I rehearsed for the song. But then I heard a new Maharashtrian singer had joined the industry. So I asked the composer to record in her voice. He agreed. She sang. The song was a hit. Later, I heard she went around badmouthing me.
Jee haan. Achcha karo aur kuey mein dalo. Such experiences have never left me embittered.
How have you stayed so humble all your life?
Life taught me to never get carried away. I always keep my head bowed.
Your advice to younger singers?
They must learn Hindustani classical music and they must not get carried away by overnight success. Humility is the key to longevity.
Your message for your devotees and fans on your birthday?
Thank you for your love .Without it I’d be nothing.