I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first heard the song Kitne Ajeeb from Page 3. But I vividly remember the way the song made me feel. It seemed to capture a lifetime of hurt and pain, but in a voice that only soothed the soul. It was Lata Mangeshkar’s magic at play.
It wasn’t the first song sung by the late Lata Mangeshkar that left me enraptured. Nor the last. Over the years, I found myself going back to her melodies time after time, sinking into their beauty, letting her voice spread joy.
I know I have the luxury to do so again… but the fact that there will never be a new song that evokes the same feeling is hard to digest.
The realization that I will never again share the link of her latest track with my mother, and discuss how Lata ji’s voice continues to be just as mellifluous as when she first started, is a difficult pill to swallow.
The voice that bridged gaps, brought together generations, and became the voice of love, heartbreak, prayer, patriotism, and whatnot, for millions, will no longer bring to life another song. And that is truly heartbreaking.
For as long as I can remember, Lata ji’s songs have been a part of my household, and I feel fairly confident in saying, every other household in India.
From lovers of our grandparents’ generation crooning to Lag Ja Gale to ‘just friends’ of our generation sneaking secret glances on Pyar Kar, Lata ji’s love songs spanned generations.
Girls everywhere danced to her lilting voice as she sang of ‘Prince Charming’ in songs like Mere Khwabon Mein, and Chocolate Lime Juice.
There is no limit to the number of actors whose on-screen performances got a new lease of life with her voice. Over the years, she became a singer who actors waited to sing for them.
In an industry where the credit often starts and ends with the face in front of the camera, she rose in power from behind the lens… or rather, from within a recording studio.
Even today, Madhubala and Lata ji’s coming together in Mohe Panghat is a treat for all senses, Waheeda Rahman dancing to Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai brings a smile to everyone’s face, and no one can stop from singing along to Arre Re Arre (while recreating Karisma’s moves).
Of course, there will never be a song on unrequited love as melodious yet heartbreaking as Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Yeh, where Lata ji immortalized Shailendra’s words.
We’ve looked to her voice when we bowed down in prayer to Allah Tero Naam. It was her voice that roused our spirits and left us teary-eyed, when she paid a tribute to our soldiers with Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon.
Even today, when Ae Mere Watan plays, there isn’t a single dry eye in the house – a feat she recreated when she collaborated with A.R. Rahman to sing Luka Chuppi for Rang De Basanti.
There are perhaps few songs, in any and every language, and even fewer singers, who have managed to give voice to the insurmountable grief of losing a child. Rarer are even those, like Lata ji, who sung about this pain, and yet, left your heart at peace.
It was truly a gift from the Gods (not to mention, years of training, hard work, and dedication) that bestowed upon Lata ji the rare ability to evoke emotions in a voice as pure as the sound of nature – unfiltered by autotune, uncorrupted by age.
And through it all, she remained a true artist – who considered the art to be greater than the artist. Who else but her, a Bharat Ratna recipient, to refer to herself as a “choti si gayika” when paying tribute to her father on his death anniversary.
From dedicating songs to her favourite artists to professing her love for cricket to collaborating with her sister for one of the finest female duets in the history of Indian cinema (Mann Kyu Beheka), Lata Mangeshkar’s legacy goes beyond her songs.
Over the years, her songs have seeped into our lives so intrinsically, that it is hard to imagine an era where her voice was not giving words to our emotions and relationships.
As the years go by, I know I will find myself returning to her songs, the underrated tracks, the popular ones, the (sadly) remixed ones, and the still undiscovered (by me) ones.
And I know that I will walk away from those songs with a little more joy in my life. Because she always seemed to sing with a smile in her voice. And no matter the emotion she brought to life, her voice remained a source of happiness.
It is hard to imagine the movie industry and the world of music without the magic of her voice. But her songs will continue to light up people’s lives for years to come. Because for her, truly, unki awaaz hi pehchaaan thi, hai, aur rahegi.