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6 February 2022

The Music Stills...

28.09.1929-06.02.2022

There’s a bower of roses by Bendemeer’s stream

And the nightingale sings around it all the day long
In the time of my childhood ‘twas like a sweet dream
To sit in the roses and hear the bird’s song
- Thomas Moore (Lalla Rookh, The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan)

The last thing I read last night was that Lata Mangeshkar was no more. The first thing that came to mind as I read it was that my father would be heartbroken. Then, I remembered he was dead as well. For a moment, my breath stilled, and I had to clench my fists not to burst into tears. 

For it was thanks to my father that I ‘knew’ Lata Mangeshkar. He ‘introduced’ me to her, and it is he who infused me with his admiration for her inimitable voice. He had other favourite singers – Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum – and so do I, because we shared a great love for music, whatever be its language, but Lata Mangeshkar was our favourite, the lodestar of our journey into Hindi films and music. 

Like Lalla Rookh’s nightingale, Lata sang all day long when my father was home. In fact, I don’t remember a time when her voice did not ebb and flow through the rooms. I remember it as well as I remember the smell of my father’s cigarette smoke, or the steam rising from his afternoon cup of tea. 

‘Lata’, we said, for all the world as if she was a classmate, a compeer, a friend. Indeed, she seemed like a friend. After all, we spent our waking hours listening to her – first on the radio, then on the gramophone, then on a stereo system before we moved on to CDs.  In fact, when I spoke about my friend, Lata, to my father, I had to explain who I was talking about.  There was only one ‘Lata’ as far as he was concerned.

Lata Mangeshkar was the nation’s own; I wager others feel the same way about her as I do. Without meeting her, without knowing her, without ever having talked to her, she ‘belonged’ to us. She sang our joys, our loves, our sorrows. And in her voice, we found solace for she sang of emotions we could scarcely describe.

And so, Lata and my childhood are interminably intertwined. With her death, another thread has snapped from the tapestry of my life. Just like that. There’s an inevitability to death. And the grief that follows such loss, voiced or not. As there is to what comes after – whether you preserve your memories in amber or whether you choose to let go, whether you forget or choose not to remember. The void remains, an emptiness at the core of your being.

There’s no tribute that can do justice to the phenomenon that was Lata Mangeshkar. There’s just the sheer magnitude of her talent to dive into, to close your eyes and listen to those pure melodic notes, sung in a way only she could sing. 

Tum na jaane kis jahaan mein kho gaye
Hum bhari duniya mein tanhaa h gaye...

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