It is customary for me, the biggest Lata bhakt to do interviews on her birthday every year. As she turns 88 on September 28 we decided to do something different. “Bahot ho gaya… apko kaisa lagta hai… aap gaati kyon nahin hain… aap ke favourite naye singers kaun hai… aap apni bahen (Asha Bhosle) se kyon nahin milti…arrrey bhai, sab ho chuka hai.Let’s talk about the fun times,” she suggests as though she were 18 rather than 88.
Rewarding me with that mythical girlish giggle Lataji says, “Main aapko sach bataaoon? I don’t feel my age at all. I still feel young. I’ve never been weighed down by my troubles. Everyone has her share of problems in life. Even when I was young and struggling and, I was happy hopping from studio to studio bumping into other strugglers like Kishoreda and Mukesh Bhaiyya. Those were fun times even when I had to go hungry for the entire day. There was no money in my purse. But there was only hope in my heart. And the belief that no matter how tough the future looked there was always hope for a better tomorrow.”
Once during one such hot sweltering day Lataji fainted during recording. She sets the record straight about the incident. “It has wrongly been presumed over the years that I fainted while recording a song with Salilda (Chowdhary). Aisa kuch nahin. Of course his songs were very complex. So were those composed by my brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. But because of my father’s blessings, I was always up to any challenge in the recording studio. No. That incident where I fainted did not happen with Salilda. It happened with Naushad Saab. We were recording a song on a long hot summer afternoon. You know how Mumbai gets in summer. During those days there was no air-conditioning in the recording studios. And even the ceiling fan was switched off during the final recording. Bas, main behosh ho gayi.”
A lilting laughter accompanies that remembrance. Says Lataji, “I had some really fun times . I remember I was recording a duet with Uma Devi who later became the comedienne Tun Tun. Uma Devi was as khati-peeti back then as a singer as she was later as an actress. So there we were, the two of us singing into the same mike. Back then duets were recorded on one mike. Me, a frail reed-like pintsized girl, she quite formidable in her physical presence. I was given a stool to stand on, as I had a problem reaching the mike. I sang my lines and then when Uma Devi moved forward to sing into the mike and nudged my shoulder, I fell right to the ground.”
Loud laughter follows this anecdote.
So whom did she enjoy recording with the most? “Kishoreda,” comes the immediate reply. “Recording with him was like one whole session of fun and games. He would make me laugh so much, I could barely sing. I had to stop him. ‘Kishorda, pehle gana phir masti.’ It was especially problematic when we were singing sad duets. Instead of tears of grief my eyes would be sawan-bhadow (tearful) with laughter.”
Speaking of her grief-stricken songs, it is said that the whole congregation at the recording wept when Lataji sang Madan Mohan’s ‘Heer’ in Heer Ranjha and Sachin Dev Burman’s Tum mujhse dur chale jana na in Ishq ParZor Nahin.
“That’s true,” she admits. “Except for me, they were all crying. I’ve never been a weeper even when singing the most sombre songs. I’ve always preferred laughter to tears. God has always been kind. I’ve never been given any reason for tears. I think I cried the most when I lost my father and my mother.”
Lataji’s birthday thoughts: “I can’t thank the listeners enough for bearing with me for 70 years. I didn’t even how the time flew by. Waqt kaise nikal gaya pataa hi nahin chala. If I had a chance to live it all again I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even that fall from the stool while singing with Uma Devi.”