Devastated by the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s death, Asia’s nightingale Lata Mangeshkar who shared a very close bonding with Atalji says, “He was like my father. He called me Beti. I called him Dadda. I feel I’ve lost my father all over again. When I saw the glow on his face, his persuasive oratorical powers and his love for the arts, I was always reminded of my father (the legendary musician-stage actor Pandit Dinanath Mangeshkar). When I was a child many national leaders and politicians would visit my home. Vir Savarkar was one of them. Atalji reminded me of Vir Savarkar. He was a noble soul. No words of praise can do justice to him. Atalji was never short of words. But I am.”
Lataji gets pensive about her association with Atalaji. “He was very close to me, and I to him. When we Mangeshkars inaugurated a hospital in Pune in my name, I asked Atalji to do the inauguration. He happily agreed and gave a rousing speech—as usual—where he said he was in a dilemma as he thought naming a hospital after me was not right. ‘There should be a music academy named after Lata Mangeshkar, not a hospital. Now what do I say? That people should fall sick so that this hospital named after my Beti would run?’ His speeches were works of art. There is not an orator in Indian politics, or for that matter in India, to match Atalji.”
In 2014 Lataji had the rare privilege of doing an entire album of song devoted to Atalji’s poems.
Recalling the “unforgettable” experience Lataji says, “I still remember the album was officially released in his home in Delhi. We had flown down for the occasion. All the poems in the album we entitled Antarnaad were handpicked by me and my composer Mayuresh Pai. We then flew to Delhi to get his approval. When Atalji saw the poems we had selected he was very happy, especially with ‘Geet Naya Gata Hoon’, which was among his personal favourites. However there was some doubt over another poem ‘Thann Gayi Maut Se’ which we had selected. Though Atlaji himself loved the selection his (adopted) daughter and others close to him felt it was wrong of him to challenge death through poetry. So we decided to drop that poem. When we told Atalji of our decision he was very quiet then he said, ‘If that’s what everyone wants, then so be it.’
Lataji says she has seldom been more impressed by any other politician. “Atalji hriday se kavi tthe aur swabhav se sadhu (he was a poet at heart and a saint by nature). He was a visionary and India made rapid progress during his prime ministership. I remember how much he did to improve relations with Pakistan. He started the bus service to Pakistan. And he was very keen that I be one of the first passengers in that journey to the other side of the border. He told me that people in Pakistan were as keen to hear me as people in India. But I didn’t go. It was always hard to say no to Atalji. He was such a wonderful human being and great statesman.”
Lataji feels the nation has lost more than Bharat Ratna. “Dadda was man with a vision. He could see the future. His speeches were works of art. When he spoke, the nation listened. I still have his speeches on my mobile phone. I can listen to them for hours. In his going India has been orphaned. But then, if he was in so much pain it would’ve been selfish of us to hold him back. He is now relieved of all pain probably regaling the gods with his oration.”