Lata Mangeshkar passes away: Her legacy as the voice of India is unparalleled

Lata Mangeshkar. File image from PTI.

Lata Mangeshkar. File image from PTI.

Let me start by saying that I have not always been a fan of Lata Mangeshkar. Growing up in a family that was not interested in movies, I did not take fame and city myths lightly. My dad was always a big fan of Kishore Kumar – the only cassette he owned – but it’s about that. My discovery of music was preceded by the latest material that MTV and Channel V brought to a typical Indian family.

Grooming in a small town often pushes you in directions other than the mainstream, so Hindi movies seem to be a must-have requirement for someone before they get to the good stuff. Everyone has heard Mangeshkar’s myth that in a world without Google, you can only trust face value. As a child I was told that some generic acoustic world organization wanted to keep Mangeshkar’s vocal codes in a museum. At the same time, it is a story that softens expectations.

For impressed children trying to find ‘their voice’, music is the most vital form of tradition. It cannot be taught, trained or passed on until you or your insiders respond to its appeal. Mangeshkar’s voice sounded very sharp and thin to me, approaching a screaming crescendo that seemed strange on some of the more depressing tracks. Compared to her, Asha Bhosle’s rough, tired voice sounded even more delicious. The impeccable closeness to Mangeshkar was perhaps more of a nuisance to me as a teenager looking for inaccuracies in art than impossible pasted interiors. Although her Kora Kagasta Yeh Man Mera, Lagja Gail, and Tere Bina Jaye Naa were considered classics, their circulation often felt controlled by the forces of reform.

Unlike my father’s generation, I grew up imitating syrup with Dil Cheese Kya Hai, and proudly grew up with the great Chura Lia Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko and Dum Maro Dum of modernity. To the youth it seems that the Mangeshkars are very perfect, complete and blameless.

But musical inclinations like life have certain stages. The same Lata Mangeshkar, from a young age, tried to make sense of a music market full of different but ultimately unforgettable sounds, but I refused to acknowledge when she redeemed herself as a beacon of brilliance in her teens. As a man, you are often drawn to men who sing about love and passion, yet Mangeshkar 2.0 felt like a snow-covered, sharp knife in a heart that had never yielded before. The songs of Jiah Jale in Dil Se, Tere Liye in Veer Sara, Dil To Pagal Hai and the songs in Mohabbatein gave me space for the voice of a singer whom I thought I could not accept.

What art rarely does over time, time does with art. This is probably true of music, because in contrast to the pleasure of sight, our interactions with sound are always unrestricted. Growing cities and busy cities ensure that music now competes with sound for attention and longevity. Sometimes music does not even feel like music, but the ears and senses must be subdued as a form of salvation for everything that precedes it. With age, perhaps, you evolve or succumb to the structures of the world and seek a recovery of excellence that music cannot give to reality. Maybe that’s why, from listening to the obscenities and manifestos of rock bands, I gradually came to the side where people have always known Mangeshkar – tired and exhausted, but ready to nudge their souls in exchange for a moment’s near perfection. Bliss.

As a person, Mangeshkar certainly had many shortcomings. Although she has advocated for women’s participation in the industry, she has done little for future artists, including her own sister. Her relationship with her composers was not always the kind you would like to write beautiful notes, but in her own messy and distorted way she established herself as the voice of India. Artists, as most people forget, have to work beyond their own abilities and deal with the outside world to make sure they survive. Not only did the Mangeshkars survive. Things happen, in this country, it happens to women more than men. Whatever the reasons for the inconsistencies or shortcomings of the late singer as a person, her artist cannot deny her status or her extraordinary heritage.

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