How does one begin describing what Lataji represents to me, my heart and my soul? Divinity, purity, extraordinary talent, brilliance, dazzling perfection and precision in rendering her surs, alaaps, mukhadas, antaras, laughter, in any song and every song, capturing myriad shades of emotions spanning the entire spectrum ranging from soul-stirring deep pathos, to sorrow, to merely sad, to a casual flutter, to joy, to cheer with abandon, dizzying happiness and beyond–these are a minute representation of the feelings her name generates. She brings precision and perfection at a quantum scale to every song of hers. In my opinion, this is her most characteristic, unparalleled talent that has made her the most beloved popular voice of a billion plus people today. May The Nightingale be blessed with the best of health, love and peace.
This essay is about her master and mentor, Master Ghulam Haider.
The discovery of Lata Mangeshkar by Master Ghulam Haider (MGH) has several versions. One claims he spotted her at a music contest in Maharashtra in 1942 following the spectacular success of the blockbuster film Khaandaan. Another claims MGH noticed a frail girl on a train singing softly to herself. He used a stick and a plate to compose a melody on the train and asked the girl to sing. She sang it to perfection. He then improvised the song and found the girl could again render it perfectly. Amazed by her talent, he asked her to come for an audition the next day. It is said that Lata waited patiently all day outside his studio and was finally called for an audition in the evening. MGH found her voice enchanting on the mike and took her to Shashadhar Mukherjee. Spurned by him, MGH signed Lata for ‘Majboor’.
Quoting Lataji from various sources about her most beloved Masterji: “Jab main Bombay aayi 1947 mein, jab mujhe Master Ghulam Haider Saab ne suna, toh unhone ek picture ke liye mujhe kaha ki bhai tum isme gaane gao. Lekin jab uske producer Filmistaan ke Shashadhar Mukherjee ne meri awaaz suni, toh unhone Masterji se kaha “Yeh awaaz nahi chal sakthi…yeh awaaz bahut patli hai aur heroine ke liye nahi chalegi”. MGH replied to the producer: “You are rejecting her now. But one day will arrive when the entire industry will spread a red carpet for this girl”.
“Lekin yeh baat Master ji ne mujhe nahi batayi. Woh bahut ziddi they. Woh bahut naraaz nikle aur bole, ‘Lata chalo mere saath’…hum log station gaye aur seedha train pakad ke Bombay Talkies, Malad gaye. Wahan unhone mujhe gaana sikhaya. Aur doosre teesre din hamne gaana record kiya, ‘Majboor’ picture ke liye..Main kabhi nahi bhoolungi Master Ghulam Haider saab ne mere liye kya kiya. Maine Majboor picture mein pehli baar heroine ke liye gaaya.
“Masterji referred to me as Memsahib. Masterji said, ‘Memsahib, I had told you, people will never forget you, and you will not forget me either!’ “.
I have also read that MGH knew Master Dinanath Mangeshkar and his work and had high regard for him. It is either serendipity or an uncanny ability to spot talent that MGH possessed in abundance. He used it many times and each of his discoveries turned out to be pure gold. Not only did he train, groom and mentor the three most versatile female singers of the sub-continent (Noor Jehan, Lata Mangeshkar and Shamshad Begum), he had supreme confidence in their abilities even when they were mere teenagers. The way he spotted talent and nurtured it until perfection, reveals a kind-hearted composer who cared deeply for his singers and musicians.
Lataji has always held her Masterji in the highest esteem. When she learned that he was stricken with cancer in the early 50s after MGH moved to Pakistan following the partition, she begged him to come to Mumbai to undergo treatment, even pleading she would incur all expenses. Alas, it did not happen, and Masterji passed away by on November 9, 1953. All the talents that he spotted flourished and reached the pinnacle. One amongst them rose to become the Polaris of popular music.
Dil mera toda is a song from the first film where Lataji sang for the heroine, under her loving Masterji’s guidance to the lyrics of Nazim Panipati, a song I cherish deeply in my heart forever.
(This essay was written on 22nd September, 2015)
Khantha Mahadevan graduated from IIT Madras, and now lives in the USA.