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June 3, 2020
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‘He is up there with Tansen, Beethoven, Mozart’

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On the occasion of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s birth centenary, April 7, Lata Mangeshkar pays tribute to one of Indian classical music’s greatest legends.

Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravi Shankar

IMAGE: Pandit Ravi Shankar with his ‘choti behen‘, Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Lata Mangeshkar/Twitter

If you want to upset the Nightingale Of India, just tell her she is as much a Bharat Ratna as Pandit Ravi Shankar, says Subhash K Jha.

And she will give you a fierce piece of her mind.

Donon ke Bharat Ratna hone se hum baraabar nahin ho jaate hain (we don’t become equals just because we both have been awarded the Bharat Ratna),” she says.

“Panditji had a very rare talent. He was far more than a musician. When he played the sitar, he conversed with the Gods.”

It was at aconcert that Lataji met Pandit Ravi Shankar for the first time.

“The year was 1948, I think. I had finished recording a song and was given the princely sum of Rs 200 for it. I rushed to a concert Panditji was giving at Dadar (central Mumbai),” Lataji remembers.

“After an exhausting day of recording, I remember being swept away by magic of his fingers. When he put the sitar down for a break, I impulsively got up from my seat, went up to the stage and presented him the Rs 200 I had earned for my recording earlier during the day.”

Aap samajh sakte hain Rs 200 rupaye 1948 mein kya maayne rakhta tha (You can understand what Rs 200 meant in 1948),” she says.

What was Panditji‘s reaction?

Lataji fondly recalls, “He gently refused to accept it. When I told him it was my token of appreciation, he reluctantly accepted my little gesture. That’s how our association began.”

“At the concert, I introduced myself as an aspiring singer from the Hindi film industry. He had heard my singing. That meant a lot to me.”

Lataji continued to attend Raviji‘s concerts even after she became extremely busy.

“I’d make it a point to attend his concerts whenever possible. I was his biggest fan. Everyone in my family is his fan.”

“It was the greatest honour for me when he asked me to sing his compositions in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha.”

 

Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravi Shankar

IMAGE: Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravi Shankar rehearse together. Photograph: Kind courtesy Lata Mangeshkar/Twitter

Just how the beautiful melodies of Anuradha were born is a story in itself.

Lataji recalls, “Hrishida was very close to me. I sang for most of his films and we were like family (Lataji never accepted payment for the songs she sang in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films).”

“When Hrishida told me about Anuradha and that Panditji was going to compose the songs, I was thrilled,” she adds.

Anuradha was about a singer (played by Leela Naidu) and Panditji came up with at least three classical masterpieces for me,” she remembers

“It is hard for me or any music connoisseur to pick a favourite from among Haye re woh din kyon na aaye, Jaane kaise sapnon mein kho gayi aankhiyan and Saanwre saanwre.”

When Subhash insists on Lataji picking one from among the three melodies, she relents.

“Okay, I would say Saanwre saanware. But only because Panditji played the sitar in this song. Unfortunately, he was not there when I recorded the song. He was abroad for his concerts and his sitar portions were added later,” she remembers.

“I recorded the song with Hrishida. This is my only song where Panditji has played the sitar.”

It is believed by many that Panditji played the sitar in my song, Oh sajna barkha bahaar ayee (composed by Salil Chowdhury for Parakh). But that’s not true,” she explains

Recalling the rehearsals for the Anuradha songs, Lataji says, “Do you know Panditji was very good singer himself? He sang out his Anuradha compositions for me and I followed his voice.”

“We both got the Bharat Ratna, but he was a far greater artiste than I. Main toh unke saamne kuch bhi nahin hoon (I am nothing in front of him),” Lataji declares with her trademark modesty.

Later, when Gulzar made Meera, he got Pandit Ravi Shankar to compose the bhajans but it was not Lataji‘s voice in the songs.

Says Lataji, “Panditji never asked me to sing for Meera. He knew I wouldn’t be comfortable doing the Meera bhajans again as I had already sung them for my brother, Hridaynath. My respect for him increased after this.”

How and where does Lataji rate Pandit Ravi Shankar in the field of music?

“Oh, he is right up there with Tansen, Beethoven and Mozart. He will be remembered for all times. When we speak of music, his name will automatically be mentioned.”

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