Lata Mangeshkar is a religion beyond saffron or green

The goddess’s songs owed allegiance to neither saffron nor green. They were a religion of their own

Lata Mangeshkar is a religion beyond saffron or green

Subhash K Jha

I had decided to not write an obituary on the Goddess of All Melodious Things. Obituaries are written for the dead. The goddess cannot die. She will live through thousands of her songs for as long as civilization exists; which may not be very long, what with many kinds of viruses and other toxic elements polluting and poisoning our planet.

As long as even one of her songs, mind you not the thousands that she has rendered to infinite durability, but just one, only one… pick anyone…’Raina beeti jaye’, ‘Aaj socha toh aansoon bhar aaye’, ‘Ae dilruba’, ‘Kitni dard bhari yeh raat hai’, ‘Abke na sawan barse’, ‘Saawan ke jhoole pade’… Every one of these songs is worth infinitely more than the entire body of songs sung by every other singer in the universe.

Those who talk about her monopoly now when she is gone should listen to the above songs. I can make a list of 200 songs of hers, each one a consummate self-contained masterpiece on a par with Picasso’s Mona Lisa or the Kohinoor. I have heard ‘Main hoon teri prem deewani mere saiyan mera raja diljani’ , an obscure R D Burman composition from a potboiler titled Azaad which didn’t deserve the gem of a song, at least 500 times since it was first released in 1978: I still don’t know how she sung it, the pauses she takes between the lines, the way she carries the notes from mid-wave to the highest octave within two lines: no singer in the world, not Tansen not Bhimsen Joshi not Pavarotti can do this. She is beyond any human explanation of excellence.

I am embarrassed to praise her when she is gone. I had vowed I wouldn’t. After a lifetime of deep unconditional uninterrupted veneration, I had decided to not join the chorus of panegyrics after her going. But then I saw some deeply cynical writings where she was accused of going saffron after singing for Pandit Jawarlal Nehru. I heard discordant voices questioning her political allegiance.

Yes, she was very fond of our prime minister Narendra Modi. She has on many occasions spoken to me about him every warmly. I remember on her birthday in 2019 when I called her in the morning to wish her, she gently asked me to call later. “Abhi Modiji ka phone aane wala hai.” I couldn’t compete with that.

There was mutual fondness between the two, that transcended politics. Lataji’s ‘Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam’ was no empty rhetoric. If she is being mourned in Pakistan as much as in India, then it’s only because she sang for mankind, not for the details on the passport. The goddess’s songs owed allegiance to neither saffron nor green. They were a religion of their own, a colour so vibrant, deep, tapestried and rich, it had no human definition.

Keep her out of all the political prattle. She was neither right nor left.

I have not even begun to process her departure from this godforsaken world. I can’t believe I will never be able to speak to her. Do I care for a world which has just been robbed of the receptacle of all that is beautiful and desirable?

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