Personal reflections on the departed iconic artiste

Dear Editor,
With the passing of Lata Mangeshkar, I would like to share some personal reflections on this departed iconic artiste. I was in New York in 1980 when I heard she would be coming to Guyana later in the year, on October 1st. I immediately booked a ticket to see her, not only because I wanted to listen to her in person, but because of what she represented to my family back in Guyana.
For my generation from the 50s and 60s, Lata was the voice that soothed us as babies with the song “Ayega, ane wale, ayega” (Those who want to come will come.). Made you fall in love at ten with Sara Bhanu with her (Lataji’s) “Ehesaan Tera hoga…” (I would be indebted to you if you let me tell you what my heart desires), woo girls as a teenager with “Jhilmil sitaron ka aangan hoga” (There’ll be shining stars over our courtyard), be the background of maudlin homesickness in my college days at Brooklyn College in my 20s with “Ai mere Dil-e-nadaan (Oh my innocent heart), and make me request that her rendition of the medieval poet Meera Bai’s “Payoji Maine, Ram Ratan Dhan payo” be played at my funeral.
In 1967, when both Mohamed Rafi (my favourite male singer) and Mukesh visited Guyana, as a poor schoolboy, I could not afford to pay the entrance fee to their shows at the local cinemas, and only glimpsed them from afar. I’ve never forgotten the intensity of my disappointment, and was determined not to let my music-besotted family in “hard-guava-season” Guyana experience the same with Lata.
I flew in on Sept 28, Lata’s birthday, when she was performing in Trinidad, and bought more than a dozen tickets for her show at the National Park (not the National Culture Centre).
We sat in the front row, and could see her pleasure at the reaction of her doting fans. At one point, she remarked that she could not understand how we could react so knowingly to the nuances of her renditions when we couldn’t understand Hindi.
Earlier, as was by recorded her manager, she and her troupe were puzzled when a band played the song “Gumnaam hai koi” (It’s someone anonymous) in welcoming her, while being presented with the key to the city by then Mayor Cecil D Persaud.
But even though the Indian movies with subtitles translated the songs, it was not the words that touched us; it was the sentiments evoked by the music; and her voice, which was an unparalleled instrument. The closest analogy is western audiences reacting to opera when they do not understand German, French or Italian: you apprehend the world emotionally and directly, unmediated by “words” but through sounds.
“Mass excitement” hardly describes the reaction of the Guyanese fans after Lata touched down here; it was more like “mass hysteria”. It was amazing to see my mother, who was born in the same year as Lata, and her children enjoying the same artiste. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren did the same.
Om Sadgati: may her atma/soul be liberated.

Ravi Dev