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Musings On Lata Mangeshkar’s 90th Birthday

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People who have a passion for the Indian Cinema are most fortunate. Most of us either lived or were born during the period– spanning almost over a 8 decades– that can easily be called the Lata Mangeshkar Era. On September 28th, the grand dame of music turned 90 and out of these nine decades she sang for 80 years.

I celebrated her birthday listening the treasure trove she has created for us. It was lazy Sunday in Karachi.

In the afternoon, I drew the curtains, darkened the room and played her songs. This is my favourite pastime. It whisked me back to my childhood when during the sizzling afternoons, we would tune in to All India Radio and listened to listeners’ choice programme Aap ki Farmayesh. Sunlight would sneak into the room through the openings between the curtains and create camera obscura on the opposite wall.

When Umar came in the evening, I asked him to play Lataji’s songs on his big ipad that has a good, loud sound system, to continue celebrations. He also played his favourites and talked about Lataji and stories attributed to her. The the whole verandah was alive and enveloped in her magical voice.

And suddenly it struck me that after I don’t how long, our verandah was reverberating in music, simply music, instead of loud bickering of current affairs shows, television plays and ads.

The advent of Walkman killed the communal experience of listening to music. It went from Walkman to iPod, and iPod to phones. Bad to worse and worse to worst. Sitting together and listening to music is now only limited to specially organised mehfils or while commuting in the car.

Love for music runs in our family. My grandfather loved his radiograms and radios. He would tune to different stations and listen to each. He had dozens and dozens of LPs of 72 rpm and 45rpm. They would be playing in the house since morning when the radio was not being used. My younger phuppi Anjum Baji celebrated every Sunday and other holidays (when she wasn’t busy studying 15 hours a day after University and not howling about exams) playing Indian cinema music records. Her favourite singer was Geeta Roy-Dutt and her favourite song was ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya’.

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On a holiday, we children would wake up late to Geeta Roy’s voice and find her busy doing dusting. When Dada was in town, every day, we heard SD Burman’s melodious voice singing timeless songs such as Guide’s song ‘wahan kaun hai tera’ blared by Radio Ceylone at 6:30 am. Often our own home and many others reverberated with Zeenat Aman’s ‘dum maaro dum’ or ‘Haye haye yeh majboori’.

And this was a norm in almost all homes back then. Our neighbours would play English music when their children were home. During the week, the lady of the house tuned into Radio Pakistan. Pakistani films ‘radio programmes’ would blare from their radiogram which would invariably end ‘shaandar numayesh jari hai’ and ‘aaj shabb ko…’; and the presenter would rattle off theatres names in different cities where a particular film was being shown.

In the evening or even daytime, if you heard the loud blare of contemporary hit songs, we knew that elders are away. We also played contemporary Bollywood hits when Amma and Abba went out. It was such great sense of freedom to pump up the volume beyond the allowed decibels, specially playing latest cinema or pop music.

I suppose music being played loudly every day in homes and the communal listening experience resulted in this widely shared appreciation of the musical giants, at least until my generation.

Today, individual listening has led to the popularity of K Pop i.e. Korean Pop (teenagers today ‘music itself is a language to another level’ and bad taste, and not knowing the greats.

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Homes shake with the rising decibels of angry TV anchors or reverberate with sanctimonious sermons of darsi zombies or echo with defending silence. No music.

Back to Lataji, because she connected millions of people and many generations across the globe, and her beautiful voice continues to do so.

It is extremely difficult, in fact impossible, to choose one or even 100 favourite songs by Lataji. However, Mahal’s ‘aayega…’ truly haunting and was chosen as the Millennium’s most popular song in 1999.

If you want to be mesmerised for the umpteenth time by the magic called Lataji, listen to this:

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