The September 18 terror attack left 18 Indian soldiers dead at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. So, this year Lata won’t celebrate her birthday. “Not when our soldiers have died so brutally in Uri. My sincere request to my well-wishers, please don’t waste money buying me flowers. Instead send money to the bereaved family of martyrs. Jo shaheed huey hain unki zaraa yaad karo qurbani,” she said.
There is hatred everywhere, especially between India and the neighbours. What is her message to her fans? Lata said: “Everything has changed. Human beings and even the climate is now unpredictable. Extreme weather conditions play havoc with our lives. I am deeply saddened to see children suffer in natural calamities and during war.”
So what according to her, is the solution to the current crisis in mankind’s existence?
“I don’t know if I am qualified to comment on such matters. But yes, I do wonder why nations don’t keep their own house in order instead of creating havoc in others’ domain. Why hurl bombs at nations? Hatred kills. Why not work on making our own country beautiful?”
She cites the example of Switzerland as an idyllic state of existence.
“Switzerland is considered the most peaceful country in the world. Why? Because they’ve concentrated on making their own country better and more developed and they do not look at other countries to harm them. We never hear of violence perpetrated by the Swiss.”
“Woh khush rahen shanti se rahen (I hope they stay happy and stay in peace). Aur humen bhi khushi aur shanti se rehne den (And let us also live in peace and be happy). I know the people there are just like us. They want peace. Only some elements don’t want peace.”
On a more cheerful note, Lata Mangeshkar has been conferred West Bengal’s highest civilian honour – the Banga Bibhushan. And Lata, who has received India’s highest civilian honour the Bharat Ratna, is ecstatic.
“My connection with Bengal is karmic. I’ve sung numerous Bangla songs including Durga Pooja songs and Rabindra Sangeet, the two most popular genres of singing in Bengal. I hold my visits to Kolkata very close to my heart. Do you know, Bengal is where I’ve performed the maximum live concerts in India,” said Lata, recalling with pleasure the times when she recorded Bangla songs for the two Bangla maestros Salil Chowdhury and Hemant Kumar.
“Hemant da’s songs were sweet and transparent, like the man himself. His tunes were very melodious. Salil da used to record really intricate layered Bangla songs with me and then he would record the same song with me in Hindi. For example, ‘O sajna barkha bahaar aayee’ (‘Parakh’), ‘Na jiya laage na(‘Anand’) and ‘Niss din niss din’ (‘Annadata’) were all Bengali songs first.”
Lata’s brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar also recorded Bangla songs with her.
“Hridaynath converted some of his famous Marathi numbers into Bangla,” she revealed.
She recalls every visit to Kolkata with pleasure. “I love the food there, and the saris. But most of all, I love the language. It is so sweet. I am honoured to get their award. The fact that West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamta Bannerjee will take the time to personally come to Mumbai to give me the award makes it all the more special. I couldn’t have hoped for a better birthday gift.”
What do awards mean to the Nightingale at this stage of her career?
“Oh, they mean a lot! It’s never too late for recognition and praise. When I received the Bharat Ratna in 2001, all my friends said there is nothing more to achieve. But I am still learning. I still feel like a student. Every word of praise whether it comes from the government or a listener who appreciates my songs, is equally important.”