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    HomeCANADA ENTERTAINMENTOpinion | That voice! The music!: Lata Mangeshkar was the soundtrack to...

    Opinion | That voice! The music!: Lata Mangeshkar was the soundtrack to the lives of generations of the Indian diaspora



    Two days of nationwide mourning.

    Flags at half mast.

    A state funeral.

    As India went concerning the enterprise of honouring Lata Mangeshkar this previous week — the lady they merely referred to as the “Nightingale” — I struggled to discover a means of explaining what her dying, at 92, means to Indians, and the South Asian diaspora, and what a Western equal even appears like. The closest parallel I might land on? Possibly Edith Piaf, and what she means to France, however even there, the comparisons are wobbly, if you simply take a look at the sheer, staggering breadth. A profession stretching over 70 years (the soundtrack of many, many generations, together with my very own). An oeuvre amounting to extra songs than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones mixed (greater than 10,000 recordings, really). An acclaim, on a intestine degree, that’s synonymous with fashionable India itself when you think about how ubiquitous she has been in Bollywood movies for the reason that early 1950s (a couple of brief years after the nation claimed independence).

    “She was not a queen or a president; she did not rule oceans or command armies; her only possessions were a cotton saree and a silken voice; and yet, the flag representing a billion people flies half mast in her honour. Don’t ever ask again what is real power.” Author Anand Ranganathan summed up the sentiment when he tweeted this.

    Born right into a household of performers in 1929, when India was nonetheless a part of the British Empire — her father ran a theatre firm — Lata’s profession took off as a “playback singer,” a part of a circle of go-tos who lend their vocals to a film star’s lip-synced lyrics, making them sound good. Her voice, more and more, probably the most coveted — and baked into probably the most evocative songs of all time from the sub-continent. The ones that boomed by way of automobile home windows, enveloped events and weddings, lingered throughout holidays and within the native curry store.

    Growing up in Toronto in a family the place Indian motion pictures have been omnipresent — Bollywood being a cultural lifeline, specifically, to these South Asians residing exterior India, generally extra so than to Indians in India — her gently tilting, octaves-sweeping vocals have been a part of my emotional wallpaper. Though, to be sincere: I can not exactly keep in mind when, or how, I got here to discern that most of the songs rising from probably the most glamorous ladies you may think about, in any variety of movies, have been — most of the time — the voice of only one girl. And a quite simple, not notably showy, girl at that.

    This is the factor: whereas actresses got here and went, generational tastes shifted, and new ingenues rose to the fore, the voice — at the least till effectively into the aughts — remained. That sort of fidelity, itself a shared language in an ever-spinning world, is what many South Asians really feel after they mourn Lata.

    London, England-raised Lavanya Ramanathan adroitly defined the immigrant connection to the songbird in Vox this week: “Her voice was filled with an intensity that conveyed both passion and pain. If you listen, you’ll know what I mean. You don’t even have to understand the lyrics (I often don’t) to understand what I mean. And to so many South Asians around the world, her songs represented much more than a mere melody — she was the voice of a faraway land many of us barely knew, but wished we did.”

    Growing up within the 1980s, maintaining with Lata, she continued, “meant pressing play and rewind on my yellow sports Walkman with its chunky plastic buttons, I closed my eyes and imagined I was in India.”

    Pressing play myself, this week — through YouTube! — I fell right into a rabbit-hole of her output, music starting from early black-and-white-era film classics like “Lag Jaa Gale” to modern classics like “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” to considered one of my faves, “Tujhse Naraz Nahi Zindagi” (a bittersweet melody from the early-eighties gem, “Masoom,” a few girl coming to grips with the infidelity of her husband, and the illegitimate baby that involves reside with them — a super-provocative film, on the time, in Indian cinema). So many songs I had even forgotten I knew, however have been proper there — like leaves floating on the floor of a pond, in my creativeness.

    Mangeshkar herself as soon as stated she doesn’t hearken to her personal songs as a result of, if she did, she would discover a hundred faults in them — a quest for perfection that set her aside. Noted music journalist Narendra Kusnur explains: “Her passion and discipline were accompanied by a god-gifted voice, which not only sounded great on its own, but also suited the heroines she sang for, as she would tweak her voice and yet sound like herself.”

    Indeed, her hustle was so all-consuming that she sang in upwards of 20 languages, not solely in Hindi, however in tongues as numerous as Bangla, Assamese, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu and Bhojpuri. A discography as miscellaneous as India itself.

    Part of the Lata attract, too? A private fashion that was by no means notably embellished, however all her personal: that ubiquitous white saree, typically with a small band, and a purple bindi (dot) on her brow that — collectively — was as visually commanding as, say, a Frida Kahlo together with her technicolour apparel and unibrow, or a Frank Sinatra, together with his fedora, and thin fits. By by no means wavering in her fashion — and standing out by mixing in — Lata made herself iconic.

    Remarkably, too, is that whereas Lata gave voice to nice love songs and the bonds of household, she remained single and childless herself. At first, it’s stated, as a result of she was so entrenched in her work and since, at a really younger age, she had labored to deal with her brother and sisters, supporting their educations and their careers. But, additionally — legend has it — as a result of her one real love eluded her: Raj Singh Dungarpur, a well-known cricketer who was additionally a prince, from the state of Rajasthan. Though they have been smitten with one another, the connection was frowned upon by the opposite Dungarpur royals, and whereas each remained single — and apparently devoted to one another proper till his dying in 2009 — a wedding was a no-go.

    Coming from a technology that didn’t focus on such issues in public, Lata by no means a lot opened up about any of this, however, in a 2013 interview with the Hindustan Times, she got here closest. Having already poured all of it into her songs, she informed the newspaper, “There are some things only for the heart to know. Let me keep it that way.”

    Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist protecting tradition and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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