I can understand your grief, but I want you to keep singing: When Lataji once told Chithra

Lata Mangeshkar-KS Chithra
Combo image of Lata Mangeshkar and KS Chithra

Lata Mangeshkar, according to KS Chithra is a face that comes to our mind along with Mahatma Gandhi when we think of India. Her death will always be an irreplaceable loss to Indian music. Here is a legendary singer who has gifted so many songs to a generation of singers who might never be able to learn it all in their lifetime. Chithra likes to think that Lataji will always live in our hearts through her music. She talks to Manorama online about her love for the Nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar.

An immense loss

Her death is an irreplaceable loss to the world of music. I have grown up listening to her songs. When I think of India, along with Mahatma Gandhi, her face appears in my mind. To me, she is the face of Indian music. Her physical presence might not be there but through her songs, she will remain immortal in our hearts. She has left behind such classic melodies for our future generation and perhaps they might never be able to learn it all in their lifetime. Every song she has sung is a textbook for students of music. It is impossible to overlook her contribution to Indian music and I think we have all learnt music by listening to her songs. Her death is a personal loss for me.

Memories never die

I met Lataji for the first time when she came to collect the Dada Sahib Phalke award in Chennai. I wasn’t an invitee. I was singing a duet with SP Balasubramanian sir in a studio then. He had a lot of songs to finish. He said he had to rush as there was a felicitation for Lata Mangeshkar at the Madras Telugu Academy and that he was hosting the event. When I heard that I asked him if I can tag along as I hadn’t seen her before. He obliged. By the time we reached, the event was almost over. SPB sir introduced me to Lata Ji. She said she had listened to my songs and also posed for a picture with me. After that during her 75th birthday celebrations in Mumbai, which was a grand function, she gave me her favourite song, ‘Rafeeq Balma’ to sing. I also got an opportunity to sing ‘Rula ke gaya sapna’ in front of her. For her 80th birthday, I had made an album ‘Nightingale’ in her tribute. I didn’t know that my husband had sent the album to Lataji. One fine day I had a call from Lataji and thinking it might be a prank call I didn’t answer the call. It was only when she called for the second time that I answered and listened to her voice through the phone for the first time in my life. She told me that she was making this call as she was unwell and therefore couldn’t write me a letter. She thanked me profusely for this album dedicated to her and said she loved it.

With me, in my sorrow

During the lowest and unhappiest point in my life, I was called to receive an award in her name at Hyderabad. But during that time I wasn’t ready to step out of my house. I told the organisers that I wasn’t in a state of mind to be present at the function. That evening Lataji called me— “I can understand your grief. I know everything. But you need to face the world. You should come and I want to meet you.” Though I went to the function, Lataji was unable to make it. But it’s only because of her that I finally stepped out of my house and faced the world.

My favourite Lata song

I think it would be better to ask if there is a song of hers which I don’t like. Because we can learn a lot from each and every one of her songs. She has sung songs that we think would be impossible to pull off. There is a song called 'Manumohana' for instance. She finishes the last stanza almost in one breath keeping all the nuances intact. Susheelamma (P Susheela) and Janakiyamma (S Janaki) are great admirers of Lataji, and they make it a point to learn from listening to her songs. I have sung 'Sathyam Shivam Sundaram' and other Lataji songs on stage. At a huge function at Hyderabad, I remember singing Lata Mangeshkar’s songs, SP Balasubramanian singing Muhammed Rafi songs, SP Shailaja crooning Asha Bhosle hits and Sudhesh Bhosle giving tribute to Kishore Kumar. That was a memorable function as it was a union of so many singers. Last December there was a musical night in Dubai in which I had paid a tribute to Lataji, Ashaji and several other legendary singers. I had sung Lataji’s ‘Lagja Gale.’ For the next generation of singers, her songs will be a reference and through them, she will live in our hearts forever.


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