So long, nightingale

Feb 07, 2022 12:15 AM IST

Lata Mangeshkar, who left behind thousands of memorable songs in a singing career that spanned the arc of Indian cinema, was cremated with full state honours on Sunday evening.

Mumbai Lata Mangeshkar, famously called the “Nightingale of India” for striking a chord with millions of hearts with her music that spanned an over seven-decade-long career, died at a Mumbai hospital after contracting Covid-19 in January. She was 92.

Mortal remains of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar being brought to Shivaji Park for her last rites, in Mumbai, India, on Sunday. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/ HT Photo)
Mortal remains of legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar being brought to Shivaji Park for her last rites, in Mumbai, India, on Sunday. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/ HT Photo)

As a funeral procession went from Mangeshkar’s Peddar Road home to Shivaji Park in Mumbai for the last rites on Sunday evening, thousands of people lined the streets to pay their tributes to the woman who shaped Indian music after the dawn of the playback era.

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Mangeshkar, who left behind thousands of memorable songs in a singing career that spanned the arc of Indian cinema, was cremated with full state honours on Sunday evening. In a career over almost eight decades, 92-year-old Mangeshkar sang an estimated 25,000 songs in 36 Indian languages.

Besides Hindi, the iconic singer also sang in Marathi, Bengali and other regional languages. She was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke Award as well as several National and Filmfare Awards. Mangeshkar’s last complete album was for the 2004 Bollywood release Veer-Zaara.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who flew down to Mumbai in the evening, arrived at the 2000-sq ft ground in Dadar, a section of which was cordoned off for the funeral, accompanied by Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and laid a wreath at the singer’s body, which was draped in the national flag.

“Lata Didi has gone to the heavenly abode. Many people, like me, will proudly say that they had a close connection with her. Wherever you go, you can always find her loved ones. Her melodious voice will always stay with us, I pay tributes to her with a heavy heart,” the Prime Minister said.

Mangeshkar, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 2001, died of post-Covid-19 complications at 8.12am Sunday.

Fondly referred to as “Lata Didi” by her legion of fans, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital on January 9, two days after she tested positive for Covid-19. A certificate issued by the hospital on Sunday said the singer turned Covid negative on February 4 and listed the immediate cause of death as “septic shock with multi-organ failure”, and the antecedent cause as “post-Covid-19 status”.

Mangeshkar’s family members including her sister Usha, brother Hridaynath and their children were present in the hospital during her final moments. The Centre later announced a two-day national mourning and the national flag was flown on half-mast as a mark of respect to the icon.

The Tricolour that draped the singer’s body was handed over to her nephew, Aadinath Mangeshkar. After Hindu priests performed Mantragni (the last rites ritual), Hridaynath lit the funeral pyre at 7.16pm. Following this, notes from Mangeshkar’s evergreen songs “Tum mujhe yun bhula na paaoge” and “Rahe na rahe hum” filled the grounds.

Mangeshkar was the first of five children born to Marathi singer and theatre performer Deenanath Mangeshkar and Shevanti Haridas Lad. She was trained by her father starting at the age of five, and took on the responsibility of providing for the family after her father passed away when she was 12. She recorded her first playback song for a Marathi film Kiti Hasaal at the age of 13, but it was in 1949 — when Mangeshkar was 20 — that she came into her own as a playback singer in Hindi cinema. That year, she delivered several hit songs, including the famous “Aayega aane wala”, in the film Mahal, which starred Madhubala. As her songs began to be relayed on the radio and on records, she became instantly synonymous with the voice of the heroine.

Her rendition of “Ae mere watan ke logon” at the National Capital’s Ramlila Maidan in 1963 to commemorate the fallen Indian soldiers in the 1962 Indo-China war, moved the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears, and became a hallmark tune of patriotic fervour. Decades later, on the occasion of India’s 50th year of Independence, Mangeshkar once again delivered a song, “Ma tujhe salaam” — a composition by AR Rahman that reinterpreted the national song, Vande Mataram — which too, came to symbolise patriotism for the millennial generation.

Mageshkar’s cremation was attended by politicians across party lines, including Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra deputy CM Ajit Pawar, parliamentarian Supriya Sule, state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray and Union minister Piyush Goyal, among others. Dignitaries including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, lyricist Javed Akhtar, singer Anuradha Paudwal among others, also came to pay their respects.

Condolence messages poured in soon after the news of her demise broke on Sunday.

“In her vast range of songs, rendering the essence and beauty of India, generations found expression of their inner-most emotions. A Bharat Ratna, Lata-ji’s accomplishments will remain incomparable,” President Ram Nath Kovind wrote on Twitter along with a photo with the veteran playback singer.

While Congress president Sonia Gandhi said Mangeshkar’s heart-touching voice, songs of patriotism and a life of struggle will always be an inspiration for generations, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the voice of the iconic singer left her “mesmerised”.

The singer’s body was first brought to her Peddar Road residence, where several dignitaries dropped in to pay their respects to the family, including actors Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Shraddha Kapoor, Bhagyashree and singer Pankaj Udhas, among others.

The 92-year-old veteran was admitted to the Breach Candy Hospital ICU on January 9, two days after testing Covid positive. By the time she came to the hospital, the infection had spread to her lungs and she had developed bilateral Covid pneumonia.

“She recovered from acute Covid symptoms but developed post-Covid sequelae that impacted her organs,” treating physician Dr Pratit Samdani said. “We had put her on all possible treatments and supportive therapies for her lungs and kidneys,” he added.

The singer was put on ventilator support for a few days, but was taken off the ventilator on January 27 once her condition improved. However, three days ago, she was put on ventilator support again as her condition deteriorated. Her advanced age and co-morbid conditions which included diabetes, hypertension and ischemic heart disease made recovery difficult.

(With inputs from Mehul Thakkar and Swapnil Rawal)

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    Naresh is a Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, Mumbai, since 2005. He covers the real estate sector, in addition to doing political reportage.

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