THIS WEEK, THAT YEAR
Nitin Mukesh, son of the late singer Mukesh, has known Lata Mangeshkar, who turns 90 today, since before he was born. The Melody Queen was clicked with the Mathur family during a concert in Delhi when he was still in his mother’s womb, forging a bond, which he believes is pre-destined. When he was born, Lata ji’s mother presented him with a gold chain and by the time he was around five, little Nitin was trailing behind his papa to song recordings. It was a year or two later that he realised the legend his father was, as also this enchanting goddess who was always warm and affectionate towards him. And once he did, he was in love with her, for life.
“It’s the purest emotion I can feel,” Nitin ji rhapsodises, pointing out that he has a playlist of Lata ji’s songs, around 400 of them, which he listens to every day, from “Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha” (Anupama) and “Kai Din Se Jee Hai Bekal” (Dulhan Ek Raat Ki) to “Kya Janu Sajan” (Baharon Ke Sapne) and all the Raj Kapoor film songs, among others. “There are times when my beloved father’s songs make me depressed because I lost him too soon, but Didi’s songs always elevate my spirit.”
He flashbacks to August 24, 1976, when he made his stage debut with Lata ji at the age of 25. He had accompanied his father on a concert tour. They were in Toronto and Mukesh ji had a slight cold. A concerned Lata ji suggested that since he wasn’t feeling too well, she could sing a couple of duets with Nitin. When the boy was told this, he was aghast. “Papa, will I be able to do it?” he wailed. In her gentle way, Lata ji assured young Nitin that he would do great, and introduced him on stage. His first song as a performer was “Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein” which ironically turned out to be his papa’s last one.
It was encore in Montreal and Nitin ji remembers Mukesh ji crying like a baby in the wings as he watched him sing with Lata ji. Then, leaving him to enjoy the adulation alone, he rushed back to the hotel to call his wife, telling her proudly that their son “papa ki chutti kar di”.
Before this Mukesh ji would keep seeking assurance from Lata ji, “Nitin, apni dal roti kama lega na?” After seeing him perform with her he was convinced the boy would do well. “Meri pension pakki,” he exulted.
Three days after his son’s glorious debut, Mukesh ji succumbed to a sudden heart attack on August 27, and the Detroit and Philadelphia shows had to be cancelled. “But in December, Lata ji graciously returned to the two cities with me, pointing out that papa had never hurt anyone during his lifetime, so it was our responsibility to honour his commitment and ensure the promoters of these shows did not suffer. ‘Tu chal unka adhura sapna pura karne,’ she urged, leading me by the hand again and introducing me to the world as her Mukesh bhaiyya’s son. My father gave me his name, but without Didi, I might have got lost in the mists of anonymity and not been able to take his legacy forward. She gave me a career,” Nitin ji says, his voice cracking with emotion.
Today, he proudly claims that among male playback singers, except for her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar, he’s done the maximum stage shows with Lata ji. They have travelled across the world, from the UK, US, Canada and Europe to Africa, UAE, Russia, West Indies and even Swaziland in South Africa till she took the curtain call. In her heydays, she went on at least three-four foreign tours every year, and everywhere they went, she got a rousing reception. Nitin ji recalls a visit to Georgetown when they drove from the airport to the hotel in an open car for around 60 kms at a snail’s pace, with screaming fans lining both sides of the road. “It was as if all of Guyana had descended for a glimpse of this petite, unassuming lady who stood all the way, smiling and shyly waving out to the fans. I was told later that not even heads of state, including the Queen of England, had ever drawn such euphoric crowds,” recounts Nitin ji, sharing that no matter what time a concert ended, Lata ji was the first to be ready for sightseeing next morning.
Her devotion to music still leaves him awed as he recalls how the songstress never stepped on stage wearing footwear. Also, on the morning of every concert, she’d insist on an hour or two of rehearsals, going over the 30-odd songs in the set. “If show time was 7pm, she was in the hotel lobby a minute before 6pm, and two minutes before the curtains went up, she was at the mic. Didi is so disciplined, you can set your watch by her,” he asserts.
At recordings, she was always the last one to arrive at the studio. She’d write down the lyrics, go over the tune with the composer once and was ready to sing live. “She’s Goddess Saraswati, while singers like me, even after four weeks of practise, would stumble. Once, a worried music director asked her if she’d like to sing her portion and leave, but Didi waved him off saying she was in no hurry, we’d do the song together. She’s always had a soft spot for me because I’m her Mukesh bhaiyya’s son,” smiles Nitin ji, whose gems with Lata jiinclude Satyam Shivam Sundaram’s “Woh Aurat Hai Tu Mehbooba”, “Zindagi Ki Naa Toote Ladi” from Kranti, Noorie’s “Aaja Re O Mere Dilbar” and Trishul’s “Gapoochi Gapoochi Gam Gam” to name a few.
They stay in touch through Whatsapp texts, Lata ji responding to his emotional, “Missing you Didi,” with “God bless you, I love you too” and every now and then, sending him a rare song of hers in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Odia or Bengali. “For me music begins and ends with Lata Didi, she is the greatest there ever will be,” Nitin ji signs off.