My first assignment, after I was confirmed as a sub-editor cum editor in the editorial desk of Screen weekly, was to meet Lata Mangeshkar and take down her nostalgia of her first lessons in classical hindustani vocal music from her father, Shri Deenanath Mangeshkar.
It was meant for a special article from her, in the issue coinciding with the twenty fifth death anniversary of the renowned Natya Sangeet Hindustani classical vocalist, and a visionary Marathi theatre personality.
I was nervous and excited about meeting Lataji. To make it worse a very senior colleague began telling me how to greet her and converse with her. “No saying ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. Only namastey or namaskar” he taught me. “No silly questions and above all, speak only in Hindi or Marathi” he advised me.
I prepared a few questions after spending half a day going through old issues of various magazines and newspapers in the library which contained articles on Deenanath Mangeshkar and Lata Mangeshkar. They were all erudite articles and none of them had any reference to their relationship, as guru and shishya, or for that matter even as father and his eldest daughter. When the day arrived practically all my seniors were pouring advice and do’s and don’ts.
Determined, not to be daunted by all the unsolicited advice, I pooh-poohed my nervousness and set out. I reached Prabhu Kunj, a quarter of an hour before the appointed time, rang the doorbell, and waited for the door to be opened by a domestic staff member. I was rehearsed by my senior colleagues how to ask for Lataji, in case one of her family members opened the door. Very softly and politely ask for Didi and introduce yourself with humility, they had reminded me as I was leaving the office.
A minute after I rang the doorbell, the door opened and who do you think was standing at the threshold? It was Lataji herself. Clad in a simple cotton sari and with absolutely no inhibitions, she was smiling and asking me: “Taraji ?”
I said: “No, no, no. I’m just Tara.”
She laughed and let me in.
It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes for me to realise that she was not the reserved inaccessible woman, my colleagues had made her out to be. Nor did she disapprove of my slipping into English when I couldn’t get my Hindi right.
She told me how she started her music lessons from her father and recalled the first raaga she had sung. Puriya Dhanashree, she recalled. She reminisced her first day at school and how she had walked to school holding her father’s little finger and the awe that the teachers had for her father. She laughed and chuckled as she talked and I was completely at ease as if I had known her for years.
Suddenly she stopped and looked at me with her brows knit. “Main kya bolti jaa rahi hoon. Aap ko chai kuch poocha hi nahin”. This time we both had a laugh. In my nervousness I had not eaten anything and I was hungry. She excused herself and went to the kitchen. I could hear her ask for tea and freshly made poha to be served hot to us. I told her how nervous I was and how my senior colleagues, had created a different image of her and made me more nervous. She listened and was understandably amused.
I told her it was my first assignment on the job and she exclaimed,” Arre wah! Main prarthna karoongi ki aap ko prasiddhi aur samman mile…” I’m sure she kept her word and prayed for my success.
My first assignment was indeed a thumping success. The letters to the editor, following the publication of the first person reminiscences by Lata Mangeshkar in the issue, were ample proof of that.
I met Lataji many many times in the course of my long career. Each time my reverence and admiration increased, for her humble and warm response to people, who reach out to her. And I know, anytime I visit her, she will offer me tea and delicious poha, the way no one else can.