Lata Mangeshkar is credited with thousands of songs in as many as 36 Indian languages over a period of almost eight decades, but there were some tracks that stuck with her, something the melody queen also went on to acknowledge in her later years. In an interview with PTI in October 2021, Mangeshkar said she still remembers how veteran lyricist-poet Gulzar's words ‘Meri awaaz hi pehchaan hai’ from the song ‘Naam Gum Jaayega’ in his 1977 directorial Kinara came to reflect her own storied journey in music with her fans conflating her voice with her identity.
‘Meri awaaz hi pehchan hai’ translates to ‘My voice is indeed my identity.’
Mangeshkar, who passed away on February 6 morning following a multiple organ failure at the age of 92, had said she remembers vividly the day she did the playback for the song.
"Everyone in the country knows that Gulzar sahab writes beautifully. He also speaks beautifully. When I was singing (this song), he came to me and gently said, 'Meri awaaz hi pehchan hai aur ye hai pehchan'. He said something like this. But later, I also started saying that 'My voice is my identity'. And now whoever sings that song or writes about me says those lines," Mangeshkar had said.
In his homage to the Nightingale of India, Bollywood star Akshay Kumar also quoted the lines from ‘Naam Gum Jaayega.’ "Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hain, Gar Yaad Rahe and how can one forget such a voice! Deeply saddened by the passing away of Lata Mangeshkar ji, my sincere condolences and prayers. Om Shanti," Akshay Kumar tweeted.
Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hain, Gar Yaad Rahe…and how can one forget such a voice!— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) February 6, 2022
Deeply saddened by the passing away of Lata Mangeshkar ji, my sincere condolences and prayers. Om Shanti
But just like her many diverse songs are her many listeners who have their own favourite or favourites they remember the singer by.
For Masaan director Neeraj Ghaywan it is another song penned by Gulzar — ‘Humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki’ from the 1969 film Khamoshi, directed by Asit Sen.
The song, picturised on Waheeda Rehman, makes a case for those bonds that shouldn't be "tainted" by the society by putting a label to them.
"Na ye bujhti hai, na rukti hai, na thehri hai kahin, noor ki boond hai sadiyon se baha karti hai... sirf ehsaas hai ye rooh se mehsoos karo..." tweeted Ghaywan. "Lata Mangeshkar lives on!" the filmmaker said.
Mangeshkar's melancholic lilt to ‘Ajeeb daastaan hai ye’, lip synced by Meena Kumari, in the 1960 film Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai is one of the most iconic Bollywood songs of all time.
Over 50 years later too, the song continues to resonate in pop culture. Bombay Talkies, the 2013 Hindi anthology film, had one segment directed by Karan Johar which borrowed its title from the song. Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh underlined certain absurdities and ironies of life, something which was viewed with a different lens in the form of another anthology called Ajeeb Daastaans, which premiered on Netflix in 2021.
The haunting loneliness of ‘Lag ja gale,’ the declaration of both love and war in the rebellious ‘Pyaar kiya to darna kya,’ the song of freedom and aspiration in ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai’ to the naughtiness in love with ‘Bahon me chale aao,’ Mangeshkar had done it all in her heyday.
And yet, the singing legend's twilight years were just as illuminating with a ‘Jiya jale’ and a ‘Tere liye’ here and a ‘Luka Chuppi’ there.
Mangeshkar was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Breach Candy Hospital in South Mumbai in early January after she tested positive for coronavirus with mild symptoms and was also diagnosed with pneumonia. She remained in the ICU for more than two weeks, following signs of marginal improvement in her health, following which the doctors treating her had taken her off the ventilator on January 28.
However, she was put on the ventilator again as her health started deteriorating from February 5 after which the team of doctors employed aggressive therapy to revive her.
The singer may have passed away but her songs will live on in the collective memory of Indians.