Friday, March 17, 2017
Mohan Deora and Rachana Shah have co-authored a book - On Stage With Lata - to describe how the singing legend was the first Indian film artist to conquer foreign shores. They talk about the book and Lata Mangeshkar, the person.
For those living several shores away, there are a few things that they miss about home. First, the food and second, the films (regional, Bollywood) and their songs. These two factors transport them on a nostalgia trip, filling them up with joy and sadness.
In the ‘70s, ‘80s and even in the ‘90s, it was difficult for the NRIs to connect with their folks in India, so cultural evenings, concerts brought them together.
Classical musicians Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan were the prominent names in the international circuit, but no popular icons from mainstream Hindi film industry had performed abroad till then. The first one to perform, and that too on a big scale, was Lata Mangeshkar.
This precursor is necessary to tell you how Latadidi conquered the foreign shores and in fact raised the bar for all Indian artists who were to follow her in later decades. All this valuable information has been put together into a book - On Stage with Lata, brought out by HarperCollins Publishers.
It has been co-authored by Mohan Deora, a nuclear scientist, who had organised Latadidi’s performances in American cities and the Caribbean and Fiji islands, and Rachana Shah, her niece. Shah, alongwith her cousins, had sung in some of the concerts too.
The two explain what it was like to organise and be a part of the concerts, and of course watch the Melody Queen up close.
Did you maintain a diary in the ‘70s and ‘80s?
I never maintained a diary and I agree that it is really impossible to recall and jot down the information three decades hence. But I had three sources to do so. The one was the memories of certain events imprinted in my brain over the three decades. The second was, various articles written about these shows and the third one was the recordings and videos collected during the period.
How did you choose the incidents, anecdotes that went into the book?
The incidents and anecdotes that went into the book were inspired by my memories that are still with me and may never be forgotten. Whenever one asks or talks about the book, the first thought that comes to the mind is the loss of our beloved, Mukeshji. A day before his demise, on August 27, Mukeshji came to my house for dinner with Latadidi and we had a very enjoyable evening. While driving back to the hotel, he even said, ‘Ek vegetarian ke ghar par itna achcha chicken kabhee nahi khaya’. And the next day, he was gone, forever. I still wonder how it could have happened.
Which are your favourite Latadidi songs?
The top three that come to mind are: Ayegaa aayega aanewala from Mahal, Mohe bhool gaye saawariya from Baiju Bawara and Ye zindagi usiki hai from Anarkali.
In one of the chapters you had said that it’s Indian film music which brought together strangers in a world away from home. Does that still hold true? Which Indian/Bollywood, regional songs are being heard by young Indians and their parents, living abroad?
It is the Indian film music which brings strangers together in a world away from home. And it will always continue to be so. Predominantly, the Hindi/Bollywood songs are being listened to by parents living abroad today and hopefully the youngsters too will follow suit. My 11-year-old granddaughter Saaniya listening to a Lataji song, asked me, ‘Baba who is this singer? I would like to sing like her.’
When Mr Deora approached you with the proposal to write the book, how did you go about penning his thoughts?
Mohan uncle, as I lovingly call him, was the main organiser of Didi’s shows abroad. And being the meticulous man he is, he had preserved every article, piece of information, photos from all these tours. Plus when one deals with a phenomenon like Lata Mangeshkar, one just naturally cherishes every moment with her.
So he had all this wealth of information and it needed to be told to the world. Since the book is narrated through his eyes, I had to keep that perspective and not dilute it at all.
Were there any instances when your memory of the tour/s differed with that of Mr Deora?
Not at all. In fact, by writing this book, both Mohan uncle and I relived all those precious moments again, with an even more deeper understanding of this incredible artist called Lata Mangeshkar.
Was it difficult to concise the impact and reach of Latadidi’s concert shows abroad in this slim volume of book?
The book showcases Didi as a stage performer in the the USA, Canada, the Caribbean islands and the Fiji islands, between the period 1975-1998. It doesn’t touch any other aspect. Nor is it presumptuous.. It’s an honest and simple read.
Didi is the epitome of simplicity. We’ve tried to ingrain that quality in our style of writing. And Nasreen Munni Kabir has done a fab job of editing it.
While writing the book, have you learnt something new about your aunt or the way she conducted herself?
Didi is a revelation every time I meet her. I’m so lucky to spend time with her and absorbing the littlest things that come my way. This book reflects her aura as a stage performer only. But through that one glimpse, one gains insight into the humane and philanthropic side of hers. She is grace personified and I marvel at the way she has conducted herself for so many years.
What did these tours mean to you as a child?
As a child, one breezes through life. Happiness comes quick and stays longer. And that’s how Didi treated us. I was exposed to different cultures and people from all walks of life at a very young age. It has made me adopt a very tolerant and accepting approach to life.
Didi made sure we had a very happy and nurturing environment around us. My brother, my cousins, we grew up as one big happy joint family. We travelled together and grew up together. All these values I attribute to the elders in the family and I can’t thank them enough.