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Not far from the tree

The failures of the ambitious Dina Nath Mangeshkar paved the way for his daughter’s astounding success

Not far from the tree
The Mangeshkar family.

Haresh Bhimani, a senior broadcaster, writer, and lover of music was also attracted to the recording of sound. He traveled far and wide and had been rewarded by HMV with a Golden Disc. He also accompanied Lata Mangeshkar for 14 years on 23 concert tours: 123 concerts to be exact, in 21 countries and 53 cities around the world. Based on his association with Lata Mangeshkar, especially with the opportunities afforded him to be close to the great diva, he compiled ramblings or musings from these tours into a book “In Search of Lata”.

Since Lata Mangeshkar has been a public figure from a very tender age, her life has been an open book and much is known about her, but still there was some information about her early years and her family that had not really been public knowledge. It appeared from the book, through the detailing of those early years, that Lata Mangeshkar’s life was more difficult than had been previously assumed. Though it is generally known that she was ushered into show business because her father died when she was only thirteen, and the responsibility of being the breadwinner was thrust upon her, yet this book provides new insight the disappointing career of her father Dina Nath Mangeshkar, which is quite heart-rending.

It was a family of musicians who inherited the responsibility of carrying the tradition further. Dina Nath’s mother Yassu Bai was conscious of her son’s inherited talent. She wanted him to be a sarangi player but his habit of biting his finger nails inhibited his progress, after which he was sent to a tabla player Mashalkar but when he heard young Dina sing he advised the mother to take him to a vocalist and so Dina Nath joined a theatre company. He was fourteen when he started singing and acting. At that time Bal Gandherva was the craze, and Dina Nath was also asked to emulate him, but refusing to imitate a famous vocalist, he instead went in search of discovering or creating his own style. He thus from the very beginning chose for himself a difficult path.

He worked in many theatre companies like Karloskar Sanget Mandli and was successful to a degree that at the age of eighteen he established his own company Balwant Sang Mandli. He was a good vocalist, acted both the male and the female parts, but as his fame increased there was pressure on him to become the shagird of a known guru as had been the tradition. He then formally became the shagird of Vaze Buva. He got married  when 22, while his wife was 19.

Lata was born in 1929. The mother’s family was from Gujarat and the first lessons were her nani singing the ‘lawani’ when she visited her in a town called Thainer. Dina Nath used to do his riyaz and had a few shaisyas (shagird). Lata used to be present at nearly all these sessions. Once Dina Nath left the room to attend to some errand Lata started to correct the shaisya who was doing his riyaz. This was overheard by the father in the next room, who was surprised and impressed. This was when he started to formally teach his daughter. She was only six when she sang her first song in 1935 in a concert.

Dina Nath was a very successful producer of stage plays. His Theatre Company was doing well but then the era of the talkies was launched and theatre plays started losing their appeal in comparison. Theatre companies also held music concerts to supplement their income and in one such show Lata sang to a full house and surprised most by her confidence and talent by rendering a  popular Marathi number ‘shorami wandai lay’

But Dina Nath Company was increasingly getting indebted and things became worse when he took to the bottle. He had started to drink in small measures in his early years as he was told that alcohol improved the vocal chords but failure aggravated the habit and he began to drink heavily. He started to suffer from high blood pressure as well. At times he had problems performing at a stretch so he sought the help of his very young daughter to bail him out. Due to paucity of resources in one play, Dina Nath played the male lead in his late thirties, and the daughter Lata, the female lead when only seven, the disparity in ages spelled sure disaster but Lata sang her part so well that the disparity of ages became a secondary issue and the amazing potential of the young girl the primary topic of discussion.

She was also admitted to a school but there she sang more than she read – once she also took her younger sister Asha along, which upset the authorities. She was scolded, which further discouraged her and she said goodbye to formal education. For some time the children were admitted to Sanskrit Paat Shala, a religious seminary which obviously did not charge anything. This was also a reflection on their financial status.

Desperate Dina Nath started to make a film but it could not be completed and it added to the debt burden. He was forced to sell his house to meet the expenses as he was getting deeper into debt. Actors and other staff started to ditch him, He was moving from residence to residence and there were court cases against him from the various people who alleged they had not been paid for their work in the theatre.

Dina Nath died in 1942 when Lata the eldest child was only 13. She sang her first film song in a Marathi film Kiti Hasaal, a month before the death of the father but he strongly disapproved of it. She acted in a film called Pahli Mangla Gour and also sang a song after his death. She took lessons from Aman Ali Khan and Amanat Ali Khan and sang as a chorus girl with Noor Jehan in the lead in “Bari Maa” under the direction of Datta Devjekar but when Ghulam Haider gave her the big break in Majboor with a solo number she was poised to conquer the world of film music.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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