Lata ji, probably the most recognized and most admired (and certainly the most prolific) female singer of the 20th century has passed away. She reigned as the queen of Indian playback singing for over 50 years. There are videos on the internet of people from Azerbaijan to Zambia singing singing her songs, but it was in the Indian subcontinent that she was Queen and goddess rolled into one; there won’t be another like her.
Tributes are pouring in from all over the world. This one from Pakistani political scientist Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed captures some of what an older generation of Pakistanis felt about her:
With her, an age and an era may also be passing. In spite of partition and all the TNT nonsense it promoted, it takes generations and decades to erase all aspects of common culture. Old Bollywood songs are a repository of Indic wisdom and culture (all layers, upto and including cabarets and nightclubs imported from Europe) that may be superior to any holy book (and are treated as such by their fans, who can sing them or listen to them in every conceivable situation and find solace, romance, passion, pathos and, sometimes, good advice). In our family the elders would break out into Lata songs at the slightest opportunity; for my father (and many others of his generation) the ability to play endless bollywood songs on youtube was the saving grace of their golden years. Many a lonely old person was young again listening to those songs and humming along.
In the last few years I noticed some people (mostly younger people) calling her “sanghi” for her Hindutva sympathies. And on the opposite side, Shah Rukh Khan blowing blessings on her was enough for some Hindutvvadis to get upset and claim that he had spit on her at her funeral. Such attitudes may indeed become standard some day. I hope not, but who knows. Partitions and separations have consequences. Maybe it cannot be helped. But to us, she will always be the nightingale of India and a major link to a culture that may or may not survive too long. Then again, perhaps one should not be pessimistic. There are hidden depths in our cultures, we may surprise yet..