BOOK EXCERPT

Los Angeles, 1975. Lata Mangeshkar takes the stage. Deafening applause

A memoir revisits the first of numerous foreign concerts at which the renowned playback singer performed between 1975 and 1988.

On Stage With Lata is a different kind of memoir: it is a short history of Mangeshkhar’s concerts in the United States of America, Canada, the Caribbean and the Fiji Islands between 1975 and 1998. Written by the concert organiser, Mohan Deora, in collaboration with Mangeshkar’s niece, Rachana Shah, the book is an invaluable record of Mangeshkar’s efforts in further popularising Hindi film music among the Indian diaspora. In these edited excerpts, Deora and Shah recall the first concert in Los Angeles in 1975, where Mangeshkhar performed with the singer Mukesh, among others, and set off a craze for live performances that lasted over two decades.

Finally, on Friday, 9 May 1975, the hour of the first Lata–Mukesh concert of the tour had arrived. It was a sellout show at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Many popular bands have played at the Shrine, and in 1975, the popular band Genesis performed there a few months before Lataji.

It was a beautiful spring evening, fragrant with the season’s early blossoms. The South Asian community of LA had come out in full force. Six thousand people were ready to stream into that hall. But unlike Western musical concerts where the doors are closed once the performance had started, we knew that such a rule was not practical or imposable on South Asian audiences who were unlikely to accept being shut out. So we had to live with the inevitable latecomers despite our radio campaigns stressing the need for punctuality. The excitement at the Shrine was so great that the people who did come late, and who had to climb over others to get to their seats, went unnoticed. The audience had come to see Lataji and that’s all that mattered.

‘She bowed her head and smiled’

How would she sound? She was so very personal to everyone. She had lent her voice to generations of beautiful screen actresses, and through cinema, radio and television, her songs were deeply embedded in our lives. Our treasured collection of her records was proof of our devotion to her music – those HMV 78 rpm EPs and LPs (music CDs only came into existence in the early 1980s), all stacked proudly in our sitting rooms. And here within a few minutes, Lata Mangeshkar herself would arrive before the impatient crowd.

Since Mukeshji was instrumental in convincing her to come to America in the first place, he believed that introducing her on stage was his responsibility. He spoke with great love and generosity about Lataji. His introduction made the crowds go wild, and the excitement grew more intense when Lataji entered the auditorium. She took off her chappals, and in a gesture of respect touched the podium, before she climbed the steps onto the stage itself. Dressed in a simple white sari with a purple border, barefooted, she walked to the microphone, holding some loose papers. On those white sheets of paper, she had written the song lyrics in her own hand. When she stood in front of her music stand, she bowed her head and smiled welcomingly. The six-thousand-strong audience rose to its feet and the auditorium resounded with deafening applause.

When the clapping died down, Lataji began with a shloka from the Bhagavadgita. The verse filled the air. The sweet melody of the shloka was composed by her brother Hridaynath. Then the first musical note of ‘Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam’ was heard, a noisy round of applause followed. The orchestra conducted by Anil Mohile was made up of only five musicians but they were just brilliant. Arun Paudwal played the accordion; Ramakant Mhapsekar, the tabla; Ravi Kandivali, the mandolin; Rajendra Singh, the swarleen; and Suryanarayan Naidu, the tabla and dholak. Accompanying Lataji and Mukeshji were Usha Mangeshkar, Meena Khadikar, niece Rachana and nephew Yogesh. She sang ten solos and hearing her songs made many in the audience teary-eyed.

My tour partner Ramesh Shishu was also the master of ceremony for the opening show (and for the eight concerts that followed) and when he invited Mukeshji on stage, the audience was ecstatic. They got completely carried away when Mukeshji sang ‘Mera joota hai Japani’, ‘Ansoo bhari hain ye jeevan ki raahen’, ‘Jaane kahaan gaye woh din’ and the unforgettable ‘Dil jalta hai to jalne de’.

Then came the Lata and Mukesh duets – the new and old favourites. There was a hush when they sang ‘Aaja re ab mera dil pukara’. The audience burst out laughing when Mukeshji tried to teach Lataji how to pronounce the word ‘sor’ in the ‘Saawan ka mahina’ song. Usha Mangeshkar sang some beautiful solos, including her chartbuster hit ‘Jai jai Santoshi Maata, jai jai ma’. The two sisters sang ‘Gore gore o banke chhore’ together. Lataji invited her sister Meena with her daughter Rachana and son Yogesh to sing the classic Mother India song ‘Duniya mein hum aayen hain to jeena hi padega’ with her. The concert ended with two numbers: ‘Aaja re pardesi’ from Madhumati and Mahal’s immortal ‘Aayega aanewala’. Lataji and Mukeshji had successfully kept the audience captive for three-and-a-half hours. What a way to start the tour!

Wowing Vancouver

For the second show of the 1975 tour, we landed in Vancouver on 10 May. The 12,000-seater at the Pacific Coliseum – this is where Tom Jones had performed not long before Lataji – was sold out. Midway through the evening, while she was singing a ‘heer’ by Waris Shah, the celebrated Punjabi Sufi poet, the one that was used in the film Heer Ranjha, someone shouted rudely from somewhere in the upper balcony. This loud and aggressive voice shattered the trance that had engulfed the audience. I could tell that Lataji was visibly upset by the incident. Yet she continued and gracefully finished singing. The audience gave her a standing ovation and refused to let her leave the stage.

Once the show was over, we all headed back to the hotel. Lataji preferred to have her dinner in her suite with her family. Normally, after a successful concert, one imagines the artists would enjoy a lively outing at a restaurant with friends, but this was not for Lataji. Over dinner in her hotel suite, the family gathered to discuss her performance and the audience reaction. The applause that each song received suggested to the Mangeshkars the songs that were particularly appreciated. Three of the strongest opinions came from Raj Singh Dungarpur, Bal sahib (Hridaynath) and Ushaji. Following their discussions, the song order was rearranged for the next concert. It made me wonder why an artist like Lata Mangeshkar needed a critical appraisal of her performance. All her songs were met by loud applause and many standing ovations; so what was the point of rearranging the song order? Or for that matter changing the song selection? I suppose the answer lay in the fact that Lata Mangeshkar strives for perfection, to keep improving, raising standards, to sing as perfectly as humanly possible. It made me think of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s famous comment, ‘Kambakht, kabhi besura nahin gaati’ (The wretched girl never sings a note out of tune.)

Excerpted with permission from On Stage With Lata, Mohan Deora and Rachana Shah, HarperCollins India.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.