I still have a long way to go…

The Mangeshkars are a family deeply steeped into music. From the head of the family, Dinanath Mangeshkar to his son Hridayanath and daughters, including Lata and Asha.

The Mangeshkar’s live music. Hailed as the country’s first singing family, the fivesome eat, breathe and live music. Each in their different areas of performance.

The Mangeshkars hail from Goa. And Mangeshi, the famed temple town, is the place they are associated with. But growing up and living in Mumbai for a major part of their lives, they seem to have renounced their Goan heritage and call themselves Maharashtrians.

Of the sisters, Lata has become an icon, earning the sobriquet — Nightingale of India. She was lately in the news for lending her voice in protest against the coming up of a flyover along the road she lives in. In the news today is Chaitanya Bhonsle, aka Chin 2 Bhonsle, Lata’s grand nephew and Asha Bhonsle’s grandson, for being part of India’s first boy band — A Band of Boys.

But this piece of writing is not about either the father, the brother, the sisters, or the grandson, but about one who is entwined with them in all these familial relationships — Asha Bhonsle. From singing film songs, to pop songs, to even turning composer, she has provided listening pleasure to millions of music lovers in India and around the globe. On the momentous occasion of her being awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, ‘g’ met the songstress for a few glimpses into the mind of a winner.

Asha Bhonsle lives at Peddar Road. An upmarket area in South Mumbai. The building — Prabhu Kunj. When we alighted from our taxi and make our way to her apartment, we make a stopover at the florist. Presenting her with a bouquet would be the right way of expressing our congrats. But we discovered that the florist had hiked up his rates. When we protested, he said, “Come on yaar, almost everyone comes here to buy a bouquet for Ashaji. I’m sure you too are on the same mission. It’s windfall time for me, so let me make the most of the moment.” Fair enough, we thought. And proceeded, laded with nature’s beauty to meet a singer the nation just presented with the highest art award.

Accepting the bouquet gracefully, Ashaji settled down discussing with us the whys, hows, and whens of receiving the highest award of the land.

So, over to Asha Bhonsle…

“I have been awarded the Dadasaheb Award but the whole nation seems to be celebrating my joy. It is as if, instead of me, they have received the award. I guess they are doing so because deep within, they all know that this has been long overdue. After all, everyone is well aware that I have received almost all the awards organised by magazines or TV channels, and also the ones that are conferred by the Maharashtra government too. They must be rejoicing that at last the Central government too has recognised my potential and has ultimately found me worthy of this award.

“It is quite a natural thought because I’ve been serving the industry consistently for the last 54 years. On special requests from the likes of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi I must have done lots of national programmes. Still why was I not awarded this prestigious award for so long. These kind of thoughts clouded my brain too. I wondered if there was any lobby in the past, which tried to put a spoke into the award’s wheel. Even if there was, this award has proved me a winner and maybe that’s why the public is so happy.

“I wouldn’t say that the Dadasaheb Phalke Award has been honoured by coming to me. Absolutely not. I am grateful on being given this award. Though, I would certainly add one thing — when recepients get old, they usually are given this award, or other Lifetime Achievement Awards, but I’m lucky to be given it while I’m still young (she laughs).

“It means that the evening of my career has not yet set. My work is still not over. I am still in my saddle. What is most notable about the reactions of my friends and well-wishers is that they unanimously advised me to be proud of my work. Not one person said that now that I have been given this honour, I should hang up my boots and take it easy.

“Another thought that struck me when I received the award was that, like me, other artistes should be given the award when they are still hale and hearty. Definitely not at the fag end of their lives. There doesn’t seem to be much charm in receiving an award when one’s end is near. The only feeling then would be a nonchalant ‘okay’. But if you receive it at the time like I did, the recepient can go on to greater heights. Just as this award inspires me to work more diligently. I assure you, so will it be for other recepients.

“The news of the award came to me from two people. BR Choprasaab was the first person who broke the news to me. He rang me up and informed me, ‘Sister, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award has been announced and you’re the winner!’ I treat him as a brother. I got my real break in BR films. It was the era of rising singers like sister Lataji, Geeta Roy and Shamshad Begum. Going against the diktat of others, he gave me the offer of singing all the songs of Naya Daur. He also gave me the opportunity of singing the lilting songs of films like Dhool Ka Phool, Waqt etc.

“The second phone call came from Samar Khan of NDTV. I asked both of them that if they have personally learnt of the news why wasn’t I officially informed of it by the concerned authorities. I also went to didi with this query, asking her about the veracity of the news. She told me that it must be true because unlike other awards where the winner is asked in advance, this one is announced once and for all. Whether you receive it or reject it is upto you. And that made me happy.

“I’m also glad that the dailies and TV channels are busy organising my interviews. In this week I have been talking so much that my voice has become hoarse. Honestly, I have gone into hiding from the telephone onslaught. When a call comes for me, the caller is informed that I am out of station. I received lots of accolades but I can’t forget what Gulzarsaab wrote. He faxed me a congratulatory note — ‘you have been raised to such a great height that it is difficult to meet you. That’s why I send you my wishes via fax.’

“While on Dadasaheb Phalke, I would like to say that without him our industry would not have been what it is today. I am proud of him on two counts — one, the pervading cirsumstances when he started filmmmaking, and two, because he was also a Maharashtrian as I am. It is a proud feeling to be given an award that bears his name.

“Amrish Puri rang me up and requested me to come to his association and be felicitated. Many institutes also want to felicitate me. I gratefully told them all that it is more than enough. That they have immense faith in me. I say this because I know that honour and prestige are always shortlived. I have gone through a lot of ups and downs in my career. When my songs were not a hit the people practically forgot me. So I prefer to remain calm during any circumstances. Success is like the sun. When it rises it is heralded by everyone but when it sets down, no one salutes it.

“Now, at last I have no more desire for any more awards. I’ll go on singing till my last breath. Just because I received the award, does it mean that I have already achieved the highest I can? Of course not! I have so much more to do, so much more to achieve in life. My present repertoire includes just a few film songs, some songs for theatre and other light songs… And this is not enough. For example, there’s the field of classical music where I have done so very little. I have to concentrate on it. My conscience, my inner self, always eggs me to do more, to sing more, to create more… Although to others I may seem to have reached the horizon, I feel I have just left the shore and am mid-ocean. I am always beset with the feeling that I still have a long way to go.”

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