With Asha Bhosle’s 11-year-old grand-daughter Zanaya making her first public appearance this year at a live concert in Holland, the stage is set for the fourth generation of Mangeshkars to make their mark in music.
The veteran singer, who turns 81 tomorrow, just can’t help rejoice at the significance of the moment. “When Zanaya joined me on stage in Holland, it was as if the pain and suffering that I’ve gone through recently and in the past, were automatically washed away.”
More happiness, more triumph for her: she has just opened a new branch in Bahrain of her chain of restaurants.
“Singing and my restaurant business keep me busy. I never sit down to think about my losses in life,” says Asha who lost her daughter Varsha to a tragic suicide last year. “It feels like a hard slap on a mother’s face. I don’t allow myself to think about what I haven’t got in life. I only think of the bounty that life has given me.”
One of the singer’s happiest moments occurred recently when her legendary Didi Lata Mangeshkar described her as self-made woman. She says, “Didi put her hand on my head and said that whatever I’ve achieved in life I’ve done on my own. At the age of 15, I left home and I’ve never sought any financial help from my family. When Didi acknowledged this I felt very happy, very fulfilled. God has been kind.”
About the infamous rivalry between the two legendary singing sister, Asha gives her inimitable take. “The so-called rivalry has been fuelled over the years by trouble-makers and opportunists. There are people who touch my feet when she is not around. But when she is there they pretend they don’t know me.”
Reminiscing about their life together she says, “We were in Kolhapur when I started at the age of 12 or 13 in 1947. It’s true that when there’s already a star in the family, others have to suffer in spite of being talented. One has to face constant comparison. During my childhood we used to watch a lot of English films. Classical toh ghar mein chalta hi tha. Didi’s voice had cast such a spell on people that another voice in the same style didn’t stand a chance on earth.”
Recalling those days of struggle Asha says, “When there was already a Taj Mahal I came to build another one. Bahut mushqil thi. Who would want to go to another singer when there was already a Lata Mangeshkar? On top of that, I was her younger sister. It isn’t Didi’s fault. Lekin haan, I did feel at one time that the industry was giving me a step-motherly treatment. I didn’t get good songs. I didn’t receive my due. Now I feel it doesn’t matter. Asha Bhosle has her own place.”
The singer made a conscious effort not to copy her sister. “Copying her would have meant the end of my career even before it started. I had to cultivate a Western style of singing. Didi became instantaneously successful. Plus there were other singers like Geeta Dutt. As a woman who has been working since the age of 13, I just sit back and watch. I have no love, no hate for any of them. It’s like sitting at Chowpatty one evening and enjoying the tamasha.”
In addition, she had to fight off the image of singing naughty number. “People during those days considered cabaret and dance numbers to be very lowly. And here I am. In real life I am a very domesticated, just like any middleclass woman. I love to look after the kids and cook in the kitchen. At home I am myself.”
Speaking on new generations of singers Asha ponders, “The world has moved on. Earlier the female singer sang at a high pitch and the male singer at a low pitch. Now that has been reversed. There’s no time for slow soft sentimental songs. No point in clinging to the past and pining for nostalgia.”
She speaks of R D Burman with much affection, though she is not too fond of the RD remixes. “When I did Rahul & I, I wanted to be faithful to the original. But my son Anand told me to just leave it to him. The album was a resounding success. No one can stop others from doing re-mixes. People are forever cashing in musical names. But please, if you are doing re-mixes, do be thoughtful towards the original.”