As a child, my day used to start with my grandfather playing Mogra Fulala on his transistor and ended with my mother putting me to sleep singing 'Chanda Hai Tu', and in some way or another, almost everyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s would relate with this story. Lata Mangeshkar isn’t just a singer, she is almost a part of our lives. No occasion is really complete without a Lata Mangeshkar song.
Ardent Lata ji fans in Nagpur, however, just have one regret - that they could never hear the legend perform in Nagpur. While all the Mangeshkar siblings have openly expressed their gratitude towards Nagpurkars, for having helped their father Master Dinanath, in his most difficult times, Lata ji has refused to perform in the city on several occasions.
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“It was 1952, my father used to live in Bhandara those days, Lata Mangeshkar was famous, but not a household name at that time. She was supposed to perform at the Patwardhan ground (now Yashwant Stadium), but she left the city without performing. Actually, she wanted to have a free show in Nagpur, in the memory of her late father and also as a mark of gratitude towards Nagpurkars, but the organizers of the show printed tickets and sold them anyway. When Lataji found out about this, disappointed, she left without performing. The angry mob caused a lot of violence when they discovered that the show was canceled,” recalls singer Kusum Tai Kamlakar.
“Lata ji, is just a year younger to me,” she adds smiling.
In the early 1950s, when Lata Mangeshkar’s career had just begun, Nagpur’s Jeevan Vikas Pradarshan, had approached her for a solo show. The budding singer readily agreed but had one condition. She wanted the programme to be free as she wanted to dedicate it to the memory of her late father Master Dinanath. While the organizers initially accepted her condition, later, however, while advertising the event, they printed tickets and sold them. On the day of the show, when Lata ji found out about the double standards of the organizers, she felt deceived and refused to perform.
The audience, unaware of the backstage activities was getting restless.
“As time passed, the crowd’s mood turned ugly. Angry voices thundered that the singer be produced at once. The organisers panicked but continued to put up a false front, although Lata Mangeshkar was nowhere in sight. Around midnight, the people realised they had been duped. Seething in fury, incensed Nagpurians went on a rampage, broke chairs and set the pandal ablaze,” writes journalist Vijay Dandige in his book A Rickshaw Ride through Nagpur.
To escape the fury of the audience, the organizers fled.
Disgusted and disillusioned by the turn of events, Lataji left the city, pledging never to return.
According to Kusum Tai, this wasn’t the first time an artist was insulted in Nagpur. Bal Gandharva too was mistreated in Nagpur once, after which he too vowed to never perform in Nagpur again.
Talking about this incident, Vijay Dandige says, “I would say that one can understand Lata Mangeshkar’s feelings, because she wanted to do a free show as a token of gratitude, and she felt cheated when she realized that the organizers didn’t respect her demand, and she was so put off, that she not only refused to continue with the show but also decided that she would never perform in Nagpur again.”
“After around 25 years after this incident, Atal Bahadur Singh, the then mayor of Nagpur, personally visited her and apologised on behalf of Nagpur and invited her to the city for a felicitation to honor her. It was very gracious of Lata ji to accept the invitation and attend the felicitation. At the ceremony, the mayor also presented her a symbolic golden key to the Nagpur city. I believe it was a very thoughtful gesture on Atal ji’s part. But sadly, Lata Mangeshkar has never sung in Nagpur,” he adds.
Lata ji has also visited Nagpur along with her younger brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar somewhere around 2002, for a programme organized in the honour of Dr. Ram Shewalkar, but not once has she ever sung here.
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It is a shame that Nagpur, which is home to stalwarts like Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande, would show such behaviour towards artists.
After this incident, Lata ji made it a tradition to organize one free show every year as a tribute to her father. The gracious way in which she took a stand and refused to do something against her principles, speaks volumes about her character and integrity.