Mumbai: She is 81 and scoffs at any talk of retirement. After working for seven decades, recording songs for over 1,000 movies and singing in more than 36 regional Indian languages, Lata Mangeshkar, known as the Nightingale of India, is still raring to go.
Lata's passion for music became evident recently when she trashed a newspaper for spreading rumours about her retirement.
"I read a news in the newspaper that said that I am retiring. This is absolutely wrong. If I want to retire, then I will make that decision myself, not others," she tweeted adding, "Mera maanana hai ki mera janam gaane ke liye hua hai aur jabtak mere praano mein praan hain, main wahi karti rahungi."
Lauding her undying spirit, veteran filmmaker Yash Chopra told: "For an artiste to be at the pinnacle of her career for 69 uninterrupted years is an unprecedented feat in any field anywhere in the world and we are proud that an Indian, our very own Lata Mangeshkar, has achieved this."
"I have been fortunate to have worked with her for over five decades from my very first film, 'Dhool Ka Phool' till my most recent film 'Veer-Zaara'. As a director, I can vouch that Lataji makes each song her own. She adds so many characteristic nuances, making it easier for an actress to enact and for the song to stand the test of time. They say that people follow music, but in Lataji's case, music follows her," he added.
From light classical to film songs to ghazals to bhajans and pop, she has sung a variety of numbers after starting her career as playback singer in 1942, which co-incides with the Quit India movement, with Marathi movie "Kiti Hasaal", but the song was edited out! But soon she sang "Natali Chaitraachi Navalaai" for "Pahili Mangalaa-gaur".
Though she started her career by singing in her mother tongue, Lata was destined to make it big in Bollywood. As luck would have it, in 1945, Lata moved to Mumbai from Indore and got her first Hindi movie - Vasant Joglekar's 1946 film "Aap Ki Seva Mein" for which she sang "Paa lagoon kar jori".
Two years later, Lata got her first major break with the song "Dil mera toda" in "Majboor" and emerged as a playback singer to reckon with despite the presence of Suraiya and Noor Jehan.
She became number one after singing "Aayega aanewala" from "Mahal", "Aaja re pardesi" from "Madhumati", "Pyar kiya to darna kya" from "Mughal-e-Azam" and the title number from "Satyam shivam sundaram".
She proved her versatility when she sang romantic numbers like "Tumhen yaad karte karte", "Ajeeb daastan hai yeh" to naughty songs "Main kamsin hoon", "Bahon mein chale aao" to devotional tracks like "Paoji maine Ram ratan dhan pao" and "Oh palan hare".
In 1963, when Lata sang the patriotic song "Aye mere watan ke logon", it brought tears into the eyes of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Lata also featured in the Guinness Book of Records from 1974 to 1991 for having made the most recordings in the world.
Although the Bharat Ratna awardee has cut down on her singing projects, she remains the eternal favourite of Indian film song lovers.
"I grew up listening to Lataji's voice and wanted to be a composer. I remember the earliest songs she sang, motivated me to become a composer. Her voice is so soulful, I think she is a blessed child of god," said composer Anu Malik who teamed up with Lata for songs like "Baali umar ne mera" ("Aawargi") and "Zindagi har kadam" ("Meri Jung").
"I have interacted with her so many times and I have noticed she has a childlike innocence in her. Family matters the most to her. She is very home-loving and a principled lady," said Malik.
New age composers experimenting with music a lot, but they are keen to work with her.
"I think Lataji is personification of goddess Saraswati and hence at the age of 80-plus she is delivering some fantastic songs. It's my good fortune that I recorded songs with her," said composer Shamir Tandon, a big fan of Lata, who worked with her in songs like "Kitne ajeeb" from "Page 3" and "Daata sun" from "Jail".
"Working with her is the best experience anyone can ever have. She doesn't make people feel she is 'the Lata Mangeshkar'. She cracks jokes, makes people laugh, behaves like a baby, so that you are very comfortable with her. She has zero arrogance," Tandon told.