A woman is dead, a person. But that is a personal grief. The loss to the world is just a voice that was the single sole voice of Indian film, of which there will never be another.
Satyam Shivam Sunderam is the movie Raj Kapoor made to try to express what Lata is. She is this voice of incredible purity and beauty, so pure and beautiful it feels almost like a separate entity from the body that contains it. That is what Lata is to the world, this small person who contains an essence of beauty that is somehow greater than what contains it.
Lata the person made herself a servant of her voice as well. She was the child of a musician who trained her, and when he died, she started working to help support the family. Her rise to fame came slowly, she worked hard and took many jobs before finally being offered a song that allowed her voice to shine through, and her ability to control that voice. And that was it, that was her life. She sang and sang and sang her whole being out for her whole life. She never married, she never had children, she worked and sang for 92 years.
I was thinking recently about the importance of singing that we are born with. My sister sings to her son, as our mother sang to us. Our mother has a nice voice and has been part of choirs and trained singing organizations. My sister and I have TERRIBLE voices, and no training, and basically no singing ability. But it doesn’t matter to my nephew. He likes it when his mother sings to him, sings anything at all in any voice at all. A woman’s voice raised in song fills something inside of us from birth, especially our mother’s voice. Or is it that we bond to our mother because she sings to us? Which comes first?
Lata is the mother of generations of children because her voice is their mother’s voice. Lata sang all the children of India, and all their children, and all the children born today and tomorrow and forever more, back to their dreams. Her voice is the voice of childhood, of safety, of magic and beauty and peace and love and everything good in the world.
The death of Lata today is merely the death of the shell that held that voice. The quiet woman who desperately loved her siblings and her nieces and nephews, who earned the respect of all who made art with her, who traveled the world to connect personally with those who wanted to hear her voice. Her family is sad for this loss, they will never recover from it, from losing the one person who held them all together for so many years. But the world has lost nothing. The world still has that voice, that voice of enormous purity, forever. Our mother’s voice.