With Passion In Her Pen – Lata Jagtiani

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Why did I become a writer!!
In fact, I do feel that all my books were practically not written by me, they were written through me, does that make sense to you? My books have always been cries from within, never really written with an eye to fame or recognition.

Does that sound like inner passion for writing? Passion, that is what this woman has within her. About listening to music, the love of teaching poetry, colouring, clicking photographs (you will be amazed to see life through her lenses). She enjoys the work she does, giving it her 100 percent. But above all this she’s a fantastic writer. And all this while she’s walking on a spiritual path!! The woman of today who is both, independent in her work, and independent in her thoughts!

Lata Jagtiani, the author of O P Nayyar – King Of Melody in conversation with TheSongPedia!!

For a woman who has written a book on an ace musician, her first association with music and its memories was probably in early childhood days. Says Lata,
“I wish I could see what my face looked like when I heard the first bar of music! Guess a Jack n Jill or an Ek Onkar Satnaam in a sing-song voice might have been my first encounters with music.
My earliest memories are connected with my love for the radio, not for its news but for its music. I’d store the tunes in my head and then sing those songs with a lot of gibberish in place of the right lyrics because while I knew the melody I scarcely ever remembered the lyrics of anything beyond the first stanza. It went tra la la la, ding ding ding but what did the singer say?? At this point I must have subconsciously concluded that the most important and instinctive response in a song is to its tune and not to its lyrics. The lyrics were never remembered by me alone, the melody, always had a recall. Now I know that the soul of the song is the tune, not the lyrics. It is the body of the song, while the lyrics are the clothes worn by the body.
For example, even if the lyrics are gibberish as in Eena Meena Deeka I could replace it with, Maine Usse Dekha or Tera Mera Milna the song will work for me in the same way! My father would often be singing songs, like Ek Raja ka beta lekar or Ae qatib-e-taqdeer ( I still am not clear what the song means but I know how it goes!) or Aayi bahaar aaj aayi bahaar. At this point I was about to grow to love something else. The visuals! Along came the lop-sided grin and walk of a handsome Dev Anand and I fell in love with him, so whatever he sang was a brilliant melody to me!! I grew up consistently identifying with the male songs, ignoring the women’s songs for some reason that was not clear to me at that time. I would choose to croak Apni to har aah ek toofaan hai or Dil ka bhanwar kare pukaar. Things should have been different since my name was Lata but in fact, I would have been better off being named Rafi or Kishore!!!”

Fascinated with O P Nayyar and his marvellous music, she was destined to write a book on him. She adds further, “When the radio played a certain kind of music, I had no clue there was a composer called O P Nayyar, but my spirit danced when it heard his music, his music would transport me to a very free and happy world, far away from crowded Bombay. It is indescribable, the effect his music had on me. Later, I realised that the songs I loved were composed by a man called O P Nayyar. Many, many years later, I picked up the courage ( I have written at length about our meeting in the book) to go knock on his door and introduce myself to the genius composer and admit that I was a helpless OPN nut! We became instant friends, it seemed to me as if he had always been waiting for my knock on his door! He was given to merriment and laughter and cracked jokes easily, always down to earth and so lovable! This loving genius then passed on, and after his passing on, when I started a Facebook group in his name called O.P.Nayyar-King of Melody I realised how little people knew about him and how much they thirsted to know more. This, along with my own sense of indebtedness ( about which I have written at length in the book) spurred me on to start a formal research on the biography of the giant. It was time for a complete and credible book on this maverick genius, and I felt my proximity to him would authenticate the work too”.

Sharing her thoughts on spirituality, Lata reminisces her childhood days, which sowed the very first seeds of spiritualism in her. “My mother tells me I have always had a spiritual bone in my body. As an introvert, I often find myself probing questions of the universe and since my family was quite involved with Dilip Kumar Roy, Sadhu T.L.Vaswani, Osho and Swami Chinmayananda, I loved being in the company of sages. They seemed to have the secret keys to so many difficult locks!

My first spiritual journey was with the Gita because even when I was four feet high I found Shree Ram and Shree Krishna fascinating. I am reminded of an anecdote. I must have been six years old at the time when we were living in a rented home in Madras (Chennai). It was known to be occupied by a ghost, the typical lady with the ghungroos was known to appear in the store-room of the flat. Mom kept her grain and rice there, so sometimes she would request my elder brother to go there and fetch atta for her. He would never go, then she would ask me, and I would bravely run there singing Ram-Ram-Ram-Ram while almost breathlessly grab the atta continuing the chant all the way back to the kitchen at the other end of the home. My faith in Ram protecting me was absolute, so long as I chanted his name, no harm could come to me! In retrospect, I find it interesting that my faith was so deep so early in life. I am incredulous even now and doubt if I could replicate that 100 percent faith today!
The Gita is the ultimate treatise on the art of living a meaningful life and I enjoyed simplifying and demystifying it through my 7 year study. The book, Bhagavad Gita in 365 Days is a reader-friendly spiritual guide for today’s busy student, secretary, grocer, executive, manager, CEO, scientist, doctor or engineer and courier too. After this book was published, I found myself going deeper into the biographies of the sages and began to write regularly for the Speaking Tree in the Times of India and wrote several articles for other newspapers such as DNA and Free Press Journal, The Afternoon and the Independent and so on. Because many people felt nourished by these articles, I felt I should go ahead and select my better articles and publish them as a compilation, it was titled, Towards Light but it was only for a small audience of spiritual seekers. My third effort at spirituality was a study of Dada J. P. Vaswani and a study of his views on a life of meaning and on several spiritual values and what his guidance is on those fronts. This was published as “Dad’s Wisdom’ in 2015.

An author, freelance writer and a blogger, Lata was inclined towards writing from the beginning, an ex – lecturer herself, she says “I guess I am very, very lucky that I don’t get spooked by silence! In my humble opinion, a writer is lucky to be an introvert. I enjoy spending quiet time alone because I can seriously probe the mysteries around me! Having said this, I must add that most writers are rather difficult people: unlike others, we can be so engaged with what we are doing that we can become selfish. We want to be left alone when we are in ‘the zone!’ And we really want others to understand this, but the world doesn’t get us often, and we don’t get the world either! Solitude and silence are vital for serious research and assimilation of facts, they are also vital for us to present the subject in a coherent fashion which could extend and enhance the reader’s understanding. Insights cannot come when we are engaged in flippant conversation, they can flash into our minds as we sit there plodding through material and data. Luckily for me, from the time I was ten, I have always had a penchant for jigsaw puzzles, perhaps writing a non-fictional work is really quite similar, perhaps with a small difference, while in jigsaws the final picture is before us and we work towards that replication, in a book, the final picture is formed after the last word is written. Having said this, I must add that I can simply not undertake any project unless I am passionate about it, because it necessitates months and maybe years of tiring research. Without passion, I simply cannot undertake a project because credibility for the work is based on solid and serious study.
Serious research can be very difficult for family and for oneself. When I was working on my two historical works, Sindhi Reflections ( about the Sindhi Hindu experience of the Partition of India) and Mumbai Terror Attacks ( about the siege in Mumbai in 2008) I had to all but disown and neglect myself, my home, my friendships and my relationships, in order to do justice to these very vast subjects. I would go away to the empty and quiet flat we had in Bengaluru, live on sandwiches and quick-fix idlis from nearby, and work undisturbed with no doorbells disturbing my peace. Sadly, I did neglect my health during these times and had several bouts of illnesses because I was sleeping four hours, I was so driven and involved. However, I continued lecturing at KC College at the Post-grad level where I was focusing on Creative Writing, but many other balls which I could not juggle had to fall, unfortunately.

Yet, once the books were done, I was elated. I am not an “E-woman” i.e. a woman who wants to be “everything”, and honestly, that has never been my goal. I have no regret for having prioritised these two books over everything else, because doing something for my community of Sindhi elders and my country was a higher value than running the home and managing other people’s day-to-day needs. If they cared for me, they would understand. The others who could not appreciate this “vanishing-trick” of mine, well, I wished them good luck on their way away from me. I belong to that school of thought which holds that those who love you will always make space for your self-actualising efforts, for your efforts to fulfil your dreams.
When I wrote my book on OP Nayyar, I really wanted to get out of the history mode, of death, loss, desolation, anger, suffering, etc. I wanted to lighten my spirit and so turned my focus on the music that makes my heart light and blissful!”

Being a woman author, she faced no particular challenges when she started writing about her favourite composer. “For me, this biography was like all my other books, for every book I have had a separate set of challenges but none of them had anything to do with my being a woman. Thankfully, I live in Mumbai, India, I am in a city and country where women writers are valued, they are met with respect. Yes, when I wrote about the terror attacks it was sometimes evident to me that going to police stations etc and getting people to open up about their experiences was sometimes difficult because these are rough areas, not normally visited by women. But I had to overcome my own self-limiting beliefs and visit the darker areas of the city and was surprised that it was easier than I expected.
However. the biography O P Nayyar-King of Melody was not difficult in that sense at all, in print, it was met so whole-heartedly that it was sold out in no time! The readers didn’t really care who the author was, they were thirsting to know everything they could about the genius from someone who knew him so close! Even now many would have to rack their heads to recall my name, but they know the book has pride of place in their homes. My job is not for me to be remembered, but for the composer to be remembered”.

Lata says that she was influenced by music from her school days itself which further developed into a passion – “Studying in Walsingham House School that belonged to Mrs Adcock, a British educationist, I was exposed to Western music very early. We had music classes twice a week where I was a soprano in the choir and the triangle-player in the orchestra. At school everyone was into English music, at home things were mixed, both Hindi and English music were played, with a bias towards Hindi music. So my home environment combined with the admiration I had for my stunning Parsee music teacher Mrs Banajee, along with with the radio programmes I heard ( including Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala) really made me appreciate Western and Indian music and find joy in its company! I was one of those who went and stood, as a teenager, outside the Tajmahal hotel, to catch a glimpse of Paul McCarney of the Beatles, and I was also the one who heard the Lone Trojan at the bistro Venice. And I was the one who loved OP Nayyar’s music too!”

Smitten by his music, she was like that infatuated school girl in her teens who is lost in her own dream world.
“I had a very big problem writing this book!!
In order for me to write it, I had to hear the songs in a loop. As you know I have separate sections about tandem songs, bar songs, romantic songs, sad songs, about sitar songs, santoor songs, ghoda-gaadi songs, and so on. In order to analyse these, I had to hear each song several times, but when I heard the song, once again, I would fall in love with it and I would want to continue listening, and no longer felt like writing. I wanted to continue listening and singing and dancing! I would groan and ask myself, “Why should I waste time writing when I can simply listen to this music and be on Cloud 9?” But luckily for me, wisdom dawned, I put my short-term selfishness aside. I would sigh as if I was enslaved and forced to work, go fix myself a cup of tea and sit down and hammer away at my keyboard. I remember now that a few times when I was typing I was typing in rhythm with the song that was on my radar! It almost became a piano keyboard only I don’t know how to play the piano! Isn’t that delectable!!
Then the second problem was that this book turned out to be 1400 pages….I had so much to share, I simply could not stop rambling. Reality bites, I knew that such a huge book would never be purchased and read by music buffs so I trimmed it down to 400 pages. Perhaps things would have been different earlier, had I written the book in the 90s, but with the arrival of colour TV and the internet, with mobiles and social media, attention spans are truly short. I had to heed the pragmatic side of me”.

Telling us about its contents and her association with OPN, she says –
“The book is a labour of love. I received excellent feedback from its readers who, one after another, gushed that no composer’s biography has been as in-depth as this. I was humbled and grateful. I guess my proximity to him did serve me well, plus since I had the ability to author books on several subjects, it helped me structure the book carefully, it also helped me widen and intensify the work in various genres.
I also invited several OP Nayyar lovers to offer guest columns for the book and their perspectives enhanced the study of this giant from other angles too. Their own associations with the genius, their own understandings, all these contributed and gave this book the 360 degree coverage necessary for biographies. I have truly enjoyed the journey of writing on OP Nayyar and I feel rewarded when people write in and say, “OP Nayyar would have been very proud of you had he read the book!
To me, that says it all. This is the ultimate compliment.”

It is books and books and more books which motivate her in her work.
Someone jocularly said to me, Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I have been a lecturer in colleges and also a journalist and author, sometimes I ask myself it this is indeed the case. But then I look back on my own life. The most powerful influences in my life have been books, whether they were on or by Maugham, Cronin, Pearl Buck, Shakespeare, the Gita, Siddhartha by Hesse, the poems of Frost, the nihilism and destructiveness of Nietzsche, the wisdom and strength of Erich Fromm, the spiritual depth of Gibran, Rumi, Ruskin and so on. The person I am has been shaped by them all, can I ever be this Lata if I had not read multiple times, books such as The Little Prince or Of Human Bondage? I guess I did become a writer because all these thousands of role models left me with little choice! Either I lectured about them, or I carried their seeds into my work. I guess some of us really don’t do anything else better so we teach or write. Writers don’t speak well, but they do write well, its perhaps their way of being bridges in the world.

Fascinated about films and its music she’s looking forward to write more. When asked her choice of artist this time she says, “Not one, but four! They are Dipti Naval, Dev Anand, Guru Dutt and Mohammed Rafi! I admire all of them and I feel there is room for a serious study about their life and their work.
I am an author in search of a subject! I need to get that inner call to write about this subject. Sadly, I have two almost complete works sitting in my computer but I am not publishing them because the habit of buying books to read them is on the wane. I have not understood how I can work on an e-book to continue with this passionate pursuit, I really am at a loss. I fear that attention spans have radically diminished and even reading an e-book may not be a chosen hobby of most people today. Short is seen as sweet…”

Writing and music enriched her life in and out. “Both appeal to the spiritual and emotional sides of my personality. When I write I express myself, so in that sense I am in the giving mode. When I listen to music, I hear someone else’s expression, in that sense I am in the taking mode. But writing a book on music is me being both a giver and a taker, the biography of OP Nayyar has been a completely magical effort. I should have done it earlier when he was alive, that’s my pet regret. I would have loved to see the joy on his face.”

A message from this zealous author to all the music lovers and our readers –
“I can only say, follow the advice of Krishna in the Gita. Always do what you love, limit your needs if required, but do only that which you love and which has a chance of leaving the world a better place, because not only will you be happy, you will have made so many people happy too!
Having said this, a note of caution. A life of someone passionately pursuing his passion is like the life of a car, it works best when the driver can judiciously use the brakes and the accelerator: head and heart must work in tandem in the pursuit of passion. Many writers, actors, singers, painters, die paupers because they spent their life’s savings on the bottle or on a woman or while betting on horses because they are “emotional” people. However, other emotional people also know the importance of having a safety-net because life can be cruel sometimes. Its inexcusable when female or male writers whine that the world is not bailing them out of their trouble and financially valuing them in their autumn years. All I can say is, Sweetheart, wake up and smell the coffee! Nobody owes you a living and nobody is going to bail you out of your self-created mess on grounds of being an “emotional” person. If you enjoyed the excesses, Karma will bite you somewhere along the way.

Profligacy is inexcusable and the guilt and shame should be one’s own, it has nothing to do with the world.
It is the writer who is committing harakiri when he throws caution to the winds on grounds of being an “emotional” person.

So do use the brake and accelerator, protect your security carefully, if it comes to it, moonlight for your passion, sleep fewer hours, but its vital to depend on nobody’s sense of guilt to keep your home-fires burning. A life of balance, in short, is a life of happiness.

Sharing the presentation by her on Guru Dutt, his films and music in a meet – Romancing The Song (Dec 2016)



Her Books:

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan

1 Comment

  1. Santosh

    September 3, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I had the great & rare fortune to be at a do when OPNji himself was guest of honour. It was a sort of soiree where a musician sang and many in the audience also did from time to time.OPNji also played the harmonium and sang a few songs himself– I remember Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar being sung by him with another lady–I wonder if it was you? I also remember OPNji telling the incident when you asked him if he will talk to you BECAUSE YOUR NAME IS LATA.He had a hearty laugh when he narrated this.I have many fond memories of that evening. This was at a place in Colaba at night.I had gate crashed with the help of Tushar Bhatia who had invited us after he learnt that we were OPN fans and it was my life ambition to meet him.I spent a few hours sitting with him and talking to him awed to be in his presence.I must thank you for this. Now I want to read your book. Also do you wish to publish your other books?I can TRY to do that!

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