Mumbai: Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar remembers being treated like a daughter by late singing legend Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who used to call her "Bharat Ratna" after she won the prestigious honour in 2001.
"After I got the award he (Bhimsen Joshi) never called me Lata. He addressed me as 'Bharat Ratna'. When I'd visit him, he would announce my arrival with 'Aa Bharat Ratna aale. Prepare something good for her to eat'," Lata reminisced after Joshi's death on Monday.
Joshi, who was awarded the country's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 2008, died at Pune's Sahyadri Hospital following old age-related ailments. He was 88.
The legendary singer says that Pandit Bhimsen used to call her 'Bharat Ratna'
Lata shared not just a professional, but personal affinity with him too.
"I'd say a whole era of classical music ended with Bhimsenji. I knew Bhimsenji from the time when he was not that famous," recalled Lata, adding details about her first meeting with him.
"As just another young classical singer he was introduced to me by sound-recordist Minoo Katrak. Minooji told me, 'Bahut achcha gaata hai ladka. Tum usske liye kuch karo'. Luckily Shankar-Jaikishan called Bhimsenji to sing for a film called Basant Bahar, and they invited me to listen to Bhimsenji singing. I sat enraptured all through the recording," she added.
It is at this point that Lata and Joshi's bonding began, and it was strengthened by his love for her father, Hindustani classical vocalist Dinanath Mangeshkar's singing prowess.
"After the historic recording with Shankar-Jaikishan, I met Bhimsenji in Kolkata where I had gone for a show. One morning at 4 a.m. there was loud knocking on the door of my hotel room. We were frightened. When we asked who it was the familiar warm voice said, 'Main Bhimsen hoon (I am Bhimsen)'.
"I asked him what brought him to my door so early. He had heard my father sing, and he wanted to share his joy at hearing my father's song with me. That morning in Kolkata, Bhimsenji sang one of my father's songs. I was spellbound. Bhimsenji turned out to be very familiar with my father's music. It bonded us for life."
Even after Joshi became famous, he kept in touch with Lata and never failed to give her a warm welcome at his Pune home.
"Whenever I was in Pune, it was mandatory for me to visit him. He loved me like a daughter. I am very close to the family, specially to his eldest son. My home in Pune is very close to his. In minutes I'd drop in at his place. I was a frequent visitor to his place and I'm part of their grief now," she added.
Since Lata, now 81, was more into singing for Bollywood, and Joshi was immersed in classical singing, the two seldom got a chance to collaborate. But they sang together for a bhajan album "Ram Shyam Gun Gaan". Lata admits she was quite nervous about it, but says Joshi put her at ease.
Now she recalls him for his sheer dedication to music and respect for his guru, Sawai Gandharva.
"The one thing that I noticed about Bhimsenji was his passion for singing and music. He was totally single-minded in his devotion to music. And he only talked about music.
"For some time now Bhimsenji was ill and unable to sing properly. But even during illness when he couldn't sit up properly, he used to prop himself up and sing. He continued to host an annual music festival in honour of his guru Sawai Gandharva for many years every winter. Bhimsenji never forgot to honour his Guruji. I think that's lovely."