Legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar recently turned 90 and while the varied melodies of the life and career of the Nightingale of India are known, lesser known is her closeness to cricket, in particular, one cricketing figure — player-turned-administrator Raj Singh Dungarpur.
According to a biography of the late Ranji player, BCCI President and national selector by Samar Singh and Harsh Vardhan, former Union Minister N.K.P. Salve, who was President of Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) from 1982-85, revealed that when it came to reward the team that won the World Cup in 1983, “Raj Singh came up with a brilliant idea of requesting Lata Mangeshkar to do a musical programme in Delhi to raise money for the purpose, as the BCCI was not flush with funds in those days.”
“Lataji agreed and helped raise a substantial amount that enabled the BCCI to reward each player of the winning team with Rs 1 lakh which was not a petty amount in those days,” Salve said.
On her 75th birthday in 2004, Dungarpur paid tributes to the melody queen and recalled how he came to know Lata Mangeshkar:
“In 1959, could be August, I came to Bombay to do law. I told Dilip Sardesai’s first cousin, Sopan Sardesai, that I couldn’t exist without playing cricket. He told me that the only place that you get to play was at Walkeshwar House where Lata Mangeshkar’s brother and his friends played tennis ball cricket. I said I’m not bothered by who plays, but I have to be there. They (the Mangeshkars) used to stay in a two-bedroom flat in a building behind the Walkeshwar House. She was, in those days, I suppose recording all day; nor was I hung up on seeing her. I just played and went back to my sister’s house on Napean Sea Road.
“But her family must have discussed that I had come, so she said, we must offer him a cup of tea. I was invited to come up. I can’t remember if it was raining. She was utterly charming; she came to see me off and gave me her car. They were celebrating ‘nariyal poornima’ shortly and she invited my brother and me for dinner. Everybody was quite crazy about cricket and I was just a Ranji Trophy player. Sopan Sardesai and the Mangeshkar family lived in Nana Chowk, in what would be perhaps little above a chawl. From there she went to Walkeshwar and then to Peddar Road. That’s how I started to know her. I went for a couple of her recordings and so on.”
Many residents of then Bombay, close to Dungarpur, are in know of the intimacy the two had.
In the 1970s, Lata was keen to have an event in London. Dungarpur happened to be the person to organise it at Albert Hall, and having done so, was found sitting in back row as she sang her choicest songs. He would not let it be known who the person behind the show was.
Later, recalling the time when Lata came to know that she had been conferred the Bharat Ratna (in 2001), Dungarpur said that they were in London. “She opened the flat and it was 11.30 at night. The phone was ringing. She picked it up and said, ‘Wow!’ I said, “Hell! What is wow for Lata Mangeshkar?
“She said, ‘Rachna (her favorite niece) is telling me that I’ve got the Bharat Ratna.’ The phones never stopped all night. The next morning… in London, you have to make a cup of tea for yourself. I made one for her. She had her two-three medicines and I asked her, ‘How does it feel to be a Bharat Ratna?’ She said, ‘Now that you ask me… bahut accha lagta hai’ (it feels very good),” Dungarpur had said.
Many chided Dungarpur, a lifetime bachelor, for having kept it a secret. He lambasted them, in good humour, explaining it was a friendship that both of them nourished to the hilt. To a score of press persons, who invariably put questions, he would react with smile, mixed with anguish, that “I am already married… to cricket,” and would laugh loudly.
The London flat — Lord’s View — overlooked the legendary cricket ground and one would, in those days, watch matches from its balcony. Dungarpur owned it — at the behest of Lata? Both flew together business class on Air India to London to stay there and spend quality time.
In the late 1980s, a new marble company was floated in Udaipur and Dungapur was its chairman. Lata was invited on its board.
Harsh Vardhan remembers: “Once both of them were in Udaipur and we all stayed at the same hotel, located by the side of a lake and named after Raj. At afternoon tea at its terrace, Lata stood up from her wicker chair to receive me with folded hands, to melt down the stiff aura heard of Bollywood personas. Humble, generous and just appealing, all smiles, she put a few questions about the tiger crisis. Raj stood by her side, like a coach at a practice session.”
Australia-based Hartley Anderson, one of the most trusted cricketing friends of Dungarpur, has loads of memories of the days these two friends walked together.
In an email to Harsh Vardhan, he cited Lata’s visit to attend the Sydney Opera and disclosed some intimate memories of the friendship.
While working on the Dungarpur biography, Harsh Vardhan called on many of his cricketing friends. Visiting the late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who had asserted that had Dungarpur not made his case before the BCCI, he would have never played cricket for India, Harsh Vardhan came to know that Pataudi had stayed with Dungarpur in Mumbai at a time he was a bachelor and was editing a sports journal, and they longed to visit Lata’s house to savour “gosht ka pakoda” which, as he outlined, she herself cooked.
Harsh Vardhan also recounts that at Dungapur’s 65th birthday, celebrated at the Cricket Club of India, he received an early morning call from him asking him to come soon.
When Harsh Vardhan reached, Dungarpur was already standing on the road ready to board a waiting car. As they drove to the celebrated Siddhi Vinayak temple and went up the elevated Pedder Road, Dungarpur asked him: “Do you know who lives there?”
As Harsh Vardhan kept mum, he answered himself: “A little known person called Lata… her sister also stays there.”
So much out from all quarters, yet so much remained behind curtains!