The name of Lucknow and ghazals is synonymous with the prodigious Mithlesh Lakhnavi, with a career spanning over almost 4 decades he shares the warmth of the city with his exceptional talent. Growing up he had a musical atmosphere at home with his father being a singer for the Ramleela and his mother and siblings being natural singers forming their own mandalis for singing at family functions and weddings in the family.
Just a sophomore graduate in school, after facing backlash from his father, he left home to pursue a career in music. Even then, he was always supported by his mother, Sarju Devi and owes a major part of his success to her. He completed his Masters in Music and got a Visharad in Tabla from Bhatkhande, Lucknow where he learnt classical music under the great Pt. Dharamnath Mishra. As a young artist trying to support himself and a dream, he used to sing in orchestras and played the dholak too. In 1985, he learnt the nuances of ghazal singing from his Ustad, Glushan Bharti through an arrangement with a friend who was his shagird.
He was introduced to ghazal singing by a bosom friend of his named, Subhash Sharma who was a tabla player at Deep Hotel. Laale, as he fondly called Subhash, got Mithlesh his first ever gig in 1987 as a ghazal singer at Deep Hotel, Lucknow. Hailing from Telibagh, which was at the time a small rural area on the outskirts of the city, Mithlesh travelled to-and-fro everyday from his Ustad Ahmed Mia’s place. The initial struggle of getting by was one that was excruciating for a budding artist. He used to hitchhike on his way to work and on his way back had to walk from Hussainganj to Sadar to get on an employee bus for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Much to Lucknow’s generosity’s credit his bus fare was compensated for after the bus driver heard him sing and found out that he was a struggling artist. Later on after working at Deep for almost three years, he worked for Kohinoor Hotel for the duration of two years.
In the year 1991, he auditioned as the in-house ghazal singer at the prestigious Clarks, Awadh and got the job, which he deems as the single most important turning point in his career. Working at Clarks got him an elite exposure to the higher-class of the society which in turn meant greater networking for Mithlesh. Clarks was the go-to for several musical celebrities, actors, politicians and the who’s who of Lucknow. It was here that he was scouted by Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was then the chief minister of Lucknow, to sing in his political rally programs. He went on to share the stage with legends of the Awadh music scene, the likes of which were-Manini Awasthi, Reena Tandon, and Kishor Chaturvedi.
Talking about Clarks he is reminded of his earlier years when the great Shahenshah-e-Ghazal, Mehdi Hassan came to Lucknow and was staying at the hotel. A humble and struggling Mithlesh wanted to meet his inspiration in flesh more than anything. He recalls fishing out his best pair of shirts, trousers and kolhapuris to meet the Ustad. After finding out his room number through a few of the hotel staff Mithlesh and Laale darted into the hotel and went up to his room, upon knocking they heard a grave voice and his son opened the door. Without further ado the duo rushed into the room to a startled Mehdi Hassan and sat at his feet by the bed. Mithlesh sang his lesser known ghazals and touched the maestro’s feet. Even though he never met him in person again, they became good friends and used to often speak over the phone, he calls fondly.
It was at Clarks where he met Harban Jaiswal who owned the first major music studio in Lucknow and recorded a number of ghazals for him. In 1991, he sang for the first time for Taj Mahotsav along with Anuradha Paudwal, leading on from there he began singing at a lot of other mahotsavs and travelled to 11 countries for several shows. In 1991, he performed at the Surya Auditorium and enthralled the Lt. General to the point where he offered him a job at the Army Public School, Lucknow as a music teacher. In an interview for the same when questioned about how he will manage to teach students from an english-medium institution when he wasn’t fluent in the language, he gallantly said that the language of music was universal and there was no other medium required to teach it. With this philosophy he went on to teach at APS for 7 years.
He shared the stage with Anup Jalota, the Bhajan Samraat, on several junctures and became fast friends with him. He later landed a job in the Indian Railways after returning from abroad, which was offered to him yet again in concert at the GM of Railway’s house. He concludes the interview with a sublime memory of his father buying a Murphy Radio to hear him sing at the All India Radio for the first time and how his performance moved him to tears after which he had his final homecoming and mended his relationship with him. Mithlesh is still working his job in the Railways for 24 years now and is known as Mithlesh Lakhnavi with the city’s name intertwined with him.
He was awarded with several awards and honours during the course of his career some of which were the Uttar Pradesh Ratan Sammaan, the Uttar Pradesh Icon and was awarded the title of Sher-e-Ghazal.