The Jagjit I know

By Javed Akhtar. Oct, 17th,2011

Javed Akhtar remembers the singer as an affable human being with an ever-present sense of humour.

With the passing away of ghazal king Jagjit Singh, an entire era of amazing musical expertise comes to a close. Even now, I cannot quite believe that the mellifluous baritone will never sing to music lovers in live performances any more.

My association with Jagjit goes back a long way, ever since he first sang my song in 1981. Since then, we went on to make two albums and participated in innumerable stage shows where invariably, it fell upon me to introduce him at the start of the shows. It all seems like a dream to me right now. Specially so because I met him just a day before he had his first attack and had extensive talks about the two of us doing a US tour, as some organisers were urging us to do. We had been the perfect foil for each other at such shows in the past and this time too, I was supposed to recite my poetry, while Jagjit would sing lines of poetry in his inimitable style. Little did I know then that fate was willing it to be otherwise.

We had been working so closely and for so long on our campaign over the copyright issues that for me the loss is doubly deep. Jagjit and I would visit Delhi frequently and meet political leaders to take our case forward. He passed away just as we were making headway and will not be there to see the copyright law take concrete shape. So very tragic.

Range of Emotions

It might sound pessimistic but we live in times when language is shrinking rapidly. Song lyrics and poetry are being reduced to the banal and ludicrous and singers often sing without any great depth of emotion. Jagjit had an incredible range of emotions as a person, he understood and appreciated the finer nuances of language and all this came through in his singing. His ghazals dripped melody, feelings, subtlety and reflected the person he was, internally. Though he is no more, his voice is immortal and will live within us.

A warm, easygoing, affable man with an ever-present sense of humour, Jagjit never did believe in standing on formality. Not for him the elaborate procedure of calling up and inviting someone or asking whether he could come over. Most of the time, he would saunter into my house unannounced and settle down to a cosy chat. A foodie to the core, Jagjit did not possess just a penchant for North Indian and Bengali delicacies but had within him a huge appetite and zest for the entire business of living. The death of his son in a road accident many years back, and his daughter more recently, devastated him but his indomitable spirit was always resurrecting itself and pressing his soul towards music.

Hands-on Citizen

Not many people know that Jagjit was actively involved in charity and was associated with various institutions that tackle social issues. He did not talk about these activities and till now, some of his near and dear ones remain ignorant about this particular facet of his personality. Friends will always remember him as an active hands-on citizen who was not above coming down from his apartment to make peace in neighbourly squabbles. He will also be fondly remembered for pitching in enthusiastically as an impromptu traffic-cop. In his younger days, I recall him frequently hopping out of his car, standing at crossroads and regulating traffic in the case of neighbourhood traffic snarls. Success truly sat lightly on the shoulders of this amazingly talented singer.

As a ghazal singer, he was unique. He carved and inhabited a remarkable niche in the music arena for almost 40 years. An incredible feat! The timbre of his voice, his whole-hearted dedication to rendering techniques and his deep understanding of poetry and melody set him apart from the others. He sang many songs for Hindi movies and most of them went on to become super-hits but at no time did Bollywood define Jagjit, rather the film industry found itself enriched by his occasional forays into film music. My two favourite works of Jagjit will always be his songs from the movies “Arth” and “Saath Saath”, the lyrics of which were respectively composed by my father-in-law, Kaifi Azmi, and me. The songs “Tum itna kyun muskura rahe ho” and “Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar” are hummed even today.

Jagjit was an era in himself. One of a kind. He leaves behind a void that no one can ever fill adequately. I have lost a friend, a partner and a kindred soul. Like all those other grieving music lovers out there, I too find myself devastated.

Soil to Soul

Son of the Soil Jagjit Singh not only Became a Ghazal Legend but also did a lot for other Genres of Music 
S. D. Sharma

Bade shauq se sunn raha tha zamana, hum hi so gaye dastan kehte kehte…

With five decades of musical excellence, Jagjit Singh, the maestro who enraptured the world with his incredible contribution to film and ghazal singing, Punjabi folk, devotional, and popular music, would have regaled music lovers for more times to come but destiny willed otherwise.

Jagjit Singh moved to Mumbai in 1965 in search of a singing career
Jagjit Singh moved to Mumbai in 1965 in search of a singing career

Very few maestros have elicited the love and affection of music lovers the world over as Jagjit Singh, who continued to be in the limelight since his childhood days at Sriganganagar.

Jagjit Singh was born in Sriganganagar, Rajasthan. His father, Amar Singh Dhiman, a government employee, was a native of Dalla Behrampur in Punjab, and his mother, Bachchan Kaur, hailed from Ottallan village, Samrala. Out of his four sisters, only Inderjit Kaur is alive, while his elder brother Jaswant Singh and younger brother Kartar Singh are settled in Jaipur and Delhi, respectively.

He studied at Khalsa High School and later at Khalsa College, Ganganagar, topping in inter-science in college before joining DAV College, Jalandhar.

His father had engaged Pandit Shagun Chand Joshi and Ustad Jamal Khan for grooming Jagjit, but his music skills blossomed during his formative years at DAV, Jalandhar, and later at Kurukshetra University. He moved to Bollywood in 1965 and the rest is history.

“Some persons are born to lead and so was Jagjit, affectionately called Jeeti in our family,” says his elder brother Jaswant Singh (75). “As a school student, Jagjit was crowned Bul Bul-e-Rajashan and he maintained his tradition of excellence in music till the end,” adds Jaswant.

“Ours is a God-fearing family. Once our Satguru visited us and observed that his real name, Jagmohan, did not match his pratibhashali persona and renamed him Jagjit Singh, saying he was bound to win the world,” recalls Jaswant, a former senior education officer.

Jagjit Singh straddled across a Bullet motorcycle behind his father
Jagjit Singh straddled across a Bullet motorcycle behind his father

Jagjit Singh was a complete artiste with a perfect understanding of the deepest emotions inherent in poetry, song or blank verse and believed that poetry lay at the heart of a ghazal, a film song or any other composition. “Jagjit Singh was completely involved in the production of his over 50 albums and film songs, and he left nothing to chance,” says Nida Fazli, a popular film lyricist. “The film industry has lost a gem of a person and the loss is certainly irreparable.”

Unable to come to terms with the tragedy, Hans Raj Hans, the rajgayak of Punjab, who was with Chitra at Lilavati Hospital a little before Jagjit Singh’s demise, termed it as “a great loss.” Recalling his close association with the maestro while being a judge for reality show Mohe Rang Lay on Pragya channel for three months and other projects, he describes him as an institution in himself. “During the past 50 years, I have never come across a maestro with such a profound depth of knowledge of music, a soulful voice with khairaj so prominent. I am indebted to the babbar sher of Punjab, who had taken music, particularly the ghazal, to such a spectacular level on the world stage. Such pioneers of music are born once in a span of centuries,” feels Hans, a prominent sufi, folk and playback singer.

The singer in front of a portrait of his late son Vivek Singh in Chandigarh
The singer in front of a portrait of his late son Vivek Singh in Chandigarh Photo: Vinay Malik 

A foremost disciple of Jagjit Singh and eminent ghazal singer, Vinod Sehgal, who spent 24 years with his guru, is a custodian of his legacy. A simple person from Ambala, Vinod could sing in 58 films and serials under the blessed tutelage of Jagjit Singh and looked upon him as his godfather. Says Vinod, “I was the only disciple who shared the stage with Jagjitji and Chitraji during the tours in the UK, the USA and other countries. Guruji immortalised my voice in serials like Mirza Ghalib, Kahkashan, Ravan and others,” says the shattered disciple.

Equally admiring of the gayaki and human values of the legendary Jagjit Singh, Dolly Guleria, acclaimed folk and ghazal singer, remembers their family association with him and enjoying of his ghazal concerts at Delhi. “He was very disciplined and serious, but humorous during leisure time. He always addressed me as a ‘moti with bareek voice,” shares Dolly. He did a lot for promoting saaf-suthri Punjabi gayaki, she adds.

Jagjit Singh and Chitra (second from L) enjoy some time with family
Jagjit Singh and Chitra (second from L) enjoy some time with family

“Jagjit Singh always rued the fact that while the musical arts in Punjab had been at the top, with legends like Bade Gulam Ali Khan, K. L. Saigal and others reigning supreme, somehow the film industry in Punjab had not come of age,” recalls Neena Tiwana, a former Punjabi actress and wife of thespian Harpal Tiwana. Jagjit had scored music for her two hit films Laung da Lishakara and Deeva Bale Saari Raat, and certain plays. “A founder trustee of the Harpal Tiwana Foundation, Jagjit Singh was to perform on October 13 at the opening ceremony of the Rs 14.3-crore foundation a Patiala,” says Neena with a tinge of sadness.

His childhood friend and close family associate, Ashok Bhalla, a Ludhiana businessman, who was witness to the rise of the maestro from a mediocre background, remembers that Jagjit fought the adversities of life with courage and conviction. Recalling the sudden death of his only son Vivek on July 28, 1994, he says, “Jagjit accepted it as the will of WaheGuru and continued to serve humanity with his melody, leanings towards devotional music, while Chitra chose to abandon it.  Despite attaining celebrity status Jagjit remained the same old guy for us, cracking jokes and sharing our joys and sorrows alike.”

The Sangeet Natak Akademi chairperson and an old associate of Jagjit Singh, Kamal Tewari, prominent vocalist and  flautist Ravinder Singh, who had performed with him on many occasions, call it an “irreparable loss.” “The maestro has left behind an eternal treasure of music to be relished for centuries to come,” they feel.

Pandit Yashpaul, an Agra gharana stalwart, and Vijay Vashisht of All India Radio were his old associates from DAV College, Jalandhar.