Ghazal Loses its Voice

From tiny living rooms made entirely of floral cotton tapestry to large drawing rooms with striped silk curtains, the voice of Jagjit Singh cut across the middle- and upper-class barrier in India during the ’80s and the ’90s.

As the sun set, the first bars of Jagjit and his wife Chitra’s music started wafting across neighbourhoods in small towns and bustling metros. Woh kaagaz ki kashti, they sang nostalgically, woh baarish ka paani.

On Monday morning, Jagjit Singh, now 70, breathed his last. He had been in hospital since September 23, when he suffered a sudden brain haemorrhage a few hours before he was due to perform with compatriot Ghulam Ali at Shanmukhanand Hall.

Two surgeries were performed over the next couple of weeks but doctors could neither save him, nor revive him from a coma. There was some improvement over the last three days, but a cardio-respiratory arrest on Monday morning was the last straw. “Our efforts to revive him failed,” said Dr Nitin Dange, a neurosurgeon at Lilavati.

Wife Chitra, who hadn’t left the hospital since his admission, was informed a few minutes later. Even As film and music stars – Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Subhash Ghai, Gulzar, and Sanjay Khan, to name a few – rushed at the hospital to express their condolences, Chitra was too distraught to speak.

By evening, his brothers, Jaswant and Kartar had flown in from Jaipur and Delhi, and taken his body to his Warden Road home. The cremation will be held at Chandanwadi at 4 pm on Tuesday.

“When I was eight, I would put Jagjit on my lap and play with him. He was everybody’s laadla. From the age of six, he showed a flair for singing. Watching people listen to Jagjit sing would fill my heart with pride,” his elder brother, Jaswant, told Mumbai Mirror. “It hurts me immensely that he is younger than me and yet passed away before me. Last year, he come down to Jaipur and stayed with us for a concert. He seemed happy.”

Among the few hundred people who thronged the hospital by afternoon were admirers and numerous fans who had never known his personally; just through his music. Tardeo’s Hema Ahuja, a 39-year-old who says she hasn’t missed a single Jagjit Singh concert in 20 years, talked about his last performance at Worli in September. “After all these years, I had met him for the first time then. My husband and I got a photo clicked with him. We had no idea it was the last time we’d see him live,” she said, weeping.

Another fan at the hospital was Harish Baijal, a police officer from Nashik. He said a concert in Aurangabad in 2005 stood out as his greatest Jagjit Singh memory. “It was a concert for mentally challenged kids. When we went to him to pay his fees for the show, he chased us away, saying he never charged for a good cause.”

Jagjit is survived by his wife Chitra, with whom he performed successfully until their son Vivek died in a freak road accident in 1990. Chitra has not performed publicly since then. His step-daughter Monica, who was Chitra’s daughter from a previous marriage, died two years ago.

Brother Jaswant said that since Jagjit was a brilliant student, their father, Amar Singh, had wanted him to become an IAS officer. “But by becoming a singer, he truly made him Amar.”

Lata Mangeshkar

The first time I heard about Jagjit Singh, I was recording with Madan Mohan who told me, ‘Ek Jagjit naam ka ladka aaya hai bahut achcha gaata hai.’ When I heard his voice I was bowled over, but somehow Jagjitji’s voice was not considered suitable for film heroes at that time.

As time passed his voice became a household name and he sang for many film heroes.But it was the song Sarakti jaye hai rukh se naqaab ahista ahista which I just couldn’t get out of my head. Jagjitji was highly influenced by Mehdi Hassan and gradually he moulded his voice in his style.

He also met his future wife Chitra Singh and they became a very saleable Ghazal-singing couple. So many other couples subsequently tried to emulate the Jagjit-Chitra style, but in vain.

Initially Sajda, recorded in 1991, was supposed to have only me sining to Jagjitji’s compositions. But I told him he had to sing as well. This was my chance to sing with a voice I had liked for years. Sajda was an idea put forward by Madan Bhaiyya’s son Sanjeev Kohli who worked at that time with HMV.

They asked me if I would like to do an album with Jagjitji. I was game. Jagjitji got very emotional when I sang his composition Dard se mera daaman bhar de. He was going through a personal tragedy and the song touched his heart.

The last time I spoke to Jagjitji was about three months ago. He spoke with great warmth and affection and wanted to meet up for a meal. Jagjitji loved food. During recordings he would get restless by 1 pm. ‘Let’s have some murgi, and kadak daal.’ That meal he promised to have with me will remain uneaten.

Javed Akhtar

For 30 years Jagit kept Ghazal alive and popular through his rich baritone. And this, in the face of the stiffest composition from film music. In our country the only music that sells is film music. And yet Jagjit’s albums and his songs sold outside the purview of cinema. Today with Jagjit’s death I feel there is hardly any voice that’s relevant outside cinema.

Lately because of the issue of music-copyrights that I had taken up, Jagjit and I met very frequently. He firmly believed that the lyricist and the writer deserved a share of the royalty. He was part of every meeting, every delegation from the film industry that went to Delhi. Isn’t it ironical that now when our fight t is about to reach its logical conclusion and the law regarding copyrights is about to change, Jagjit is not here to witness that happy moment.

I did one of my earliest film lyrics with Jagjit in Saath Saath. The songs in that film– Tumkho dekha to yeh khayaal aaya, etc -remain popular to this day. HMV’s combination of Jagjit’s two film soundtracks Saath Saath and Arth is their largest-selling film-ghazal combination of all times.
Not many people know that Jagjit was heavily into charitable causes – for the poor, chuildren, ailing. But he did not want his work to be publicised. – Subhash K Jha

Honthon Se Choo Lo Tum … Premgeet
Music director: Jagjit Singh
Lyricist: Indeevar


Tumko dekhaa to ye khayaal aayaa… Saath Saath
Music director: Kuldeep Singh
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar

Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho… Arth
Music director: Jagjit Singh
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi

Kagaz Ki Kashti … Album: Aaj
Music director: Jagjit and Chitra
Lyrics: Sudarshan Fakir

Hosh Valon Ko Khabar Kya… Sarfarosh
Music director: Jatin Lalit
Lyrics: Nida Fazli

Shaam se aankh mein … Marasim
Music director: Jagjit Singh
Lyrics: Gulzar


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