Jagjit Singh Messages in Melodies

Siraj Khan
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
For us on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, who seek common roots and heroes, the name of Jagjit Singh will always glow like a shining star. His was a voice and music which always pleased, with its lilting, soothing, heart-warming and above all, transcendental melodies which enriched lyrical poetry — particularly welcome amidst the raucous music, meaningless remix experiments and sounds which we are expected to accept as melodies thanks to the technological razzmatazz and the endless bhangra.

Jagjit Singh brought to every home those aspects of literature that would have otherwise remained confined to the intellectuals and the literary. It is this aspect of Jagjit’s genius, which cut a special niche of its own. His virtuosity and vitality were exemplary, leaving their imprint on the sands of time.

This is perhaps also the reason why even some of his not-so-great ghazals and geets have retained their timeless appeal and held sway for almost five decades, even in times of the present epoch of unwanted biff-bang. The typical Jagjit Singh offering can always be expected to have a blend of the delicate with the sophisticated. The kalaam that he selected to sing was always simple and yet carried a profound message in melody. From the professor to the cab-driver, Jagjit enabled everyone to digest the finer elements of poetry and philosophy along with reality.

Yet he was no melody superman. In his early professional career, he would record and perform on stage with his wife Chitra, forming a unique and popular singing partnership, which has seen no parallel. However, after their only son Vivek, just over 20, died in a car accident in July 1990, Jagjit encountered a major emotional setback and was unable to sing for months. Chitra stopped singing altogether and retreated from limelight, which was an additional major setback.

Using music as therapy for self-healing, Jagjit Singh eventually picked up the pieces to dig himself out, having to now change gears to record and perform on stage on his own. It took time for Jagjit on the new (solo) format to catch the groove, but catch it he did.

More recently, in May 2009, Jagjit’s step-daughter (from Chitra’s first marriage) Monica Jahangir Chaudhry committed suicide after two failed marriages.

Jagjit was again spiritually devastated. His Pakistani ghazal counterpart and friend Ghulam Ali, came up with the uplifting idea of the two of them performing together and things started to roll.

However, before they could share the stage, Jagjit Singh fell ill and had to be hospitalised. Thank God for big mercies, Ghulam Ali was able to carry the can himself. He represented his friend, singing many of Jagjit’s ageless ghazals by proxy.

“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory,” said Shelley.

Art, quite simply, knows no age and the creative and melodious alchemy of Jagjit Singh has proven to be the central theme, not just the heart, of such a credo. We will no doubt continue to discover with time, many of his lesser known gems, but Ahista Ahista…


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