The Allure of Jagjit Singh

By Maheen Usmani

“Sometimes I feel that time is running out and there’s so much more left to be done. At other times I feel well I’ve already done so much where’s the need to do more, that’s enough. And then again you feel that whatever you’ve done, you can do something better. Such mixed feelings keep going through my mind.” Jagjit Singh.

Today, when the great artiste is no more, the soulful song from his album with Lata Mangeshkar titled ‘Sajda’ comes to mind, “Jaa kar jahaan say koi wapas naheen hai aata, woh kaun si jaga hai, Allah janta hai.. Qismat mein kiya likha hai, Allah jaanta hai..”

Jagjit Singh’s songs made a place in our hearts, his dearly familiar voice intertwining so beautifully in our lives, a seamless part of our joys and sorrows. No wonder then that the world seems like a much colder harder place now that he has left us so abruptly. Lyricist and director Gulzar aptly defines the yawning vacuum as “Jagjit ka jaana, ek poori duniya ka uth jaana hai, ik daur kaa uth jaanaa hai… bahut badi shaksiyat aur bahut badi presence aapke paas se uth ke chali jaaye to woh khaalipan, usay bayaan karna bada mushkil kaam hai.” (His death marks the end of an era, because he was an icon of our times, it is very difficult to define that feeling of loss.”

His friend and fellow artiste Ghulam Ali says: “Ours was a friendship, which transcended the barriers of geography, hostile governments and hurdles of red-tape. My friend has left for heavenly abode, and I am simply inconsolable. I feel he will walk up to me and sing the mukhda of a ghazal for me. I just can’t believe that my friend is gone forever! I was hoping that he will be alright, and will sing once again with me. After all, we have done more than 30 concerts all over the world together. Par mera dildaar yaar chala gaya, janaab!” (But my lion hearted friend has left me!)

One can say that Jagjit Singh made ghazals accessible for the common man and got rid of it’s elitist tag in no uncertain terms. “He was a pioneer because he broadened the base for ghazal, took it to lay music lovers. He did this by bringing in western instruments like the guitar into ghazals, introducing instrumental interludes, experimenting with non-traditional rhythm patterns and simplifying the tunes to make them very melodic,” says singer Talat Aziz. Though he sang the verses of almost everybody from Ghalib to Gulzar to Kaifi Azmi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Qateel Shifai, Jagjit laid a lot of emphasis on simplicity and clarity. “I ensure that first I understand the meaning of the ghazal and then expect the common man to appreciate it.”

“It’s a huge loss because Jagjit Singh was instrumental in bringing ghazals to my generation. When we were younger, we heard the ghazals of Mehdi Hassan and Begum Akhtar but that wasn’t really our music. It was in the 1970s that Jagjit Singh took everybody by storm and swept us off our feet,” said singer Tina Sani.

Whether it was a bhajan, a folk song, a ghazal or a filmi song, Jagjit Singh cast a hypnotic spell on his listeners, because he sang from the heart. Simple tunes with no gimmickry, the unique timbre and charisma of his voice transcended the lyrics. Who can forget the elegant beauty of “Hotoon say chulo tum, mera geet amar ka do.”

“His voice was charisma. Is ki awaz mein chain hai, sakoon hai. His voice would put a balm over your wounded sensibilities,” says lyricist Javed Akhtar. Indeed, Jagjit Singh gave life to the stirring lyrics of Ghalib in the TV serial ‘Mirza Ghalib’ which took the subcontinent by storm. According to it’s director, Gulzar: “It seems as if Ghalib has bequeathed to him not just the storehouse of his writing but also the temperament of the ghazal.”

Mahesh Bhatt, who directed the autobiographical and highly acclaimed Arth, said, “My emotional syntax was perhaps articulated brilliantly by Jagjit Singh. Arth would not have touched the hearts of millions without his contribution.” “Jhuki jhuki si nazar beqarar hai k naheen, daba daba sa saheeh dil mein pyar hai ya naheen..”

Not only was Jagjit Singh a great artiste, he was also known for his kindness and generosity to others less privileged. Poet Rana Sahri recounts how Jagjit Singh sang one of his ghazals at a concert at which he was present. “When the hall fell silent after the applause, he said: “The ghazal that I have just sung and that you have appreciated so openly was written by a poet whose name is Rana Sahri. He is here today. Wherever he is, I would like him to stand up, and please give him a warm welcome. With those words, he gifted me a moment in my life for which people hunger and thirst for years and years, to have one’s work as a poet publicly acknowledged by music lovers and poetry lovers. That moment was a treasure beyond value. For an artiste to share success with some one else- that’s greatness.”

At the pinnacle of his life, Jagjit Singh lost his only son Vivek (Baboo) in a tragic road accident. Shattered beyond measure, he did not sing for 6 months and then he turned for solace to his tanpura. Music became an instrument to heal and to somehow come to terms with the tragedy in his life. “I took to heart the words of Nida Fazli’s poem: “Apna gham le ke kahin aur na jaaye jaye, Ghar mein bikhri hui cheezon ko sajaaya jaye” (Let us not take our anguish elsewhere, Let us make beautiful the scattered objects at home). Now Jagjit Singh poured his pain and suffering into his art. “Gham ka khazana tera bhi hai, mera bhi, yeh nazrana tera bhi hai, mera bhi.. apnay gham ko geet bana kay ga lena.”

Poet Nida Fazli recalls that after his son’s death, he was at a concert where there were many young people. “I asked Jagjit, how come in this modern age of jeans and pop music, you had so many youngsters at the concert for ghazals? He replied, ‘It seems as if Baboo has reached heaven and told the young people to look after his father.”

A beautiful mind and an artiste par excellence, Jagjit Singh lit up our world with his honeyed voice and charisma. As Nida Fazli puts it, “Jagjit’s voice has a strange magic. It is layered. We feel that he sings with a smile, but within the words he is weeping and making us weep, this is his amazing art.”  Today, when he is no more, one realises anew the pathos and meaning behind the question he asks in the song immortalised by him:  “Tum itna jo muskarah rahay ho, kiya gham hai jis ko chupa rahay ho..”

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