Chitra Singh still won’t sing, but she is coming out of her shell to keep the ‘ghazal’ maestro alive in public memory
Chitra Singh is in a moment of poignant, distressing hurry. In the span of a week, she has met many journalists and posed for many photographs—each time, with a black and white blow-up of the young Jagjit Singh, her late husband, behind her. Someone asked her why she stopped singing, and someone asked her when she will start singing again. She is busy preparing for the release of Jagjit Singh—The Master And His Magic, an album of unreleased songs of Jagjit Singh, on 10 October, the singer’s first death anniversary. She is busy on the phone trying to fix appointments with Hariprasad Chaurasia and Shivkumar Sharma, and a venue for a commemorative concert. She says her phone has suddenly started ringing constantly.
We meet at the end of that week. “He should not be so far away at the background,” she tells our photographer, ready for what seems to have become a routine. Adjusting her purple T-shirt and the rust bandhni dupatta loosely wrapped around her neck, Chitra waits for the photographer to click.
Memories: (from left) Chitra and Jagjit Singh at The Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai in the 1980s. Photo: Courtesy Chitra Singh
This is new for her—once a ghazalsinger, and since 1990, when her 18-year-old son Vivek died in an accident, just the shy, retired wife of Jagjit Singh. “This idea for an album struck about four months ago when a big fan of his music, and a friend of ours, Sanjay Tayal, came to me with recordings of some of his songs performed at concerts. It was the ideal opportunity to come out. I have been lonely for many years, but I have been terribly lonely after his passing. People who were around him when he was alive weren’t doing much. I wanted to do something for his fans with Sanjay’s help,” Chitra says.The forthcoming album has eight songs, all composed by Jagjit Singh, with lyrics by Wasim Bareilvi (Tu Ambar ki Aankh ka Tara), Farag Roohvi (Dekha jo Aeena) and five “unknown” lyricists. It also features Mirza Ghalib’s Rone se Aur Ishq Mein Bebaak Ho Gaye—sung in Jagjit Singh’s inimitably pop, silken voice. His voice and compositions, which complemented the straightforward harmonium with various Western and Indian instruments, made ghazals an accessible art—the reason he has fans in the philistine and the aesthete alike. “I don’t remember a time when he was not travelling for concerts. And when he was not composing tunes in our drawing room.”
Tayal, the Ahmedabad-based ghazal aficionado who often travelled with Jagjit Singh on tours across the world over more than 20 years, has a collection that he assiduously sourced from sound engineers and backstage technicians and preserved at home. He says that in the early 1970s, Jagjitji used to perform at some private concerts to which access was not easy. By then he was already an international star. “I have been following his music since then.”
Chitra chose eight songs from Tayal’s collection that could be salvaged substantially for digital processing. “It took about two months of painstaking work to make them decent, but even now they are not of a perfect studio recording quality,” says Chitra.
Chitra Singh in Mumbai recently. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
In 1976, HMV released The Unforgettables, an album of Jagjit and Chitra Singh duets. The two singers, who had met in the 1960s when Chitra was in another marriage, with a daughter, became a household name after this album. They performed together all over India and later, in other countries. Ghazal had a new, romantic lead pair who sang for anyone who could appreciate a beautiful tune and dumbed-down Urdu after a glass of whisky, and also appealed to those who listened to the masters, like Mehdi Hasan, Abida Parveen and Ghulam Ali. Chitra’s high-pitched voice had lilt but it was unsuitable to ghazal as the purists knew it. “My toughest job was getting the Urdu right. I am a Bengali, Hindi itself was difficult. So I had to work really hard under Jagjitji’s tutelage. Finally, I was appreciated. My work in the Mirza Ghalib(the TV serial) album was considered my best,” Chitra says.Jagjit Singh often changed compositions if she didn’t like them. Raat Bhi Neend Bhi Kahani Bhi was a different tune when it was first composed. Later on, it became one of their most popular duets. Adarsh Gupta, music business head, Saregama India Ltd (previously HMV and HMV Saregama), says, “Unforgettables is one of our most popular ghazal albums even today in all forms—as a CD, as ringtones and downloadable MP3s.”
The love story on stage, for fans, and off it took a beating when their son died in 1990. Jagjit Singh used music to express his pain—“his compositions and his alfaaz changed,” says Chitra—but she stopped singing. In the early 2000s, before Chitra’s daughter from her first marriage died, Jagjit Singh composed some songs for her. “He convinced me to come back to the studio. We started recording also. One day he took me to a meeting in HMV to talk about the album. I returned from that meeting and lost all confidence. I was scared I would not be able to do justice to the songs. Thereafter, after my daughter died, I never sang,” Chitra says.
She says, with the deadpan cynicism of a musician who never owned her voice: “Music has never been my anchor. My anchor is my spiritual training. Now I die a thousand deaths every day, but what sustains me is not music. I never even hum. It’s a training to pick myself up and do the work.” Chitra took classes in spiritual healing in Europe, where she lived for three years in the late 1990s while Jagjit Singh made more and more music.
With the first anniversary, Chitra begins a new journey. “There should be a constant reminder of him. Somehow the music must come back.”
Some songs never stop.
Jagjit Singh—The Master And His Magic by Sony Music will release on 10 October, Jagjit Singh’s first death anniversary.