Every once in a while the fields of art, music, or dance produces a legend. And if one breaks up the field of music into its very many genres you are faced with a plethora of talent and artists who have each made significant contributions in their own right. In the field of ghazal in particular, there are many popular names and the more notable ones being of a period bygone. They themselves are no more around, let alone any documented history and background to their lives.
For the last 30 years or so, a name that springs to mind when we mention the term ghazal, most certainly is the name Jagjit Singh. And in your mind you hear a deep baritone voice that plucks the strings of the lovers heart, bringing out feelings of happiness, sadness, pathos, romance, loneliness and every other feeling the heart could ever endure. The field of ghazal gayaki has been done a great justice today as we read the biography titled Beyond Time – The Ageless Music of Jagjit Singh. As great as his contribution has been to popularising ghazal so great will remain this book in telling future generations the real life story of Jagjit Singh.
Firstly let me touch on the aesthetics. Visually the 164 page coffee table sized book is well presented as a hardback with loads of photos rarely seen before. The book is set in a boxed cover and also contains a set of two CDs with a selection of some of his and Chitra’s unforgettable items. Kudos to AshaRani Mathur, the author, and Pankaj Kodesia who conceptualised it, for a well executed project.
The book opens with a two-page foreword by another legend Lata Mangeshkar. “The world of music would not be complete without ghazals. The world of ghazals would not be complete without Jagjit Singh. Jagjit Singh’s contribution to the world of music is unique,” she says. Need we say more?
The book chronicles the life of Jagjit over six periods of time from his birth in 1941, in Sriganganagar. The chapters are well organised and the format is in the form of commentary by various personalities who have each played a role in his life, including extensive commentary by the master himself. Neither Jagjit nor any of the persons interviewed shy away from reality, and Jagjit is as straight-forward as,” We were a lower middle class family, not at all well off.” The book touches on the highest and lowest points of his life with many surprises for the reader. It talks about his struggle for a break in films, his meeting Chitra, the birth and demise of his son Vivek. In a sense this book sets many a record and speculation straight. It talks openly about Chitra’s previous marriage and the input by her first husband, Debo Prasad Dutta is admirable.
No doubt the early years and his coming to Bombay in 1965 was a struggle. His younger brother Kartar Singh comments, “When he was new in Bombay, all the big film people would call him to their houses to sing. They use to make false promises about giving him a chance in films just so that he would perform free for them.” In this sense times have not changed and one still sadly sees budding artists do the most unimaginable for a break in films and music.
Beyond Time…’ reveals the reason behind him shaving his beard and cutting his hair, and also the reaction to that by his father. The book describes how, in Sanjeev Kohli’s words, “he began the arduous struggle of knocking on the doors of the film industry, in vain” eventually driving him to carve his own niche in the form of the ghazal. It is fair then to say that Jagjit was an innovator way back in the 60s already.
Monica Chowdhuri, the daughter of Chitra, talks openly her mother’s relationship with her father Debo Prasad Dutta and their divorce, but in the same voice of bitterness one picks up her love for her Pappa (as she refers to Jagjit) and his support to Chitra during the most trying times in her life. Chitra makes moving statements in this biography, like how she would literally hold her sleeping baby in her arms whn singing into the mike twenty days after he was born, as they needed the money.
Jagjit identifies one of the turning points in his life when his son Vivek, (or Baboo as he was commonly known), was born. “That was the height of happiness. We were not well-off then, but I felt as if I was the richest man in the world.” Jagjit also talks of his style, his compositions and orchestration and his live concerts abroad, many of which would leave the music lover or aspirant musician enriched with many lessons.
The other turning point in his life was when Vivek died tragically in a motor car accident in 1990. “I was a broken man,” laments Jagjit. Chitra opens up completely about this period and how she managed to get a grip on life again, something any other parent would feel strongly about when they read this book. Their feelings are expressed so realistically that it leaves a lump in the throat and a glisten in the eyes when you read it. One must admire the comeback Jagjit made after this tragic incident, for once he commented to noted poet Nida Fazli, “it feels as if life’s very purpose has disappeared.” This part of the book is good therapy for any person struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.
Jagjit’s perfectionist nature comes through very strongly in the book and is echoed in the words of Daman Sood, recording director, “Technically he’s very very good…he knows complete editing. I have learnt a lot from him. Even while he’s performing, he’s thinking ahead, to the ultimate product, the album. How many artists have such foresight?” And his reason for being the perfectionist he is – in his own words “My quest for perfection comes from the fact that whatever you record becomes like a measuring scale.” This is evident in his many albums, from The Unforgettables (with Chitra Singh), to Sajda (with Lata Mangeshkar) to Silsilay (with Javed Akhtar), and more recently with the works of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the album Samvedna.
The book goes on to describe the contemporary Jagjit, his giving nature (even to other ghazal artists), his love for horses and children. One of the most outstanding compliments to Jagjit is reflected in the words of Chitra’S**-husband, “Jagjit is so open-hearted, so generous that it is impossible not to be friendly with him. I think he has a unique ability to touch a chord in the heart of people. A truly warm human being.”
Beyond Time…’ leaves very little of Jagjit’s life untold. When asked about a biography earlier, he had commented, “Do people really want to know about my boring life?” Well, Beyond Time… talks of everything but a boring life with its dashes of humour and lessons abound. It should do well, just like every Jagjit Singh album, and a must for every discerning ghazal and Jagjit fan.