The first time I heard about Jagjit Singh was when I was recording with ghazal genius Madan Mohan. Madan Bhaiyya told me, ‘Ek Jagjit naam ka ladka aaya hai, bahut achcha gaata hai.’ I asked Madan Bhaiyya why he didn’t get this new singer to sing for him. Somewhere, Jagjitji’s voice was not seen suited for film heroes at that time.
When I heard his voice, I was bowled over. I used to tell music composers about his promising voice. But I guess he was destined to find fame outside movies. Of course, that changed. As time passed, Jagjitji’s voice became a household name and he sang for many film heroes. It was the song ‘Sarakti jaye hai rukh se naqaab ahista ahista’ I couldn’t get out of my head.
I went and bought the album ‘The Unforgettables’, which contained that ghazal.
Though I’ve forgotten the other numbers in the album, ‘Sarakti jaye hai’ has remained my favourite. Jagjitji was highly influenced by Mehdi Hassan. I noticed a remarkable change in his voice quality between the time I first heard him and ‘Sarakti jaye hai’.
Chitraji (Jagjit’s future wife) used to be seen in the studios when I was recording. She was aspiring to become a playback singer. Later, she met Jagjitji. They married and became a very saleable ghazal-singing couple. So many other couples subsequently tried to emulate the Jagjit-Chitra style, but they weren’t as successful.
Initially, ‘Sajda’, recorded in 1991, was supposed to have only my songs and Jagjitji’s compositions. I told him he had to sing as well. This was my chance to sing with a voice I had liked for years. I wasn’t going to let go off that opportunity that easily.
‘Sajda’ was an idea put forward by Madan Bhaiyya’s son Sanjeev Kohli, who was working with HMV. They asked me if I would like to do an album with Jagjitji. I was game. When I went to the HMV studio to meet him, the first thing Jagjitji did was to give me the tunes for all the ghazals.
My only request to him was to not give me ghazals on sharaab (alcohol) and mehkhana (bar). He said he was against ghazals that extolled intoxication.
Jagjitji got very emotional when I sang his composition ‘Dard se mera daaman bhar de’. He was going through a personal tragedy at that time. The song touched his heart. But my song from ‘Sajda’ which both Jagjitji and Chitraji liked most was ‘Dhuan banake fiza mein uda diya mujhko’.
When my ghazal album ‘Saadgi’ was to be released in 2007, I rang him up. I could think of no other person to release it. Jagjitji readily agreed. The last time I spoke to Jagjitji was about three months ago. He spoke with great warmth and affection and wanted to meet me over a meal. Jagjitji loved food. Even during recordings, he would get restless by 1 pm and call for a break.
“Let’s have some murgi and kadak daal,” he would say. Jagjitji loved Punjabi cuisine. The meal he promised to have with me remains unfulfilled.