Sadma Toh Hai Mujhe Bhi Ke Tujhse Judaa Hoon Main
‘The more lucid you are the better audience you have,’ Jagjit Singh told The Pioneer in his last interview a week before he was hospitalized
I’m a singer who can sing ghazals too.” This is how the country’s ace ghazal artiste and legend Padma Bhushan Jagjit Singh would humbly describe himself. Jagjit Singh died Monday morning after he was hospitalised for brain hemorrhage on September 23, unable to fulfill his wish of celebrating his 70th birthday in a unique way of completing 70 concerts by the end of this year. He could unfortunately cover only 46.
Singh, who learnt music under Pandit Chaganlal Sharma and then Ustad Jamaal Khan, rose to fame in the 1970s and 1980s with his lilting voice and refreshing style of rendering ghazals and devotional tracks. Born to a Sikh couple in Rajasthan on February 8, 1941, Singh went on to pursue post graduation from the Kurukshetra University in Haryana. He came to Mumbai in 1965, in search of work as a singer. It was a struggle — singing at small musical gatherings, house concerts and film parties in the hope of being noticed, became almost a daily routine for him. But he didn’t lose hope. In a recent interview, probably his last, the legend had said, “It is all God’s grace. Ghazals were earlier rendered at private parties and attended by 60-70 connoisseurs. Now they are being performed at concerts in front of massive audiences. Now that the numbers have increased, one must be cautious in what he is performing. I ensure I sing ghazals they would relate with. You need to keep the audience spellbound in a three-hour concert. They must not, at any point, feel bored or disenchanted.”
With no heir apparent in the field of ghazals, did he feel they will soon vanish? “That’s a sad question but yes, I think so. However, I’m not saying there are no others. There may be incredibly talented people but if Urdu can survive then ghazals will survive too. I feel the government should make Urdu mandatory in the syllabus. If people understand the language, they will understand ghazals also,” he believed.
He was the badshah of ghazals but sang Ram dhun and Nivedan with equal ease and comfort. He was mindful of the dip in the following of ghazals owing to the younger generations’ rising interest in Bollywood music. He had said, “But just to remind you, their parents are still interested in ghazals. Fortunately, I’m still in remarkable demand. Times have changed and so has the lifestyle of people, clothing, eating and of course, behaviour. Practically, there has been a gradual change in the style of ghazal singing, too, and the lyrics are simpler now. Mirza Ghalib wrote simple poetry over 250 years back. Hazaar khwaishen aisi ki har khwaish par dum nikley… is one such ghazal everyone can easily understand.”
In the early 1990s, he sang the revolutionary title track of Neem ka ped, a serial on DD, a ghazal written by poet Nida Fazli. The serial is also remembered for a power packed performance by veteran actor Pankaj Kapur, but it was the title track that would draw people to the TV sets.
His views on performance were magnificent. “The more lucid you are the better audience you have. Before I’m misinterpreted, let me tell you it isn’t just because of the ‘numbers’ that I’m saying all this. But it is a fact that the best of pieces are written by simple choice of words. That is what I do myself. Yeh daulat bhi ley lo, yeh shohrat bhi ley lo… is liked by one and all. Why? Because, this ghazal touches the heart. People get emotional and start returning to their childhood days.” He would sometimes feel upset over the trend of young boys and girls aiming to make it big through reality shows. “They do not understand the fact that it’s going to get them nowhere. True, they do get a platform but in such shows all they get to sing are film songs. Such occasions are few when they sing classical songs or ghazals. Frankly, if they present their own composition that will be much better for them to establish themselves but to sing film songs is not any sort of talent,” he would complain.
He believed in being patient and thought ragas were sacrosanct to ghazal singing. He would say, “If you have that virtue, half your battle to learn is won. Besides, one must learn singing for 10-15 years. Ragas are crucial and must be practiced with heart and soul. Today, artistes are more interested in fusion music. They want to get popular overnight but that’s not entirely their mistake as they are under the influence of a fast-paced society. I don’t want to sound old-fashioned but some basic principles must be followed at all costs.”
His concerts were a delight, especially when he broke into pleasant Punjabi numbers like Saun da mahina. His heavy voice used to turn joyful, leaving his listeners smiling ear to ear. He had also collaborated with former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in two albums, Nayi Disha (1999) and Samvedna (2002). In his later years, Singh became disinterested in Bollywood music due to the money mindedness of film producers. But he remained connected to causes relating to the music industry. He was one of the frontrunners battling to get an equal percentage of royalty for singers and lyricist from songs. “My singing is not limited to ghazals alone and I consider myself a singer first. I can sing anything you would want me to. I am lucky that people like my ghazals and have loved the bhajans too.”