The 10th of October 2011 was a forgettable day for Indian music in general and for Ghazal music in particular as it was on that day that the 'Unforgettable' and one of the greatest exponents of modern Indian ghazal, Jagjit Singh ,choose to make an exit from this world. A lot has appeared since then in the print media and on the visual media about Jagjit Singh's attributes as a singer, his background, his early days of struggle and set backs in life, his remarkable successes and his contributions to the world of ghazals.
To me, his greatest contribution was the way he brought Indian ghazal, from the unreachable height it was held in the realm of experts and stalwarts like Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Begum Akthar and so on, down to the hearts of ordinary music lovers not only by his soulful singing of traditional lyrics but also through his own compositions. For many, during the 60s and early 70s, ghazals meant filmy ghazals especially the wonderful songs rendered by Talat Mahmood in his silken trembling voice which were a treat to the ears. Songs of Rafi in light ghazal style were also there. But it was with the advent of Jagjit Singh with his silken, deep, pathos filled voice, clarity of words and beautiful expression of the subtleties that the modern Indian ghazal that could capture popular acceptance was born. While his vocal rendering towed the traditional line what made him different and attractive to music lovers was the way he used modern and even Western music in the background . Thus his ghazals supported by his beautiful romance filled voice could easily gel with the young generation. A comparable event was that in Malayalam music with the arrival of Jesudas with his classical Carnatic 'katcheris' in his inimitable style and sweet melodious voice.It was Jesudas who made Carnatic music popular in Kerala and audience thronged at his 'katcheris' just as they did at his light music programs. Classical compositions did get the benefit of melody and sweetness of voice, thanks to Jesudas just as Hindustani ghazals were embellished by the sweet voice and melodious singing of Jagjit. Later when Jesudas started his own recording studio, Tharangini at Thiruvananthapuram, several classical music albums were released by them covering his live programs making more listeners 'classical friendly'.
Yes, it was mainly Jagjit Singh followed by the likes of Pankaj Udhas, Peenaz Masani, Chandan Das, Hariharan,Talat Aziz, the husband-wife duos of Bhupinder Singh- Mitale and Roop Kumar Rathod - Sonali and so on who gave ghazal the popularity and acceptance it richly deserved. After the initial failure to get himself established in Hindi film music he returned after his marriage with singer Chitra to Bombay to be busy there. His first LP Album of ghazals THE UNFORGETTABLES with wife Chitra released by Gramophone Company of India in 1976 was an outstanding success and it continues to be a 'must possess' LP album for gramophone record collectors. All the ghazals in it were hits and the one 'Baat niklegi to phir door talak jayegi' in Jagjit's voice continues to be soul stirring. There was no looking back for Jagit singh and several LP albums came out including ' A MILESTONE Jagjit Singh- Chitra singh' with ten beautiful ghazals, including 'Pareshan raat sari hai sitaro tum so jao, all composed by Jagjit Singh himself.There is also an LP album covering the live concert of the singing duo at Wembley, London. The superhit song 'Kal chaudhvin ki raat thi' was one of the songs at the concert. Music India also had released a LP album, 'The Best of Jagjit & Chitra Singh', again a big hit.
In the early 80s Jagjit was very busy in Hindi films as a singer as well as a Music director. In film 'Saath Saath' with music by Kuldip Singh, there were two memorable ghazals by Jagjit,viz.,'Tum to dekha to yeh khayal aaya' and "Pyar mujhse jo kiya tumne to kya paayogi' both sweetness and melody oozing out. In film ARTH with music by Jagjit Singh there are two great songs, 'Jhuki jhuki si nazar' and 'Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho'. In both Jagjit was at his best.
When Jagjit was at the height of success, tragedy struck him when his only son, Vivek, lost his life in an accident. Even as wife Chitra did chose not to sing thereafter Jagjit found solace in ghazals and several albums continued to be released by him viz.,KHAMOSHI, SAHER, TUM TO HAHIN TO, AFSANA, SOZ, MARASIM, MIRAGE, AAEENA and so on. There is also one album TOGETHER with a few songs of himself and his friend and admirer Pankaj Udhas, himself an acclaimed singer of ghazals.
It is seldom that a reputed singer/music director sang and recorded songs of other singers/music directors.The greatness of Jagjit showed in his album CLOSE TO MY HEART in which he rendered ten very popular songs of Hindi films. In his accompanying commentary Jagjit revealed that he loved these songs from early years and that he held them very close to his heart. The selection included Talat Mahmoods's 'Seeneme sulagte hain' from film Tarana and 'Tasveer banata hoon'fron film Baradari, Hemant Kumar's 'Yeh nayan dare dare' from film Kohra, his duet with Lata, 'Yaad kiya dilne' from film Patita and the famous 'Jane woh kaise log tha' from film Pyasa, Kishor Kumar's 'Dukhi man mera' from film Fantoosh and so on. Some of those who loved only the original may find it difficult to accept them. But I found them highly engrossing in the rich soulful voice of Jagjit. He could not have rendered these songs so enchantingly had they not been really close to his heart. Again, Jagjit singing and recording Ghulam Ali's 'Chupke chupke' was a risky and brave attempt and the success he achieved in it was mainly due to his golden voice.
Though he had his share of success and limelight in Hindi films, he was unhappy with the trends and started concentrating in ghazals and stage programs which were highly successful. The album 'PARWAAS' released in 2003 covering his stage program in Singapore showed he had not lost his touch. Now, with his departure coupled with that of his son and stepdaughter, his wife Chitra has been left all alone.Jagjit and Chitra formed a formidable but a rare husband wife team of singers like that of Bhupinder-Mitale and Roop Kumar Rathod - Sonali. It is sad that one team is no more.
There are certain songs like,e.g., Mehdi Hasan's 'Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane keliye aa', Ghulam Ali's 'Baharon ko chaman', Rafi's 'Oh duniya ke rekhwale', Lata's 'Ayega aanewale' and 'Yeh mere watan ke logon' etc.where the singer could take the songs to a sublime level leaving listeners spell bound. I always thought that the song 'Hothon se choo lo tum, mera geet amar kar do' penned by Indivar and tuned and rendered by Jagjit for the film Prem Geet (1981)was such a masterpiece. Whenever I heard it on my gramophone I felt Jagjit was singing it in a zone, the singer and the song merging and attaining immortality.
Tail piece: Roger Federer, in his prime, with his talent, technique, speed, stamina, style and grace, had often lifted tennis to a supreme level obliterating the line between the player and play.