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Monday, October 10, 2011

...In Memory Of Jagjit Singh

Jagjit Singh passed away earlier today. I had known of his unfortunate stroke from the news and was hoping against hope for a recovery but it was not to be. This time, it did not take the news days to filter through to me in my remote location. It was my father who texted me, 'Sad news, Jagjit Singh has passed away'. Which I thought was rather apt, considering it was my father who had first introduced me to the man whose music would play such an important role in what were the formative years of my life.

A lot of who I am today, what I watch/read/listen to/like goes back to the long drives in the family car and especially the car stereo. Faiz and Iqbal Bano, Nasir Kazmi and Noorjehan, Faraz and Fareeda Khanum, Rafi and Lata, Nusrat and Pathanay khan, all were first introduced to me on one roadtrip or another, always with me straining my ears to catch the music and then piping up from the backseat, 'Abbu, please volume ooncha kar dain.'

For as long as I can remember, we have always, ALWAYS had a Jagjit Singh tape in the car. I think we still have one of his earliest tapes somewhere in the house, the one with the desert backdrop and a smiling photo. That was the first tape I know that remained on constant rotation in the tape deck, and for good reason. The ghazals were good, the arrangements were good and the voices of Jagjit and Chitra singh were perfectly complimentary. I still remember one of my favorite ghazals which went ...

Uss morr se shuru karain phir ab yeh zindagi
Har shae jahan haseen thi, hum tum the ajnabi

...and another of his very famous ghazals,

Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho
Kya ghum hai jis ko chupa rahi ho

I instantly fell in love with those ghazals. There was something in Jagjit's style that waas immensely appealing to me at an early age. Or perhaps it was his style, with the smooth, light baritone voice, the unhurried, unencumbered adayegi, the simple and melodious arrangements and the choice of ghazals - ghazals in small to medium 'beher' with a natural 'naghmagi' - that were so universally appealing that they even caught the ears of a small child like me. We listened to those tapes over and over and as was my habit, I memorized them all and began belting them out to whoever would listen, which reminds me of a rather embarrassing incident from my childhood.

Apart from the usual music tapes that were scattered about our house, there was one rather odd specimen. When I was very little, around 5 or 6, I had a tooth extracted and as a reward, my parents bought me a tape with dramatized readings of two children's stories. 'Cassette Kahani' it was called, with 'Bahadur Raju' on Side A and 'Jinnon ki Basti' on Side B. Me and my kid brother would listen to them non-stop, memorizing the dialogues, mimicking the sound effects and laughing our heads off at the silliness of it all, riffing on them in a childhood version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. One day we decided to immortalize these adlibbed riffs on a tape of our own. We found one, didn't bother rewinding or forwarding it to see if it was blank or not, and started off. We'd start with a story, stop after 5 minutes when we were both tired from all the laughing, then I'd sing a Jagjit Singh ghazal and we'd start again. After we'd recorded 40 minutes of this, we flipped the cassette over and it was then that we discovered that it was a Jagjit-Chitra tape we'd been recording over, and one of mum and dad's favorites. Scared and embarrassed, we immediately hid it in the tape cabinet and bolted. Some weeks later while on one of our innumerable roadtrips, Jagit was playing on the stereo as usual and us kids were snoozing in the backseat when suddenly, the car was rocked by sounds of the loudest, shriekiest laughter ever heard. Me and my brother woke up, bolt upright as we realized that our magnum opus had somehow found it's way into the car stereo. Our parents were initially too stunned to realize that their favorite tape had been desecrated beyond repair, but they soon got over it, pulled the car over and proceeded to give me and my brother one of the Gawdalmightiest tonguelashings we've ever recieved, the gist of which was "You never mess with a Jagjit Singh tape, NEVER!!"

By the time I'd gotten a few years older, we got Jagjit and Chitra's famous 'Ghalib' album - the one they'd done to soundtrack Gulzar's landmark TV series about the famous poet. To say that that album was a watershed is an understatement. Jagjit and Chitra Singh made Ghalib - arguably the most important Urdu poet of all time - at once accessible, enjoyable and eminently understandable. The kalam was rendered with modern sensibilities, melodiously, with perfect talaffuz and complete 'ehteraam' in a manner that made it universally appealing. We used to listen to it constantly, discuss the meanings of various verses, comparing and contrasting with other poets and in the process being introduced to one of the wellsprings of Urdu literature. It was a service to the Urdu speaking world that will long be remembered and appreciated. Sometime later another favorite of mine, Jagjit Singh's collaboration with Gulzar, 'Marasim' came out. Again, the kalam was perfectly complimented with the arrangements and the singing. Ghazals like 'Shaam se aankh main nami si hai' (which Gulzar poignantly quoted as his Facebook status this morning) and 'Woh khat ke purzay uraa raha tha' were instant classics.

Apart from his impressive artistic credentials, Jagjit Singh was also important as an ambassador of the Urdu language an especially the ghazal. He spread the magic of the ghazal far and wide and kept the tradition of ghazal-gayeki alive in India, appealing to both the mainstream listening public and the more finicky conoisseurs. A worthy successor of the genration that included Mehdi Hassan, Talat Mehmood and Barkat Ali Khan, Jagjit with his contemporary Ghulam Ali was the leading light of Ghazal-gayeki in the late 20th and early 21st century. To me personally he was a gateway to the exploration and enjoyment of Urdu poetry, a melodious guide to the nuances of Ghalib, a fond childhood memory that formed the basis of who I am today and a constant reminder of the immense power of art to mould and enrich lives.

While writing this in his memory (it's sad how I've had to document the passings of two of my favorite personalities in a month) I thought it'd be a good idea to listen to some of Jagjit saheb's ghazals, so I cued up the playlist on iTunes and started listening as I wrote. But it didn't turn out to be such a good idea because one minute into his rendition of 'Baat Nikle Gi To Phir Duur Talak Jayegi' I had to stop writing and unsuccessfully fight back tears. It was then that the comprehension of this loss sank in and I realized the important place Jagjit Singh's music held in my life. The man who introduced me to ghazal,Ghalib and Gulzar is no more. In his memory I will carry on what I now realize is an important tradition, there will always be a Jagjit Singh tape near me, in my car, in my iPod or on my PC.

When I can actually feel strong enough to listen to it without tearing up is a whole different story.....


  1. Musab,
    so true... a HUGE impact on my music appreciation. what a sad day. great recollection. thanks.

  2. Best Jagjit Singh Ghazal Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho watch here

  3. Great piece! Jagjit/Chitra were not a part of my musical memory in the same way but it has been very interesting to read after Jagjit's death how many people they influenced by being a gateway to ghazals and Urdu. I loved his filmi ghazals and the soothing baritone as much as anyone but I have always had a hard time thinking of him in the same breath as Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum or Iqbal Bano. Having said all that it is a big loss to the world of ghazal singing.