On his 77th birth anniversary, we remember the singer who gave ghazals a new identity with his soulful yet simple renditions.
It has been about three decades since Sudarshan Faakir wrote the hauntingly beautiful lyrics that begin with Woh Kaagaz Ki Kashti… The lines, about wanting to relive childhood, attained immortality on their own. But when Jagjit Singh sang them for the Mahesh Bhatt film Aaj, he brought out the poignancy of the song in a way that transported listeners to another world. Such was the magic of the ghazal maestro’s voice.
“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” poet P.B. Shelley had rightly observed. And when it comes to expressing sad thoughts through sweet songs, Jagjit was in a league of his own.
Rewind to his iconic songs from another Mahesh Bhatt film Arth – ‘Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar’ and ‘Tum Jo Itna Muskra Rahe Ho’ – and their timeless ode to the feeling of love. And who can forget ‘Hosh Walon Ko Kya Khabar Kya’ and ‘Hothon Se Chhu Lo Tum‘? The longing, the pain of separation, unrequited love, silent admiration… these ghazals are about all these. And Jagjit expressed all that and more in a silken voice that captivated the listener in no time. Little wonder then, that he became arguably the most popular ghazal singer of all time.
Though the legend breathed his last at Lilavati Hospital on October 10, 2011, his soulful voice continues to resonate for ghazal aficionados around the world. Here are a few facts about the maestro’s life that not many know of.
1. His father wanted him to become an engineer or a bureaucrat.
Born Jagmohan Singh Dhiman in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar on February 8, 1941, to a Sikh family, Jagjit Singh was always interested in learning music and used to sing gurbani in gurudwaras from a young age. However, his father Sardar Amar Singh Dhiman, a government surveyor, wanted him to become an engineer or an IAS officer, and sent him to Jalandhar in 1959.
Jagjit took admission in DAV College, for graduation, but in his hostel room, there were more musical instruments than books. Soon, his interest in a professional career in music developed and he decided to undergo training in classical music by Pandit Chhaganlal Sharma and Ustad Jamal Khan of the Senia Gharaana. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. He began his professional career by singing for All India Radio’s Jalandhar station.
Jagjit Singh’s first recording was at the Jalandhar All India Radio station 52 years ago. He used to do live concerts for AIR Jalandhar six times a year. Later, he shifted to Mumbai (then-Bombay) to pursue his career as a singer. He initially survived by doing odd jobs, which included acting as an extra, before making a living by composing ad jingles and performing at weddings.
Sharing a small room with four others in Worli, Jagjit used to go up to Dadar for his meals, where the restaurant owner gave him meals for free. Gradually, he made a name for himself in the world of advertising jingles and started getting work as a playback singer.
3. He met his wife while singing an ad jingle in a studio.
Times changed, and in 1965, Jagjit came out with his first album. Two years later, he met Chitra Singh in a studio. Singh, born Chitra Shome to a Bengali family, had had no formal training. When she met Jagjit Singh in 1967, she refused to sing an advertising jingle with him. She recalled in a Filmfare interview, “I told the music director that his voice was heavy and that I wouldn’t be able to sing with him.” She took the microphone reluctantly.
However, the duo clicked, in the studio and outside it. Chitra began singing with Jagjit and the duo were termed the “ghazal couple”. Their voices complemented each other’s beautifully – his deep bass gurgled like a river, while hers danced like an ethereal mist over it. In 1969, the two married.
4. In 1976, the talented couple released the legendary album, The Unforgettables.
Back in the early 1970s, Jagjit, who wanted to become a playback singer in Bollywood, was nowhere in the race against the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Manna De. Then came The Unforgettables in 1976, the couple’s first album of ghazals that became the highest-selling album at a time when there was no market for non-film albums. Using chorus and electronic instruments, the path-breaking album firmly planted the duo on the music map.
The Unforgettables is also notable for one exceptional ghazal, Raat Bhi Neend Bhi, based on a Firaq Gorakhpuri poem. Chitra did not like the initial composition. Jagjit changed the tune and it became one of her most recognised solos in an album over which her husband towers with Baat Niklegi Toh Phir Door Talak Jayegi and Sarakti Jaaye Hai Rukh Se.
5. When tragedy struck the singer and his wife in 1990.
In 1990, Jagjit and Chitra’s son Vivek died in a car crash, leaving the couple devastated. Jagjit went silent for six months only to emerge stronger but his wife, Chitra, found herself unable to sing and became a near recluse after the tragedy. In fact, some of Singh’s finest works came after that tragedy as the pain seemed to have an enriching effect on his art.
These included ‘Sajda’ with Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Someone Somewhere, Hope’, ‘Kahkashan‘ with Ali Sardar Jaffri, Silsilay with Javed Akhtar, ‘Marasim’ with Gulzar and ‘Samvedna’ (featuring former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s poems).
6. A cycling enthusiast, he also liked betting on horse racing and stock markets.
Mornings began with a walk in the Mahalakshmi Race Course culminating in a cup of tea with friends in the lawn of Gallops restaurant. He enjoyed cycling and would say it took him back to his youth. Known among friends for his wit, the maestro used to come up with original Punjabi phrases that had others in splits while he himself would remain poker-faced.
He was also a friend and guide to many budding singers and lesser-known poets who came into the limelight because he sang their verses. He had a long association with the poet late Sudarshan Faakir of the ‘Woh kagaz ki kishti’ fame whom he had met during his Jalandhar days. In 1987, having heard a singer at a bar, Jagjit took him to meet Kalyanji Anandji who gave the young Kedarnath Bhattacharya a chance to sing in ‘Aandhiyan’ (1990). His name was changed to Kumar Sanu.
7. His curious connection with poet-lyricist Nida Fazli
“Duniya jise kehte hain, jadoo ka khilona hai; Mil jaye to mitti hai, kho jaye to sona hai.”
These poignant words written by Nida Fazli and sung by Jagjit Singh bear testimony to the greatness of these two legendary artistes — both joined in fate with the date February 8. On this date, in 1941, Jagmohan Singh was born in the Bikaner state of Rajputana in British India; 75 years later, on February 8, 2016, his genius colleague and the man whose words Singh often sung passed away.
An irony that may be seen as a symbol of the circle of life, or maybe an indicator of how these two artistes were connected, Fazli (Muqtida Hasan) was born on October 12, 1938, and Singh died on October 10, 2011, after battling years of cancer. During their careers, both Singh and Fazli touched hearts of thousands in their own way — often together.
8. His unique collaboration with Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Yash Chopra and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Jagjit Singh is the only composer and singer to have composed and recorded songs written by former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee (also a poet) in two albums, Nayi Disha (1999) and Samvedna (2002). It was for a song from Samvedna, ‘Kya Khoya Kya Paya,‘ that he joined hands with Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Yash Chopra. It was written by Vajpayee, sung by Singh, the video was directed by Chopra, performed by Khan and narrated by Bachchan.
The man who took ghazals to the masses, Jagjit Singh touched unprecedented heights and a number of his songs are considered classics. He is also the first Indian musician to record a purely digital CD album, titled ‘Beyond Time’ (1987).
“Hothon Se Choolo Tum, Mera Geet Amar Kar Do” was the legendary singer’s favourite ghazal, and his geet (song) will truly remain amar (immortal) everywhere. In February 2014, Government of India released a postal stamp in his honour to commemorate his immense contribution to the world of music.