A person whom I have seen once, and heard umpteen times — that was Jagjit Singh to me. Maybe for millions of his fans. Today, he left this mundane world leaving behind a sea of ghazals and bhajans, as a token of his very existence.
A music lover knows what a ghazal means; it is the song of unrequited love, and pangs of separation. And no other ghazal singer was successful in romanticising this pain of love and separation as Jagjit Singh did. His melancholy-filled, soul searching voice was able to invade any hard-hearted mind. A melting down of emotions that ends in deep agony and tears. How many times haven’t we shed tears listening to his songs! Anyone who tasted love and its darker shades can never turn away from ghazals. And for that “dard” Jagjit Singh becomes a true companion.
But is he dead? With his innumerable songs, and act of kindness, which was revealed only after his death, how death could dare to snatch him away from us! It’s true his “deham” or body is gone not his “dehi” or the soul. If ghazals are so popular these days, no doubt, it is because of him. From a music genre, enriched by the classical Urdu language and intense emotions, ghazals were considered as music of the elite, though they got a wider audience in the Subcontinent, including India’s neighbour Pakistan.
But Jagjit Singh, the iconoclast, infused fresh life into ghazals. He simplified it for a common audience selecting ghazals ranging from Mirza Ghalib to Nida Fazli. Though he was criticised for making it filmy, his talent had never been under scrutiny. There was a time when ghazals were not popular in southern parts of India. South Indians were always ridiculed for their lack of knowledge in Hindi, though it was the official language of the nation. We were taught Hindi as second language in classes. Luckily, as my father was a lover of Hindi music and a fan of ghazals, we were introduced to Hindi music very early in life.
Looking back, I feel guilty for playing and destroying those gramophone records, without knowing their real value. Knowingly, unknowingly, the great ghazal singer made an impact on me. The reason was not musical, but purely personal, which I will share with you on this occasion. Those were the days when I enjoyed Hindi songs without knowing the meaning of the lyrics. But when a close friend gifted a collection of Jagjit Singh’s gem of ghazals, it was a new beginning, which ended in yours truly buying an Urdu-Malayalam dictionary.
Later, like a silent breeze, he changed the course of my career too. Challenged by colleagues, who considered girls in the fourth estate as “sillies” who could file only stories on fashion or flower or pet shows, a report on his concert gave me opportunities to develop my career.
Some people leave an everlasting memory even in a single meeting. Jagjit Singh was one among them. During his concert, he proved ghazals are just a game with “numbers.”
He will stay here, for sure, as long as music exists. His voice, so deep and soothing, will resonate in our ears as long as we live.