Remembering Jagjit Singh - the king of ghazals

Gayatri Sankar

Ghazals are synonymous to Jagjit Singh. He is undeniably the only one who gave this genre of music a new lease of life. An ordinary middle class family could never imagine an evening sitting over a cup of tea listening to ghazals. Jagjit made ghazals reach the Indian middle class drawing rooms as this genre of music was typically meant for the elite.

His soulful voice could mend broken bridges and his singing could do wonders to the depressed hearts. Jagjit Singh, the Baadshah of ghazals, is no more but he will continue to live on in the hearts of millions across the globe whom he has enthralled with his silken voice.

Born on February 8, 1941 in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, Jagjit Singh went on to become a national treasure. Born as Jagmohan and raised as a Sikh by religion, the maestro was rechristened Jagjit by his father on the advice of their family guru.

A young man then, Jagjit moved to Mumbai in search of work in 1965. It was neither easy nor difficult for Jagjit to find work in the industry. He started his career in Mumbai by singing for jingles and performing at private events.

Jagjit’s mesmerizing voice could touch the souls of music lovers and that helped him align his name with stalwarts of Ghazals that included Noor Jehan, Malika Pukhraj, Begum Akhtar, Talat Mahmood and Mehdi Hassan.

The legendary musician was so naturally gifted that he could compose songs with ease and élan. He would just sit with his harmonium along with poet Kaifi Azmi, carefully listen to him as he would recite his nazms and then spontaneously weave them with melody.

At a time when Hindi cinema was evolving as an industry and experimentations formed the crux, Jagjit Singh’s rendition to play back singing came as a breath of fresh air. Hindi film music was changing with Jagjit’s arrival and he proved that even ghazals could appeal to the masses.

Moreover, at a time when already famous playback singers Mukesh, Mohd.Rafi and Kishore Kumar had touched a huge fan base, Jagjit conveniently managed to create a niche for himself. He represented parallel Hindi cinema music so to say.

Jagjit Singh along with his wife Chitra delivered a number of hits that are matchless in composition and melody. In a career spanning over 5 decades, the man with the golden voice sung in various languages that included Sindhi, Nepali, Punjabi, Urdu and Gujarati.

His close friends recall him as someone who never let success go to his head. He was someone who was ever ready to lend a helping hand and stood by them as a pillar in times of distress. He was indeed a gem of a person.

Though the king of ghazals seemed to be a cheerful and a happy-go-lucky person, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle knew that he was depressed from within. He never shared his grief with anyone and kept them within his heart. He lost his only son Vivek in road accident in 1990 and that left an indelible impact on him. His wife Chitra gave up singing and the couple was left shattered completely.

What added to his trauma was that Chitra’s daughter Monica (from her first marriage) had committed suicide. Jagjit’s family was reduced from four to two.

His well wishers are of the opinion that his illness was a result of the depression that kept growing inside him. He was diabetic and also suffered high-blood pressure. For someone who was seen as a man with a great sense of humour, sadness prevailed inside his heart. He probably felt he owned people’s sorrow but never wanted to depress anyone.

Jagjit Singh’s life cannot be summarized for he is like an ocean and his works are like those infinite pearls that are seeded in the ocean bed.

His ghazals are exceptional pieces of music that can never be duplicated. He was a gem and his death is the end of an era.

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