A true to heart Punjabi. A small town man. The perfect classical voice that lifted ghazals into every Indian household. Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans remembers
I WAS 18 years old and a nobody when I first met Jagjit Singh. I had travelled to Mumbai with my guru, Ustad Puran Shah Koti, and he invited us to his house on Vaisakhi night. The Wadali Brothers and his close friend and music composer Kuldeep Singh were also present that evening. What is etched in my mind from that evening is the closeness that he shared with his son Vivek. The tragedy of his son’s death a few years later would change his life forever.
Honest and forthright, Jagjit Singh had a truly Punjabi heart. He was that rare person who would never hide what he felt. He was always there to help junior artistes, many of whom would just land up at his door.
Though he trained as a classical vocalist, he started singing ghazals early in his career, and his one abiding regret was that he could not concentrate as much on khayal gayaki. He would always say that he needed more time to invest in it. He was the most diligent singer I have known. He would wake up in the morning and do riyaaz for two to three hours daily, and before and after a performance.
Music was his life. He sang till the very end. I am sure, if he had gained consciousness after his heart attack, his willpower would have pulled him through.
Very few people are blessed with the kharaj (bass) he had in his voice. He had so much depth in his voice, as if the voices of 50 people were in one man. There may be many singers, but there are very few mahaansingers. He took ghazal to every household in India. He popularised a form that was earlier only appreciated by a niche, and that is an immeasurable contribution.
Not even his critics can contest the dard in his voice, which only grew with every loss. The one song that encapsulates the pain he felt when he lost his son is Mitti Da Baba, a song in which he wrote about a woman whose husband is away and she has no child. She makes a statue of a child with mitti and tends to him. Her real tragedy is that she is all alone. Each time he sang this song, the audience would cry with him.
We were both from Jalandhar and I remember that when I joined DAV College, he was the superstar alumni who had moved to Mumbai and made a big name for himself. My professor asked me to emulate him. Jalandhar was always very close to his heart and whenever we met he would talk about the city, his friends, and the food there. He had always been a big foodie and loved cooking for his friends. In Mumbai, he would make adrak ki chai for all his friends whom he met on his daily morning walk in the park.
I would compare him with Ustad Amir Khan or Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, as he had the perfect classical voice. There have been comparisons with other ghazal singers and how his music was simple when compared with a Mehdi Hassan or Ghulam Ali, but those comparisons are unnecessary. His songs may have been simple, but what he had was the perfect sur. I am reminded of Lata Mangeshkar — her rendering was never complex, but it was the perfect sur, and that was what he was blessed with.
When he sang he would close his eyes, almost as if he went into meditation, and not care about the audience’s reaction. He was a singer and not a performer. His voice will live on forever. Sur ka naam Jagjit Singh hai.
As told to Sunaina Kumar