Earlier the pride of classical singers like Mehdi Hasan, Begum Akhtar and Angoori Bai and patronised by the erudite, the ghazal was brought into our drawing rooms through radio, LPs and televisions, thanks to Jagjit Singh in the ’70s.
Setting to tune the classical poetry of Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Daagh Dehlvi right upto the works of modern poets like Sudarshan Fakir, Nida Fazli, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, Jagjit Singh became a genre unto himself. Staying away from the clichés of wine and women, Jagjit along with wife Chitra Singh, sang about the complexities of loving, living and losing.
Presenting a few nuggets from the late Jagjit Singh’s life and times around his ninth death anniversary.
Jagjit Singh was born on February 8, 1941 as Jagmohan Singh Dhiman in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, to Sardar Amar Singh Dhiman and Sardarni Bachchan Kaur.
An arts graduate from the D.A.V. College, Jalandhar, music was his passion. Initially, he learned music from the visually-challenged, Pandit Chagan Lal Sharma. Later, he learnt from Ustad Jamal Khan of Maihar gharana, who trained him in khayal, dhrupad, thumri and other vocal traditions.
He began his career in 1961 by singing for All India Radio’s Jalandhar station. Mohammed Rafi was his icon and he enjoyed singing the legendary singer’s tracks.
Jagjit moved to Mumbai in 1965. He sang ad jingles and performed at film parties and home concerts to survive.
He lived in Worli in a room with four others. It’s said, he travelled to Dadar every day to partake of ‘free meals’ offered by a kind restaurant owner.
He was offered a hero’s role in the Gujarati film Bahuroop (1969). He declined it as he wanted to be a singer. However, he sang a Gujarati bhajan, Laagi Ram bhajan, for the film.
Jagjit met singer Chitra Dutta in 1967 to compile an album with various singers. Initially, she found his voice too ‘heavy’. But soon his ‘unique’ voice grew on her, so did his ‘caring’ nature. Chitra married Jagjit in December 1969 (she was earlier married to Debu Dutta).
Gradually, the couple pioneered the ghazal wave. Their album, The Unforgettables in 1976, created history. Raat bhi neend bhi, Baat nikalegi and Ahista ahista… the lucid ghazals enjoyed mass popularity. It became the highest-selling album at a time when there was no market for non-film albums. Blending raags, beats of the tabla and strains of the sitar with notes of the saxophone and the guitar, the album was nothing short of global fusion.
Through the 80s, albums like A Milestone, Main Aur Meri Tanhai, The Latest (the track Woh kaagaz ki kashti, written by Sudarshan Fakir featured in Mahesh Bhatt’s Aaj), The Gold Disc, Ae Mere Dil, Ecstasies, A Sound Affair and Echoes carried their fame across countries. In 1982, their concert at Royal Albert Hall was a sellout.
Jagjit was the first Indian musician to record a digital album titled Beyond Time (1987). Reportedly, a British fan in England insisted that the doctors play the album each time she went in for delivery.
Jagjit debuted in films with the ghazal Hothon se choo lo tum, filmed on Raj Babbar in Prem Geet (1981). Suiting the gravitas of arthouse cinema, Jagjit and Chitra’s vocals contributed to the romance vs reality starrer Saath Saath, starring Farooque Shaikh and Deepti Naval. Composed by Kuldeep Singh and written by Javed Akhtar, the tracks Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar, Pyaar mujh se jo kiya tumne, Yeh bata de mujhe zindagi and Tumko dekha toh yeh khayal aaya are retro classics.
Pain and poetry blended beautifully when Jagjit Singh sang for Mahesh Bhatt’s semi-autobiographical Arth. Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics got their due with Homi Mullan and Jagit-Chitra’s compositions. Chitra sang Tu nahi toh zindagi mein. While Tum itna jo muskura rahi, Jhuki jhuki si nazar and Koi yeh kaise bataaye, sung by Jagjit, dwelled on the vagaries of life. The music of Saath Saath and Arth, sold in a single cassette, was a bonanza.
Jagjit’s other popular film songs include the heart-breaking Chithi na koi sandesh from Dushman (1998), the poetic Hoshwalon ko khabar kya filmed on Aamir Khan and Sonali Bendre in Sarfarosh (1999), the plaintive Koi fariyaad from Tum Bin (2001), Tere khayal ki from his composed soundtrack for Leela (2002), the pensive Badi nazuk hai from Jogger’s Park (2003) and the philosophical Haath choote from Pinjar (2003).
Jagjit popularised the legendary 19th century poet, Mirza Ghalib, by composing and singing his ghazals in the eponymous serial in 1988, directed by Gulzar. Traditional ghazals like Dil hi to hai, Hazaaron khwahishein aisi, Aah ko chahiye ek umr and Yeh na thi hamari kismat, given the contemporary spin, are enjoying a rerun today.
On the personal side, their 20-year-old son, Vivek Singh, died in a tragic road accident in 1990. Since then, Chitra gave up singing and took refuge in spirituality and Bowen healing.
Jagjit and Chitra paid a tribute to Vivek in Someone, Somewhere, which was recorded before the mishap. Starting with a Shabd – Gurubani, it marked Jagjit’s new journey.
Then on Jagjit’s music turned philosophical. This includes Sajda with Lata Mangeshkar, Marasim (with Gulzar), In Search, Mirage (includes the popular Apni marzi ke kahan apne safar ke hum hai), Silsilay (with Javed Akhtar) and many devotional albums including Kabir bhajans.
Those close to him vouch that Jagjit didn’t lose his appreciation of life and sense of humour. A cycling enthusiast, he also enjoyed betting on horse racing and stock markets. His mornings began with a walk at the Mahalakshmi Race Course with breakfast at the adjacent restaurant. He also did charity, which he never spoke about.
Tragedy struck again when Chitra’s daughter from her first marriage, and ex-model Monica Dutta, 50, committed suicide on May 29, 2009.
In 2011, a series of 70 musical events were planned worldwide to celebrate Jagjit’s 70th year. One such was a show with Ghulam Ali in Mumbai. Just prior to that, Jagjit, on 23 September 2011 suffered a brain haemorrhage. He passed away on 10 October.
His last film track was Har aur tabahi ka manzar for the film Gandhi To Hitler (2011).
After his demise, wife Chitra released the album, The Voice Beyond (2013), which includes seven of Jagjit Singh’s unreleased compositions.