With the untimely demise of son Vivek and later daughter Monica, and the passing away of her soulmate Jagjit Singh, her inability to sing once again has left a tragic void in veteran Chitra Singh’s life…
“Kisi ke vaaste rahe kahan badalti hai
Tum apne aapko khud hi badal sako toh chalo
Safar mein dhoop toh hogi
Jo chal sako toh chalo…”
Veteran Chitra Singh’s rendition of Nida Fazli’s verse, which also happens to be one of her most-loved ghazal, very much echoes her own life.
From the deafening applause of rapturous audiences to the gnawing silence left behind by the accidental death of son Vivek Singh, later daughter Monica Dutta’s suicide and husband Jagjit Singh’s passing away in quick succession… she has endured it all with stoic strength.
Once the world was her stage. Her high-pitched timbre matched his heavy bass voice. Her quiet restraint equipoised his energy. She was the yin to his yang. Singer Jagjit Singh was surely a legend. But without his better (or verse) half, Chitra Singh, his music would not have achieved a cult status.
The couple reclaimed the ghazal from hallowed havelis and elite mehfils and brought it to the homes of commoners between the 70s–80s. Blending classical Urdu poetry with contemporary music, they gave the ghazal a global spin. Raag and rhythm, meaning and melody, their renditions had cross-audience appeal.
But after Vivek’s demise, while Chitra lost momentum, Jagjit kept pace… The heartache was the same, the rejoinders different.
“Since Baboo (Vivek) went, there was this thing between my daughter (Monica Dutta), Jagjitji and me that who would be meeting him first. Both of them beat me to it!” said Chitra Singh in an interview adding, “Everything in life is momentary… some you enjoy, some you endure."
Bengali singer Chitra Shome married Debo Prasad Dutta, an executive in a leading advertising agency in the mid-50s. They had a daughter, Monica, in 1959.
Chitra met Jagjit Singh, a struggler then, in 1967 at the recording of a compilation album. While she initially dismissed him as ‘lazy slob’, his singing left her mesmerised as it had ‘no karigiri, no acrobatics’.
“Through your ears it reached your heart,” she said. She feared she wouldn’t be able to match his heavy base. Gradually, she began singing in his style and regarded Jagjit as her ‘guru’.
Chitra was also moved by his ‘caring’ personality. The two got married in 1969 (reportedly she separated from Debu Datta in 1968). They had a son, Vivek.
Their first album, The Unforgettables (1978), became a cult album with Raat bhi neend bhi and Baat nikalegi being chart-toppers. A string of albums including Main Aur Meri Tanhai, The Latest, Ecstasies, Echoes and Beyond Time (became the first digitally recorded album by an Indian artiste) made them a star couple.
Their duets like Uss mod se shuru kare phir yeh zindagi, Duniya jise kehte hain, Ishq mein gairate jazbaat ne, Safar mein dhoop toh hogi, Uski hasrat hai, Ahista ahista, Hum toh hai pardes mein, Kaun kehta hai, Babul mora… brought the couple immense fame.
Their concerts abroad were sell-outs. Impromptu and engaging, the singers gave NRI audiences a whiff of the homeland.
In 1982, their ghazals for films Arth and Saath Saath lent the necessary gravitas to the offbeat films. In fact, the combo album of Arth and Saath Saath was the highest-selling cassette that year.
THE FIRST TRAGEDY
It was a usual July evening. Jagjit was watching a film on video with wife Chitra, when news of their son’s accident tore their world apart. Reportedly, Vivek’s car rammed into a BEST truck, which was repairing streetlights late at night on July 27, 1990. Shocked by the inconceivable trauma, Chitra lost her voice and withdrew into a shell
“My world came crashing down (after Vivek's demise). I reduced to 43 kilos and looked like a ghost. I couldn’t face people — mera gala apne aap bandh ho gaya. It stayed like that for nearly 14 years,” Chitra recalled in a rare interview.
Heartbroken Chitra sought solace in spirituality and practised Bowen healing. The aggrieved parents paid a tribute to their late son Vivek in the album Someone, Somewhere, which was recorded before the mishap. Starting with a Shabd – Gurubani, it marked Jagjit’s journey into spiritual music.
Gradually, Jagjit immersed himself in music but memories of his son pervaded his life and art. “My son is my stage partner,” he’d often say. At a musical night organised by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Jagjit reportedly said, “Rajiv Gandhi and my son shared the same birthday. Both died a violent death.” When he sang the ghazal Dard se mera daaman bhar de, many in the audience were left teary-eyed.
Chitra did try to return to singing but the emotional ordeal had dented her confidence as well. “One morning, while I was looking at Vivek’s photograph, I felt I was dishonouring my gift. Vivek was so proud of our singing. To honour his memory, I wanted to sing again.”
But, like an instrument not used for years’, Chitra’s voice had lost its edge. “It’s the biggest tragedy that I cannot sing. One day I’m doing well, the other day I’m back to square one. If I cannot match my calibre, I’ll let myself down,” she shared her reservations.
The turbulent times apparently put their relationship under strain. There were rumours of trouble in their marriage. “People tried to break our marriage. Many singers were jealous. But I wanted to be with him. I didn’t give up,” said Chitra, who stood steadfast with Jagjit.
Around two decades later, Chitra’s world was upturned once again when her daughter from her first marriage, ex-model Monica Dutta, committed suicide on May 29, 2009. She was 50. Monica married cinematographer Jehangir Choudhary in 1988. The couple had two sons, Armaan and Umair.
In 2005, she divorced him and married British national, Mark Houghton Roger Atkins, managing director of a firm in Mumbai. In 2007, she had filed a case of harassment against Atkins. A non-bailable was issued warrant against Atkins in 2008, who had already left the country.
Jagjit was touring America when Monica passed away. Devastated by the news, he cancelled all his performances and returned home. “Papa (Chitra’s endearment for Jagjit) was shaken after Monica’s death. She was like a daughter,” shared Chitra.
“My daughter was so beautiful and strong. But ultimately, she lost. She couldn’t cope any more. She had a rough life,” confided Chitra. “I was talking to her till 3 am. I must have been insensitive not to have sensed that she’d do such thing. What kind of a mother am I? I should have given her more support…. I blame myself for that,” shared a wrecked Chitra.
She kept up a brave front for the sake of her grandsons, Umair and Armaan, who still had to find their moorings.
DEATH OF A SOULMATE
Two years later, in 2011, a series of 70 musical events were planned worldwide to celebrate Jagjit’s 70th birthday. One such was a show with Ghulam Ali in Mumbai. Just prior to that, Jagjit, on 23 September 2011, suffered brain haemorrhage. He passed away on 10 October.
“When I lost Baboo (Vivek) the question ‘why me’ would bother me. But spirituality changes your thinking. There has to be a reason for all this,” she said at the passing away of Jagjit.
Any other woman in my place would have crumbled or become bed-ridden. But I don’t have the luxury of indulging in myself,” she reflected on the tragedies in her life. “I am not scared of death. I welcome it this moment. But there are responsibilities, too many loose ends to tie. I’m a fighter,” Chitra was quoted saying.
It was great news for her fans in 2017, when after 27 years of staying away from music, Chitra was slated to sing at the venerated Sankatmochan Sangeet Samaroh on the premises of the Sankatmochan temple in Kashi. But an emotional Chitra broke down on stage and lamented her inability to perform…
That chapter of her life had been silenced forever.
But for her fans, her ghazals remains a cherished treasure. From gramophone records, cassettes and CDs to digital music platforms… they have a life beyond time.