There is an old anecdote that my Father always tells me and my brother. “When you were little kids of 5 and 8 respectively (my brother is 3 years older than me) – people who would visit our house would often ask – who is listening to these ancient songs of Talat Mahmood?”. It turns out that both of us would find ourselves crooning to the music of yesteryear. Given the musical taste within our house, the taste stuck and took roots deep within me from an early age. Talat Mahmood, Mohd. Rafi and Ghulam Ali were always singing away on an old National Tape Recorder in our house and over-time I developed a strong fondness for the music and poetry (even though I did not understand any of it).
The year was 1994 and I had just moved into 8th grade in School. Jagjit Singh had just released his album “Insight”, which had Nida Fazli’s Poetry. One day I found the Cassette in my Father’s closet that contained extensive collection of Rafi, Talat, Kishore, Lata and Ghulam Ali. And then, Jagjit Singh was there. I remember listening to one specific Ghazal on that cassette: “Garaj Baras Pyasi Dharti Par Phir Paani De Maula..” To this day, it’s hard to say whether it was Nida’s poetry or the haunting melodies by Jagjit that called out to me.
For those who do not follow Urdu Poetry, I must say that Nida Fazli is one of the stalwarts of Urdu Poetry in India who has been writing since the 60s. You can easily see the pining of Mirabai, cry of a motherless child, devastation of a jilted lover and several other varied themes in his works. He has taken Urdu Poetry to a new level with his simple yet astonishing way of weaving thoughts together.
Garaj Baras..touched me in a very special way and that was the beginning of my unbroken love for Jagjit Singh’s music. When I moved to US in 1999, I would often myself copying a couplet from another Ghazal of the same album (Insight) on my college notes, “Badala na apne aap ko jo the wohi rahe, milte rahe sabhi se magar ajnabi rahe”. I believe the Ghazal spoke honestly and in a very direct manner to a 20 year old, away from home in an alien land and lost in a crowd of strangers.
‘Teri Khushboo Me Base Khat’ used to be on auto-repeat on my player, often playing up-to a 100 times a day during 2003-2005. It was the period when my life changed course and I ventured into the sea of Urdu Poetry. From Meer, Ghalib, Zauq, Daagh to the Progressive Writers’ era’s poets ranging from Jigar, Akhtar, Asghar, Majaaz, Sahir, I would be drowned in the rare collections for hours. Jagjit Singh always believed that a piece of poetry should speak to him personally before he could compose and sing it. Although, I do not believe in drawing parallels – there has been much talk of comparing the 3 legends of Ghazal singing in recent times; Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh.
Being familiar with writing and composition myself, I believe that Jagjit’s compositions were exquisite and really set him apart from his counterparts. His melodies have an unspoken ache that many say he developed after the untimely death of his son. His novel way of using both western instruments such as Guitar (6, 12 string), Saxophone, Violin along with Classical Indian instruments like Sitar, Sarangi, Tabla and Rubab (ancient instrument not originated in India) created magic in the hearts of listeners. His fusion of western, middle-eastern and classical Indian music and style of singing made him the King of Ghazals or “Ghazaljeet” as Gulzar sahab fondly calls him.
It is said that Jagjit’s compositions of Mirza Ghalib’s Ghazals, especially Dil hi to hai would have moved Mirza himself to tears. Jagjit Singh brought Ghazals of Ghalib to Awaam (the common public) and touched thousands of people and gave Mirza Ghalib’s works unparalleled fame that the poet could never have dreamed of. For a man who lived most of his adult life in a sea of debt, I wonder how Mirza would react. Perhaps he would ride down the dusty trails to Meerut cantonment with his mule and buy angrezi whiskey. Who really knows…
Like scores of other people, I silently mourn passing of Jagjit Singh. I feel that the genre of Ghazals has come to an abrupt standstill. While there are still many talented singers, there could never be another Ghazaljeet Singh. It’s only with my Guitar and humble attempt at singing could I pay tribute to the man and his immortal voice and melodies…
Here is my rendition of Jagjit Singh’s ghazal “Aah Ko Chahiye Ek Umr Asar Hone Tak” on my Guitar. Mirza Ghalib and Jagjit combo!