Updated: Jun 28
‘Ghazal ka saaz uthao badi udaas hai raat, Nawa-e-mir sunao badi udaas hai raat, Kahein na tumse to phir aur kis se ja ke kahein, siyaah zulf ke saayon badi udaas hai raat,’ thus wafts the silky and melancholic voice of the Ghazal maestro of our age, Late Jagjit Singh.
Listening to him is a sublime pleasure that transports the soul from the hustle bustle of the world towards peace and tranquility. Born in Sriganganagar in Rajasthan in the year 1941, Jagjit Singh was fond of music right from his childhood days. It is believed that he inherited the musical trait from his father, who, although a government employee, had an ear for music.
Jagjit learnt classical music under the tutelage of Pandit Chagan Lal Sharma and subsequently Ustaad Jamal Khan in his youth and also took part in locally organized musical events. Once, during a famous concert, he fondly reminisced how he collected a substantial sum of money generously donated by the audience, upon liking his very first musical performance at a local function. Jagjit’s father wanted him to join the Indian Administrative Service, but fate had other things in store for him which would bear out the truth hidden in his name making him the winner of the world.
After completing school, Jagjit got admitted in DAV College, Jalandhar and also continued his musical pursuit. There, he began his professional career in 1961 by undertaking singing and composing assignments at All India Radio's (AIR) Jalandhar station. Later, he joined Kurukshetra University in Haryana. He frequently took part in youth cultural festivals that were an intrinsic part of the University life and developed a fan following.
He had begun to excel in light and semi classical music which he had imbibed from his guru. Somewhere half way in University, Jagjit realized that his life’s calling was music and not the IAS. He decided to make a career in music, but understood that this idea would not be acceptable to his father. Therefore, in 1965, he finally took the plunge and decided to travel to Mumbai (then known as Bombay) that was the hub of the music industry, without informing his parents.
He landed in Mumbai with a meager amount in his pocket that had been given by a friend who had constantly egged him to go to Mumbai, recognizing his musical talent. Jagjit later admitted that it was the same friend, who constantly sent him money orders to enable him to sustain in Mumbai during his struggle.
Once in Mumbai, Jagjit started his struggle and was on the lookout for opportunities. But those were difficult times as most of the famous singers like Mukesh, Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar etc were very well entrenched in the Indian film music arena. To earn to survive, Jagjit took up ghazal singing in private parties and also lent his sonorous voice to commercial jingles. Gradually, he became a household name in the top echelons of the society in which such private musical gatherings were frequently organized. For him it was like killing two birds with a stone as singing in parties, apart from helping him earn, also provided sumptuous food on the house. It was during this time in 1967, that he came in contact with Chitra, another jingle singer, who was the wife of Debo Datta, who worked in an advertising agency.
Debo Datta had an eye for recognizing talent and he developed a liking for Jagjit’s voice. Jagjit often participated in’ mehfils’ arranged at the Datta household. Somewhere down the line, both Jagjit and Chitra fell in love and after her divorce from Debo Datta, Chitra decided to marry Jagjit in 1969. Thus, the duo Jagjit and Chitra proceeded on their musical voyage together.
The magical breakthrough in the lives of this musical couple came in 1976 with the launch of their debut LP album, ‘The Unforgettables” which became a rage with Ghazal lovers and its introductory nazm, “Baat niklegi to phir” is still the favourite of love smitten couples even after 44 years of its release. The successful release of this album not only provided a well deserved recognition to Jagjit and Chitra, but also proved to be a boon of rejuvenation of the Ghazal genre itself.
The genre of ghazal (a form of poetry) that had lost its popularity over the years, once again started rising on the charts of popular music. The selection of lucid poetry and an array of diverse musical instruments became the hall mark of Jagjit and Chitra’s music and it were these traits that brought them closer to the music lovers, who could easily relate to the lyrics and music of their ghazals.
Ghazals like “Ahista Ahista”, “Kal chaudwin ki raat thi” and “Kagaz ki kashti” became sensations overnight and helped the singer duo to quickly develop a dedicated fan following of millions. To top it all, their professional success was also complimented by joy in their personal life, with the couple being blessed by a son who was named Vivek and was fondly addressed as "Baboo".
The path breaking album “The Unforgettables” was followed by many more melodious albums in the 1980s like “Come Alive”, “Live in Royal Albert Hall”, “Live at Wembly”, “Echoes”, “Ecstacies”, “A Milestone”, “The Latest”, “A Sound Affair”, “Passions”, “Desires” and “Beyond Time” that was India’s first music album digitally recorded in a studio in the UK. Simultaneously, Jagjit also composed the music for several legendary television serials like “Mirza Ghalib”, “Kahkashan”, “Kirdar” and “Neem Ka Ped” to which the couple also lent their voices.
The use of the medium of television greatly helped in increasing their popularity and the couple became a household name. The singer duo also gained international fame during the decade, as they regaled a diverse audience worldwide, during the course of their musical tours abroad. The bourgeoning popularity of Jagjit and Chitra also afforded them some opportunities of playback singing in films like “Arth”, “Saath Saath”, “Aashiyana” and “Prem Geet” to name a few.
Such was the magic of their soulful music that their film songs were also greatly appreciated and some of them are still very popular and iconic. Very few know that Jagjit also has to his credit, the introduction of many singers like Talat Aziz, Ghanshyam Vaswani, Kumar Sanu to name a few.
With their talents being adequately recognized and rewarded, and the couple in the midst of enjoying family bliss, life was a wonderful journey of dreams until it came to a screeching sudden halt in 1990. Destiny wrecked the cruelest havoc in the lives of the musical couple in the form of the accidental death of their only son Vivek, who was just 20 years old. This unfortunate event profoundly impacted their personal as well as professional lives, so much so that the couple, who always enthralled the audience together as a harmonious duo, was reduced to a solo, as Chitra Singh renounced singing altogether in the aftermath of this heartbreaking tragedy.
For days, she was in a trance, trying to come to terms with the reality with the aid of catharsis, but with not much success. The last album of the duo together, “Someone Somewhere” that was recorded prior to Vivek’s death, and released in 1990, sold like hot cakes, as their fans sought to empathize with the couple’s circumstances. Jagjit too, was emotionally drained and shattered, in coming to terms with the reality of the fragility of life, but he took recourse to the spiritual side of music, to rejuvenate and overcome his grief.
To further strengthen his bruised soul, he began applying to it, the balm of soulful religious music by singing Bhajans. His notable Bhajan albums like “He Ram”, “Krishna” and “Maa” achieved record sales giving the public a glimpse of his musical versatility.
During the years that followed Baboo’s demise, Jagjit, after a brief hiatus, launched a series of popular albums like “In search”, “In sight”, “Visions”, “Sajda”, “Soz”. “Muntazir”, “Forget me not”, “Marasim”, “Saher”, “Lifestory”, “Koi Baat Chale” etc. These albums achieved record sales as their ghazals became widely popular due to the novel concept of music videos that were advertised. Also, it was in these albums that Jagjit experimented freely with a wide variety of musical instruments like drums, guitars and saxophone that were probably hitherto rarely used in Ghazals.
During the following 2 decades, Jagjit, along with his musical entourage, undertook numerous musical tours, both domestic and international. He was an extrovert and loved to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. All those who have attended his concerts would vouch for the rapport and connect that Jagjit enjoyed with his audience
“Jagjit ji would make each one in the audience feel as if he was performing for him or her. There was a sort of telepathic connection between him and each individual sitting in the auditorium.”
- Gaurav an ardent Jagjit fan.
The spate at which he partook in live concerts in the first decade of the new millennium is amazing. Perhaps, for him, live concerts were a means to forget his sorrows, at least temporarily and to seek his happiness in the smiling faces of his audience. In addition to the tremendous popularity and appeal that he enjoyed, Jagjit’s contribution to music was also recognized by the government, which bestowed on him the coveted “Padma Bhushan” award in the year 2003.
On 8th February 2011, Jagjit celebrated his 70th birthday. He had planned a yearlong series of 70 concerts, both national and international, for commemoration of this momentous occasion. His schedule was packed for the entire year as a lot of travel was involved considering the proximity of the concert dates. Many of his well wishers even advised him to go slow considering his age, but Jagjit was adamant to see the fruition of his idea.
Destiny had other plans however, and Jagjit suffered from a brain hemorrhage on 23 September 2011 and was admitted in Lilawati hospital in Mumbai, where he was kept under intensive care treatment till 10th October 2011, when he passed away from this mortal world leaving behind hoards of disheartened and sorrowful fans.
Jagjit lived a complete life doing what he loved most, enrapturing people with his music. Music was in his heart and soul and this is amply proven by listening to his vast repertoire of Ghazal and Bhajan albums. To honor his contribution to Ghazals, the government released a set of two commemorative postage stamps on 8th February 2014.
Jagjit was indeed a master weaver of music and poetry and presented meaningful poetry in the most soulful manner for soothing the nerves of his listeners. Chitra Singh lives with her grandchildren in Mumbai, trying to carry on with the mammoth legacy of her late husband.