The man with the golden voice

My hostel roommate walked in and saw me juggling with a cricket ball while Jagjit played in the background. He wore a mischievous smile and said, “Isi tarah Jaggu dada hamare dilon ke saath khelta hai.”

In hindsight I feel his ghazals did just that — play with our hearts. At least two generations of spurned, broken-hearted or unrequited young lovers would vouch for that!

So the news of his death this morning somehow took me back to that day in my hostel and to many such days we spent idling in the college canteen singing his ghazals one after the other. Needless to say some lovelorn old fool would start it!

Those were the times when you flaunted your knowledge of his ghazals by pointing out the albums which surprisingly had English titles such as Milestone, Insight, Someone Somewhere or Face to Face.

By the time I got hooked on to Jagjit Singh in the mid-nineties, he had already sung most of his greatest ghazals that he will be forever known by — sarakti jaye hai rukh se naqab, kal chaudhvi ki raat thi, ye daulat bhi le o ye shohrat bhi le lo — to name only a few.

Perhaps the only significant addition to his mind boggling repertoire in the later years was his scintillating collaboration with Gulzar that came out in the form of Marasim in 1999-2000. Even that was more than a decade ago.

This thought that Jagjit was already in his late fifties and had sung nearly all of his greatest ones by then occurred to me only today while reading up on him on the Net.

Yet when we listened to him in those hopelessly lonely nights each of us felt he was singing just for us. When he rendered a line like “jaatey jaatey wo mujhe ek achi nishani de gaya umr bhar dohraunga aisi kahani de gaya” it felt as if our pain had found music.

I couldn’t vouch for our counterparts in the metro cities and those who grew up on pop and rock, but for those of us who grew up in small-town India the fact that we in our late teens and early twenties related to the music of a man older to us by more than three decades was a phenomenon in itself.

Not surprisingly Jagjit is credited with bringing ghazals from the rarified strata of the connoisseurs to the ears of the masses.

Though they say there is no dearth of ghazal singers, I believe that this style of gayaki in the Indian subcontinent stood on three legs — two in Pakistan,  Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali, and one in India.

Mehdi can’t sing anymore, Jagjit won’t sing anymore and may the powers keep Ali singing for as long as he can.

PS: I was never too fond of the Jagit-Chitra duets so didn’t mention her though to be honest there are a couple of ghazals where she’s on a par with the master!