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!

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Mehdi epilogue!

In my last post I missed out on narrating this experience I had in Berlin listening to a Mehdi Hassan song with a Pakistani friend.

I was in Germany for two months last year for a journalism fellowship. Made many friends from many parts of the world. Among them was Bilal, a journalist from Islamabad.

We hit it off from Day One. It was male bonding at its best between two guys from countries divided by a thorny border. We got along so well that his female compatriot, Sehrish, would feel left out sometimes (I hope Sehrish doesn’t read this)!

But we couldn’t help it.

With Bilal at the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

We had made a habit of going out for walks after dinner. It was summer and the German sun set only after 10 pm, which was a little weird for us. But after a while we got used to the sun staring at us the whole day and even at night.

The best part about those walks was we could talk in Hindi/Urdu without having to think about fellow journalists from other countries feeling left out. It was a relief from the constant chatter in English!

When you’ve made friends from across the border the talks inevitably veer towards politics, cricket, Bollywood and if you are a ghazal buff like me — Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali, The emperor and prince of ghazal gayaki.

During one of those walks Bilal asked if I liked ghazals, I said of course that’s all I like. And then he threw the bomb at me, ” Have you heard Mehdi Hassan?”

I didn’t know how to reply that!

Bilal never went anywhere without his i-Pod.  If he was not chatting he would have the i-Pod plugged into his ears. But I, for some reason, had assumed that he would be listening to rock or pop or some such music which I understand very little, so never bothered to ask till the day he threw that question at me.

My initial reaction was “what an affront!” but didn’t say that. Just managed to say Mehdi Hassan is my favourite — an understatement if there ever was one.

My Pakistani friend was quite overwhelmed to know that not  only I had heard Mehdi but he was also my favourite. As a quid pro quo perhaps Bilal said he loves Jagjit Singh and of course Bollywood.

In that spirit of togetherness, Bilal offered his i-Pod to me and said “Le ye sunn agla gana Mehdi ka hai (Listen to this one it’s Mehdi’s.”

This ghazal is again one of my many favourites sung by the maestro — “Zindagi mein to sabhi pyar kiya karte hain…”.

Instead of me listening to it alone I said let’s share the cords and listen to it together. It was not the semi-classical version I had heard, Bilal said Mehdi sang this for a Pakistani film of the seventies.

That day we walked a lot. Bound by music an Indian and a Pakistani walked through the streets of Berlin listening to a Mehdi Hassan ghazal we both loved.

PS: I am adding the classical version of the song I heard in Berlin. Notice Ghulam Ali sitting in the audience as Mehdi Hassan renders the immortal ghazal.

Falling in love with Mehdi

Mehdi Hassan first revealed himself to me through one of my friends in college. I may have heard him before as a kid at home but my fascination with the Emperor of Ghazals began one lazy late afternoon in my first year in college.

We were through with our daily dose of chai, samosas, cigarettes, girls, sex and politics it seemed. There was a sudden hush at our table in the canteen.

Abhishek believed that the best way to fill such a silence was through songs, especially ghazals. So he began humming a Jagjit Singh number. Soon it turned into a mehfil and slowly those who thought ghazals were boring left leaving only a few of us at the table.

It was then that Abhishek began singing “Ranjish he sahi” — one of Mehdi’s most popular ghazals that even those with passing acquaintance with his ghazals would know.

But lightning struck when he began the next song. “Charagh e toor jalao bada andhera hai…” is one of the master’s rarest of rare gems. I have acutely realised the rarity of this ghazal in the course of the 15 years that have passed since then.

Going back to that evening, I can still see Abhishek singing with his eyes closed, completely immersed in the song. I sat there mesmerised by the lyrics and the haunting melody of the ghazal.

Very few people, even those formally trained in music, dare to sing a classical Mehdi Hassan ghazal and my friend had no training, just a god-gifted voice and an ear for music.

I left the campus that day wondering if Abhishek’s version was so haunting what it would be like to hear the original?

From then on I kept searching for the song in every music shop in every city that I went to. Five years later, of all places, I found an audio cassette at a shop in Chennai. But I could keep it only for a short while because a friend borrowed it and never returned.

It’s been nearly ten years and I’m still looking for it. No it’s not there on YouTube and even Google could produce only three entries, none of them even remotely connected to the song.

Nevertheless my search for this song over the years turned me into the Mehdi fan-atic I am today. Much of the credit goes to Abhishek singing the ghazal that day and a woman I met years later, who was as passionate about the Emperor of Ghazals as I am.

PS: Since I couldn’t find that song, here’s another of my favourites: