In 2012, I was invited to be part of a Jagjit Singh tribute concert. In the audience were seated the who’s who of the music industry, including Pandit Jasraj, Hariharan, and Chitra Singh. Rashid Khan and Anup Jalota had just performed before I was to go on stage. I felt completely out of place. What the hell was I even doing there among these doyens of the industry? People watching me walk up to the stage must have wondered about this nobody who was going to attempt a Jagjit Singh ghazal. But as I sat down to sing, I told myself that I am not singing to please anybody; I’m doing it to pay my respect to the legend that was Jagjit Singh.
I just closed my eyes and sang. There were no in-ear monitoring and hence I couldn’t hear myself. After finishing, the way back to my seat felt like a really long walk. An elderly lady, who was a very close friend of Chitra Singh, came up to me then. She told me that I have his (Jagjit Singh’s) voice. She blessed me, saying “You are the chosen one and you will revive his ghazals”. I still get goosebumps thinking of that day.
As a musician hailing from Assam, where people don’t speak much Hindi, my association with Jagjit Singh is bound to surprise people. My parents (legendary Bihu singer Khagen Mahanta and Archana Mahanta) were both trained classical singers. I discovered Jagjit Singh among their stash of assorted LPs when I was six years old. The two LPs that I distinctly remember were Come Alive and Milestone. The first one was a live concert recording. I had heard it so many times that when I actually attended a Jagjit Singh concert much later in life, it felt as if I have been part of this experience for ages.
By the time I was 10 years old, I was playing the harmonium and singing his ghazals with all the pathos. In fact, my mother was worried that her kid at that age was singing such serious songs! But even at that age, I felt that there was something magical about Jagjit ji and his ghazals that just kept pulling me towards them. I was mesmerised by his gayaki.
Being from Assam, where people hardly speak Hindi, let alone Urdu, I didn’t always understand the lyrics. In fact, I don’t understand some of it even now! But the sound of the Urdu words seemed so soft and musical that I fell in love. Initially, my knack for phonetics helped me pick up the lyrics. Much later, it was my stint in Delhi that helped me get my Hindi straight. For the talaffuz however, I am indebted to my wife, who is from Uttar Pradesh and has worked on my pronunciation. I recorded a few of his songs for MTV Unplugged, where I infused elements of blues, some bass guitar and the jazz drums. I think ghazals and blues share the same soul. My perspective on ghazals has perhaps matured with time, but the connect I had with Jagjit Singh as a 10 year old still remains the same. It is as honest and unadulterated. His songs still transport me to a different mind space. After each listen, I still feel numb. I still breathe a little differently.
Today, what draws me most to his songs is the arrangement. He single-handedly made ghazals more accessible and modern. There is a notion that Jagjit Singh diluted the ghazals. But sometimes, less is really more. I think if you want to showcase the range of your gayeki, there is thumri, khayal, and other such classical forms, but ghazals are all about feelings, it is about telling a story, about becoming the story. It should give you goosebumps. And Jagjit Singh’s ghazals are just that.
Most people today associate Jagjit Singh with film songs like Hoshwalon ko khabar and Hothon se chhoolon tum, which is just a tip of the iceberg. But I know the Jagjit Singh of Jab kabhi tera naam and the likes and these are not easy songs to sing. In fact, I would like to believe that nobody knows his songs better than I do (of course, except Chitra Singh… or maybe not!).
About the writer: Angaraag Mahanta aka Papon, is a popular Bollywood playback singer, whose song Ye moh moh ke dhaage swept all the awards this year. He has finally started working on his own ghazal album a few months back.
From HT Brunch, October 9, 2016
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