She was a Class-9 student in the spring of 1979 when her favourite singer came to town for a recital. The occasion was the city’s Rose Festival and the singer Jagjit Singh.
The admirer was Rinnkie, the girl next door, who insisted on hearing him live though it was exam time. Almost a decade later, she was to know him better as a family friend. Recalling the maestro, Rinnkie K Gill, a music connoisseur, says, “His art was great but his persona was greater.” She recounts how in 1987, having heard a singer in a bar Jagjit took him to meet KalyanjiAnandji who gave the young Kedarnath Bhattacharya a chance to sing in ‘Aandhiyan’ (1990). His name was changed to Kumar Sanu and the rest, as they say, is history. Not just to Sanu, he was friend and guide to many budding singers and lesser-known poets who came into limelight because Jagjit sang their verses. He had a long association with the poet, late Sudarshan Faakir of the ‘Woh kagaz ki kishti’ fame whom he had met during his Jalandhar days. Faakir had the privilege of Begum Akhtar lending her voice to two of his early ghazals but it was with Jagjit that he scaled new heights. Their ‘Hey Ram’ song even brought Faakir decent money. Rinnkie recalls, “He also took up the case of royalty for lyricists and succeeded in getting it implemented.”
Witty side to him
“He had a witty side to him and came up with original Punjabi phrases that had others in splits but he himself would remain poker-faced,” she says. There was an adventurous streak in him and he liked to bet on horses and the stock market. “Once he lost a lot of money in stocks and when asked to do something about it, replied, ‘When a farmer loses his crop to drought or flood, does he hold God guilty?’ He could internalise any loss and faced many, the most tragic being the untimely death of his son Vivek, whom they called Babu. When Monica, Chitra’s daughter by her first marriage, died, he stood like a rock behind her and Monica’s children,” says Rinnkie. Jagjit liked to cycle now and then as it took him back to his youth. Mornings began with a walk in the Mahalakshmi Race Course culminating in a cup of tea with friends in the lawn of the Gallops restaurant. “He liked to make tea without milk, adding basil and mint leaves. He would add a lot of sugar and put it in a water bottle and give it to street children. Soon milk from other tables also started arriving at his table and there would be two bottles instead of one,” says Rinnkie. And one day they did not have the tea but the children were waiting for milk. He then asked Rinkkie to bring them two packets of milk from her house.
Which concerts of Jagjit did she enjoy the most? To this, she looks back at a concert at the Elephanta Caves where they went in a ferry. The other concert she recalls was held on a hilltop in Pune. “We looked down and saw countless cars on the winding path. There were 2,000 people waiting outside trying to get in. People would always be sitting in the aisles in his concerts,” she says. Of his singing, she says, “He made ghazal singing popular among the masses without compromising on the aesthetics and brought even poet Mirza Ghalib to people’s drawing rooms. His appeal as a singer cut across age groups. Jagjit knew his limits as a singer and worked within those, never trying to touch a high scale. And the listeners loved him.” The legend of Jagjit lives on not just in the vast repertoire of his music but also in memories of those who got to know him.