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Jagjit Singh: Remembering the life of a legend

Jagjit Singh combined traditional and modern styles. Purists had reservations, but people loved him. On his 4th death anniversary, HT reviews Sathya Saran’s book on Singh’s life.

books Updated: Oct 10, 2015 14:07 IST
Narendra Kusnur
Narendra Kusnur
Hindustan Times
Jagjit Singh,Chitra Singh,sathya saran
Jagjit Singh at the Odyssey Ghazal Symphony in Mumbai. (File photo)(Getty Images)

With his distinctly bass voice and perfect diction, Jagjit Singh became a rage among music buffs. By choosing simple poetry and using modern instruments, he made ghazals more accessible to the masses, and his death four years ago was a huge loss to melody.

Jagjit had a fascinating story. While he had many musical highs, his personal life had its ups and downs. Sathya Saran captures his contribution effectively in her biography ‘Baat Niklegi Toh Phir: The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh’. From his initial days of struggle, his marriage to and musical partnership with Chitra, their hugely successful stint, the loss of their son Vivek, his love for horses and his comeback in later years, the book takes readers on a nostalgia ride.

Saran has a wonderful style, and the narrative flows smoothly. An advantage is the use of some excellent pictures from Chitra’s collection. While Jagjit’s quotes have been taken from the earlier book ‘Beyond Time’, the author has interviewed many people who were close to him personally and professionally.

Read: A fan remembers Jagjit Singh

The singer’s first encounter with music was perhaps at the singing of the Gurbani. As a child, he was also entranced by film songs played on the radio. Mohammed Rafi was his idol, and Jagjit would sing his hits after he went to Jalandhar for higher studies. His desire to make his mark eventually took him to him to Bombay.

It wasn’t easy for the youngster. Many strugglers would hang around at Churchgate’s Gaylord restaurant, hoping to meet celebrity visitors who could give them a break. To keep afloat, Jagjit would sing in commercials, at weddings and at parties thrown by the rich and famous.

When Jagjit met Chitra, she was already married to corporate manager Deboo Dutta, whose other passion was sound recording. Many musicians and advertising folk would visit his home studio on Carmichael Road, and Chitra was also looking for a break, at the same time taking care of her daughter Monica. At one recording session, it was Deboo who noticed Jagjit’s talent.

Eventually, Chitra and Deboo would divorce, and she and Jagjit would get closer. They got married in a simple ceremony which lasted two minutes, and cost only 30 rupees. While they performed regularly as a couple and released some EPs, it was only in 1977 that they tasted huge success with the HMV album ‘The Unforgettables’.

Though the ghazal had been recognised through singers Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan and Talat Mahmood, and composer Madan Mohan, Jagjit changed the style, combining the traditional tabla and sarangi with guitar, saxophone, piano and bass. The purists had reservations, but the sound was lapped up by the masses.

The next few chapters talk about how Jagjit and Chitra maintained their success, the sudden involvement of Jagjit in film music and major projects like Gulzar’s TV serial ‘Mirza Ghalib’ and the album ‘Sajda’ with Lata Mangeshkar.

Mahesh Bhatt’s 1982 film ‘Arth’, where Jagjit composed the music, was a landmark. Written by Kaifi Azmi, the songs ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’ and ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho’ became a rage. Simultaneously, the singer recorded ‘Saath Saath’, where he sang tunes composed by Kuldeep Singh and written by Javed Akhtar.

The good times sadly ended. The sudden death of son Vivek in a 1990 accident shattered both parents, and they reacted to the event differently. Jagjit began accepting all programmes offered to him, and Chitra took to spirituality. Even Jagjit would later become spiritual, and that would reflect in his devotional recordings.

The book seems to have rushed through the period from the early 1990s to 2010. The couple suffered another setback when Chitra’s daughter Monica committed suicide in 2009. Jagjit immersed himself totally into music, and began doing back-to-back concerts.

On September 23, 2011, Jagjit was to do a show with Ghulam Ali in Mumbai. Suddenly, he had a stroke and was admitted to Lilavati hospital. He breathed his last on October 10.

The book is full of many interesting stories and interviews, and captures Jagjit’s life well. However, a few things need to be pointed out. While it carries the words of some fantastic ghazals between chapters, the poets are not named. The back sleeve prints the entire text of the famous nazm ‘Baat niklegi to door’, but poet Kafeel Azar is given only a small mention in the opening credits.

A few names have been wrongly mentioned. Composer Vanraj Bhatia has gone as Dhanraj, classical singer Govind Prasad Jaipurwale as Jaipurwala and guitarist Chintoo Singh as Chinku.

Overall, of course, Jagjit fans will treasure this book. Many would be deeply familiar with his music, but this biography brings out his true personality too.

(Narendra Kusnur is a music critic based in Mumbai)

First Published: Oct 10, 2015 12:35 IST