Jagjit Will Be Mourned on Both Sides of the Border
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The passing of maestro Jagjit Singh brought back many memories beginning with the days when he along with his wife Chitra Singh first started out. In the India-Pakistan entertainment context he was later to become one of the giants of ghazal singing and had often been referred to as its greatest living practitioner.
Amongst male performers of this rich craft, with Mehdi Hasan no longer active, Jagjit Sahib along with Ghulam Ali carried on the tradition (sometimes together) of singing some of the finest Urdu-Hindi-Punjabi ghazals and geets for South Asians and their Diaspora worldwide. Even during times of tensions between India and Pakistan, one could find connoisseurs of the ghazal gathering in halls here in America at events where geographic, religious and ethnic boundaries became meaningless, especially when Jagjit Singh was singing. Some would say that a good ghazal enhances and promotes harmony amongst its listeners.
One cannot assume that the path of gaining such recognition and mass appreciation across borders was an easy one. You had to be as good as Pakistan’s Mehdi Hasan to get recognized as a master in India, and as good as Jagjit Singh to get the same level of appreciation in Pakistan. Backgrounds matter not as one Ganganagar, Rajasthan-born Sikh, Jagjit Singh not only succeeded in creating a name for himself in the craft of ghazal singing dominated by Pakistanis for many years but in the process he ended up with a huge and very dedicated following in that country too.
The romance of “Kal Chaudhvin Ki Raat Thi” ruled the streets of India and Pakistan for months. His songs like “Tum Ko Dekha To Yeh Khayal Aaya” and hits like “Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahee Ho” during the early 1980’s were heard quite often from international students dorm rooms and apartments here in America. From the former the lines “Tum Chale Jao Ge To Sochain Ge, Hum Ne Kiya Khoya Hum Ne Kiya Paya…” did come to mind upon hearing about Jagjit Sahib’s death. And what can one say about taking his wealth away and giving him back his childhood paper sailboat and rainwater to float it in? Only the movie Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud” comes close here. We were so vividly reminded by Jagjit of those once carefree days of innocence and simple dreams in “Woh Kaghaz Ki Kashti Woh Baarish Ka Paani” that it became the song few will forget.
On a more personal note this scribe owes a great deal to Jagjit Singh for adding to my life something that is difficult to admit. Where my teachers of Urdu while growing up in Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh gave up, Jagjit Singh succeeded. He re-introduced me and many others from what is affectionately known as the “Burger Generation” or “Gulabi Urdu” speakers and readers to the poetic genius of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. The Indian television play “Mirza Ghalib” of the late 1980’s was an eye opener for many overseas Pakistanis and Indians. Many of us were missing out till then as the man we once knew as only Ghalib, considered by many as the greatest Urdu poet ever, was rediscovered through the soulful voice of Jagjit Singh in that superb play. Gulzar’s direction and Naseeruddin Shah’s acting were added icing on the cake in that effort.
After all these years the DVD of Mirza Ghalib which I own occasionally comes out for viewing when the kids are not home. What some of us once lost from our culture or Tehzeeb due to possibly our own laziness and perceived difficulty in understanding an “ancient” Urdu poet can be found in it. Even with my preference for more “modern” music (like Heavy Metal Rock), Jagjit Singh’s superb voice overcame barriers to incite curiosity and a passion and interest in the genius of Ghalib’s poetry. As they say “Better late than never” to rediscover a part of my cultural soul which happens to be tied to the Urdu language, and for that ironically I have Jagjit Singh, a Rajasthani-Punjabi to thank!
It is not surprising that at this time comparisons will be made between Jagjit Singh and Mehdi Hasan. For the purpose of this article we will not succumb to this temptation because it is just not warranted. For the record I remain a big fan of both and will not compare the two here out of respect. Another reason not to bring this up is that the old India-Pakistan divide is bound to raise its ugly head during the ensuing discussion. What I can thankfully write at this time is that both countries are in equal mourning at the passing away of Jagjit Singh, one of the finest ghazal singers of our generation.
In closing, a recommendation for our readers to try and listen to Josh Malihabadi's “Kisko Aati Hai Masihaee Kise Awaz Doon?” in Jagjit Sahib’s beautiful voice on You Tube. In a hurriedly attempted translation it means “Who still knows how to be a Messiah, whom should I call?” The fans of Jagjit Singh certainly feel his great loss today.