Jagjit Singh was a Unique Human Being

In his many-splendored life of glamour, fame and success, he remained a peaceful, loving, humble man who remembered every friend he made along his life’s journey…

I had the great privilege of knowing Jagjit Singh not only because he was one of the greatest ghazal maestros of India, but because he had a quality of unmatched humility and pathos-touched joy which set him apart from all others. I first met him when there was an opportunity to put his beautiful wife Chitra on the cover of Femina, the magazine I edited for more than 20 years. We were hard put to get a tanpura in the Times office but somehow, it was brought to our studio and the picture was taken. This happened sometime in the 70s when ghazal singing was just gaining popularity among Mumbai’s music lovers. There were innumerable mini concerts in the homes of those who admired this form of music. With Jagjit singing soulful songs, the circle of ghazal lovers was expanding with lightning speed. As a friend of the whole family, I also know Debu Datta, Chitra’s first husband, who handled the music recording for many fashion shows which Femina presented in India and abroad.

Both Jagjit and Chitra were regulars at the Times building and often shared cups of tea with us journos. It was then that Khushwant Singh, who was editor of the Illustrated Weekly, asked me whether I would join him in organizing a concert of Jagjit’s ghazals in Akash Ganga, the Bhulabhai Institute in downtown Mumbai. To my mind, this somewhat-forgotten concert, which is fresh in my memory, was one of the points from where Jagjit began his fabulous journey into the world of music.

Soon, he was singing in every concert hall almost on a weekly basis. Over the years, he became a well-known ghazal singer, composer, music director and entrepreneur. Called "The Ghazal King of India”, he sang with his wife Chitra as first successful singing couple in the history of Indian music. His greatest contribution to the world of Indian music was the immortal place he gave to ghazal-singing in India. By the mid-seventies, he was performing abroad too. I remember one such trip he made to Dubai and other Gulf countries to give a series of concerts. This was the beginning of his international glory. He sang in every continent, in every prestigious concert hall and brought incredible joy to millions of music lovers.

In a way, his rendition of ghazals made poetry accessible to many who knew no Urdu or Hindustani. Even the conservative southern cities of India hailed him as a music maestro. In his prolific career, he sang in several languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Sindhi. His simple, heart-felt singing took his music beyond all languages and created a bond of joy and beauty – and often devotion – between him and his listeners.  Great recognition came to him when he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2003.

Jagjit gave Indian audiences a feast of ‘alternate music’ in the form of ghazals and bhajans. – as separate from classical or Bollywood music. However, his knowledge of classical music was also phenomenal. His knowledge plus his soul-touching silky-smooth voice mingled with pathos created immortal magic. The journey of life from his birth in Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan in a Sikh family to his world famous career as a singer is as fascinating as it is touching. Some of his songs, composed for films or albums, will continue to touch the core of the listeners’ heart forever. The list of his prestigious performances and albums is endless and they will continue to be a treasure of Indian music for all times to come.

But his life was touched by tragedy too. Always gentle and compassionate, Jagjit loved his beautiful wife Chitra and her family. The family was a rare and unique example of love and support as was obvious from the love that Vivek, Jagjit-Chitra’s son and Monica. Debu Dutta-Chitra’s daughter got from all the parents. However, luck was not with all these loving people. Vivek died in a road accident in 1990 and Monica committed suicide in 2009. Chitra gave up singing after the loss of her son and has never performed again. Jagjit too was grief stricken by these tragedies, but putting music first, sang his divine songs again to bring joy to listeners. As long as music lives, Jagjit Singh will live in the hearts of his admirers. Apart from being a world-famous singer, to his friends like me, he will always remain a unique, kind, gentle and loving human being. 

The author was Editor of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among India's senior most Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle pieces, women's concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces

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