Jagjit Singh The Last Post
He had been composing, singing, travelling, and participating in concerts across the globe almost relentlessly. But not many seemed to have discerned the growing pathos in his sonorous voice, and growing restlessness in his demeanour- even those have gone to town declaring intimacy, and singing paeans to the maestro. In private, after a sip or two he would suddenly start mouthing Bahadurshah Zafar’s Lagta nahin hai dil mera ujade daiyar mein. Few who came into contact with him knew the pain he had been enduring since the death of his son Vivek in 1990. He could never get over the pain though outwardly he tried to put on a brave face.
One vividly recalls the evening soon after the tragedy. We had a common friend in producer Johny Bakshi who had an office in Mehboob Studio in 1990, though our first meeting had been in his Peddar Road apartment sometime in 1980 when I moved to Mumbai for professional reasons. One presumes the rapport and admiration for one another’s vocational skills had been mutual. His wife Chitra had joined us quietly, and they both elevated both of us through some impromptu soulful melodies. That was, perhaps the last time one saw them singing together live. We subsequently met fairly often, especially when he had been composing the late Sudharshan Fakir’s fine lyrics for Bhimsain’s last feature film, Tau Laut Aao. He later complained how he felt let down and felt his brilliant compositions had been wasted after a preview screening of the film. This was in 1982, and one had been involved with the film in several ways, including as an actor, though the scene had been chopped off subsequently. And with that almost disappeared all aspirations to become an actor. Almost.
The rain had stopped, and we were about to leave Johny’s office when the phone bell rang. “Hi Maestro” I heard Johny speaking into the mouthpiece. “Yes, Suresh is here. You want to speak to him.” I don’t know what the voice from the other side said, but putting the receiver down Johny said, “Jagjit is coming, and he told me to tell you that he was bringing a bottle of whisky with him.” Johny had been a teetotaler and, therefore, did not permit any drinking in his office, though there were two notable exceptions: his mentor producer-director Raj Khosla, and ‘Maestro’. Johny briefed me about Chitra’s having totally gone recluse, and Jagjit pretending to outgrow the tragedy by being extra boisterous. This was the first time we were to meet after Vivek’s accident.
By this time Jagjit had placed his foot on the Indian classical music firmament, breaking away from the traditional mode, and giving ghazal singing a fresh impetus. The purists spoke only in mild protest because Chitra and Jagjit had been scaling greater heights in the decade of the eighties. The use of Bass and 12-string guitar had been unheard of his accompaniment instruments in ghazal singing. On the other side, Chitra retreated into solitude, Jagjit tried to drown his sorrows by singing more and more. Despite having a number of friends in the Hindi film industry, he nurtured the grudge of not finding acceptance as a full-fledged music composer. In fact, felt terribly let down by the so-called friends who exploited his talent while struggling to find a place in the film industry, but abandoned and ignored him when successful. He was probably the first resorted to digital multi-track recording for his 1987 album, Beyond Time.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, the Maestro selected his poets judiciously, and that lent charisma to his singing. For someone who honed up his craft by singing in gurudwaras in his formative years. “His association with music goes back to his childhood. He learnt music under Pandit Chaganlal Sharma for two years in Ganga Nagar, and later devoted six years to learning Khayal, Thumri and Drupad forms of Indian classical music from Ustad Jamaal Khan.” Jagjit’s amalgamation of all these and an understanding of western music contributed substantially to his success as the pre-eminent Indian ghazal singer. His more than 80 albums with Asha Bhosle, Gulzar and Lata Mangeshkar would suffice to make him ‘Unforgettable’.
It was not an easy rise to success. He had to undergo a struggle after landing in Mumbai in 1965, getting married two years later to his ‘soul-mate’ Chitra who had earlier been teaming up with singer Bhupendra. “They epitomize the first successful husband-wife team…”
That evening in Mehboob Studio, Jagjit arrived glum-faced, and pulled out a piece of paper, staring at us, and said: “I have four lines of a song, and I want you to listen.” One exchanged glances with Johny Bakshi. Meanwhile, Jagjit had poured the drink. The lines seemed to be poking fun at God, “woh smajtha hai mein toot kar bikhar jaooga, lekin yeh uski galat fahmi hai”. That’s all one vaguely remembers. It was almost midnight when we got up. The bottle had been emptied in the course of our trying to console a weeping Jagjit. This was an image of a shattered man that memory has endured.
After leaving Mumbai in 1991 we would often run into one another at concerts, and even social events. The bond that we had come to share in the decade though not really broken had resulted in near no communication otherwise. He created a rather awkward and embarrassing situation in a packed London auditorium, seeing me and my wife in the front row he disregarded protocol (at a time when High Commissioner Lalit Mansingh was in the process of escorting the British Culture Minister) he moved forward to greet us while the assembly looked questioningly as our identity. There were times subsequently in other places when one confronted him only after the event.
During other later occasional meetings, he would throw a question at one and publically ask: “How much should I pay you to publish an interview with me?” This was in the days before the ‘paid news’ and PR options syndrome. Sometime ago a long lost acquaintance approached with a strange request. He wanted to invite Jagjit for a concert, and had met or spoken to him. The request was, “We desperately want a concert, and at the earliest but he is demanding Rs 17 lakhs. Also he is willing to sing for our event only next summer.” While one was still weighing pros and cons, the not-so-discreet guy handed over his mobile. We barely exchanged pleasantries. He naturally appeared distant because we hadn’t spoken for many years. But when I tried to request, he said I will charge 15. Now give the phone back to your ‘faarend’. But before doing so, I asked laughingly ‘Maestro what will you do with all this money?” His teasing reply was “Just wait and see.”
Sadly, what one had to see was unacceptable. The guy who he had been fighting not to bhikharna, was laughing all the way up there. No one can fight destiny, Maestro but your songs will remain truly ‘unforgetable’ Your songs are eternal…geet amar kar do.
By Suresh Kohli