Think of Jagjit Singh and a horde of ghazals rush to you — the word of Ghalib or Mir, dipped in honey, enhanced by a nuance that only Jagjit could have given them. It is his 76th birth anniversary and it has been more than five years that he bid us all a goodbye. But for his fans, he is never further than his songs. Switch on Har Ek Baat or Jhuki Jhuki Si and he is there with you. Such is the charm of his voice that you go back to him when in love or when heartbroken. It is hard to imagine that this genius had to struggle in Mumbai (then Bombay) before his voice could be recognised. Probably the delay was also due to the fact that Jagjit originally wanted to be a playback singer in Bollywood. His repertoire during his days as a struggler consisted majorly of Bollywood greats such as KL Saigal to Mohd Rafi, with a generous helping of Punjabi numbers.
In Jagjit’s biography “Baat Niklegi Toh Phir – The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh”, his co-struggler from 1960s Bombay Subhash Ghai remembers, “Jagjit finally found a foothold in the city. He started performing at some music club functions, and at the annual gatherings of some clubs. He could be very funny, and his repertoire included bawdy Punjabi songs that he sang with gusto. Yet he had a gentle side that could seduce the listener. When in college, he would belt out the entire repertoire, including Saigal songs. I would join him in singing those, as I loved them too. Later, when he started singing ghazals, I was shocked! His style and quality were on par with Mehdi Hassan, at a level beyond imagination.”
See a few old pics of late Jagjit Singh:
Jagjit was to climb the heights of popularity, with legions of fans all across the world. In the same book, the ghazal maestro’s wife Chitra Singh recounting how even an alleged ISI spy turned out to be her husband’s fan, “The political situation when we went (to Pakistan) was not very calm, we could sense a tension. When we landed we noticed a man getting into the aircraft and just standing there. We saw him again and again. He followed us out of the airport and we saw him again in the hotel. It was unnerving… The room bell rang. Jagjit opened the door, and he was outside. He entered. Jagjit asked him in Punjabi, ‘Are you following us?’.”
Instead of a straight answer, the man pointed out with a gesture that the room was bugged and said he was a fan. “Explaining that he was from the Intelligence Department, he with utmost care, drew from inside his jacket a bottle wrapped in newspaper; he had brought alcohol as a gift since the hotel served none.”