Over three decades ago, Sathya Saran, consulting editor at HarperCollins, was at a friend’s house in Mumbai discussing the possibility of starting a film club. There, she heard a new ghazal album. “At the time, I was not into non-Bollywood music but I was instantly drawn in by Jagjit Singh’s voice,” she recalls. Riding back home on her Luna, Saran stopped by at a music store to pick up Unforgettables, the album that propelled Jagjit and his wife, Chitra Singh, onto the music landscape.
In her latest book Baat Niklegi Toh Phir, Saran traces the late ghazal maestro’s prolific journey, from his early days of ad jingles, and meeting Chitra to finding his footing through Unforgettables and composing music for Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib TV series.
The year-long project brought together nuggets from his life through accounts by Chitra, his brother Kartar Singh in Delhi and his long-time collaborators at music company HMV, among others. “Even though she knew me, Chitra took time to open up. She spoke about her own childhood, how they met and their life together,” says Saran. Chitra’s first question to her was, “What new things will you write?” She was referring to an earlier biography of her late husband, titled Beyond Time: The Ageless Music of Jagjit Singh by Asharani Mathur (Habitat Arts Pvt Ltd; 2002) based on nearly 40 hours of recorded interviews with Jagjit, his family and fellow musicians. “I asked her if I could use some of his quotes for my book, else the main voice would be missing,” says Saran, adding that she got permission from the book’s publisher, Pankaj Kodesia.
Saran also collected anecdotes from Subhash Ghai, Gulzar, Shatrughan Sinha, musicians Sanjeev Kohli, and Kuldeep Singh, who composed the famous Tumko dekha toh yeh khayal aaya from Saath Saath (1982). Instrumentalist Abhinav Upadhyay, who accompanied Jagjit on the tabla, had memories of over two decades to share. Even Kuldeep Desai, who had been Singh’s secretary, was very forthcoming. “Everybody had a story to tell. One big revelation to me was his generous streak. He would always lend a helping hand to everyone, and sometimes without them knowing,” says Saran. “He was a man of great courage. Whatever happened in his professional or personal life, he would keep it within him and turn those emotions into beautiful music.”