The Ghazal Virtuoso is no more.
This is not just a piece of news that you hear, cluck over before moving on to the next channel. This is a sense of loss tinged with something very personal.
I didn’t know him, had never met him. The closest I had gotten was within four feet or so as he rushed out along an aisle, on his way off the stage and yet his voice touched me in ways that defied description.
I often cried as the gravid lyrics floated out and over the pensive melody. There was a wise, all knowing, accepting pathos in his voice that reached into my thorax and rendered a cardiac crunch every time his ghazal came alive. I have swallowed lumps in the throat, breathed deep and long to clear tautened lungs, even rushed to open the doors because his music brought on a sharp sense of lonesomeness, even desolation. I would think of my youth long over, some half remembered notes, the roads I used to ride, there would be an unbearable sense of being suffused with melancholic nostalgia and poignant recall.
That was the hallmark, I think. It was the signage of his music, this instant transportation to a solitary canvas across which flickered snatches of one’s life gone by. The highs and the lows, the losses and the gains, the agony and the ecstasy, all the colours and shades that make existence human; the hues would come plopping, swishing, streaking, bringing with them a wistful longing for all that might have been.
There have been troves of treasured voices that have expressed the poetic expression of pain, separation and an implied unattainability that is the ghazal. Think of Begum Akhtar, Ustad Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum and so very many others but it was always and every time, Jagjit Singh who carried the relevant conviction the most authentically for me. His voice put a curtain around, shutting out the immediate and the peripheral. It brought on existential reverie, a stillness of memories, and a periscopic projection into the years to come. Nothing like his ghazal to span life, zoom in and pan out. Woh kaagaz ki, kashti woh baarish ka paani……. Woh tooti hui choodiyon ki nishaani….
Ishq-e-haqiqi or ishq-e-majazi, Mirza Ghalib or Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sufi poets like Rumi or Hafiz; it was insignificant that I did not understand all the lyrics and could not tell the ragas. I loved the shape Jagjit Singh gave to the ghazal. Ghazals have been sung not only in Gujarati, Kannada and Telugu but also in English, the first anthology of English language ghazals having been published by the Wesleyan University Press. But where in the world would you find such gems as:
Thukrao ab ke pyar karo, mein nashe mein hoon
Zindagi dhoop tum ghanaa saaya
Aaj phir hamne dil ko samjhaya
Woh chotti see raaten, woh lambi kahaani
Log zaalim hain, har ik baat ka taana denge
Kya gam hai jisko chuppa rahe ho
Jin zakhmo ko waqt bhar chukka hai
Rekhaon se maat kha rahi ho
The last I listened to Jagjit Singh was on this 9th Sep at Sadhana’s home in Los Angeles. The party was over, the guests had long departed and his voice was billowing over the lazy contentment of an evening well spent. Sadhana, Salil and I let the music wash over the silence as we lay still, heads flung back, eyes closed, alone in our hushed worlds. I remember thinking, “This is life!”
Thank you Jagjit Singh, for adding so much to my story.
All pics by Asawari
All pics by Asawari