Wednesday October 12, 2011

Thank you, Jagjit Singh!

Posted by Karthik

For a voracious music listener and reviewer now, I didn’t even own a music system (the one that plays cassette tapes) till 1992. That was the year I joined college (commerce – meaning, more than enough time in hand), in interior Tamil Nadu (Salem). 1992 was the year that I convinced my dad to buy me a Philips cassette player – a double deck, by the way – I thought I could borrow tapes from friends and make copies of it instead of buying them and wasting precious pocket money.

Of the first 5 tapes I purchased, two were ghazal albums – Hariharan’s Sukoon and Jagjit Singh’s In Search.

These were days I was still figuring out the kind of music I liked and ghazals seemed like a wonderful genre for a lanky, pimply college goer like me perennially worried about not being able to convincingly attract the attention of the fairer sex.

In such scenarios, lines like,

‘Thak gaya main karte karte yaad tujhko
Ab tujhe main yaad aana chahta hoon’

…were incredibly useful…as only a 20+ college goer could vouch for.

Thankfully, the kind of Hindi used in Jagjit Singh’s ghazals were very basic, even though I was much better than the standard ‘Ek gaan men ek kisaan raghu thatha’. I did try and share the kind of pleasure that ghazals can provide with the less Hindi-aware folks in my college class. One such friend, a ‘raghu thatha’ level boy who owned a massive rice mill in Salem, saw the beauty in the above couplet. He, given his basic Hindi knowledge (while at school, most Tamilians choose Hindi or Sanskrit as second language to avoid the rigors of Tamil grammar and end up being taught by a Tamil Hindi teacher who never had any real world experience of practicing the Hindi they learnt), even asked me about the way that couplet was formed where, conventionally, he expected the ‘thak gaya main’ in the end of the sentence!

For the sheer simplicity in Jagjit Singh’s ghazals – be it the really simple tune or the easy to comprehend couplets or even the minimal background music – he was a lot more preferred as the ghazal exponent down South, compared to others like Pankaj Udhas and Hariharan.

Back then, my relatively conservative Tambrahm upbringing did not allow me to go full flow on Mr. Udhas’ paimana and sharaab filled ghazals, while Hariharan was a fairly complex ghazal singer with intricate and nuanced tunes that he himself composed and sang.

Jagjit filled the gap with accessible ghazals that appealed to just about everybody who heard it. This was something true of even his filmy ghazals, made popular through his songs from Premgeet (Honton se choo lo tum), Arth, Saath Saath and more recently, the beautiful ‘Hosh waalon ko khabar kya’ from Jatin Lalit’s soundtrack for Sarfarosh. He was severely typecast in films, in recent times, though, but was seen willingly going with that and pandering to his own style that he helped creating through the 80s and 90s.

Musically, there was nothing elaborate about Jagjit’s ghazals – they were elementary, with usually a simple santoor, harmonium or violin based orchestration and driven entirely by his husky, mesmerizing vocals. To a large extent, he even perhaps overdid this routine and most of his ghazals ended up sounding rather similar, tune-wise – a charge that the audience would outrage more easily with a commercial film composer, but, in Jagjit’s case, it was seen as a signature style!

It was only a decade ago that I realized that unlike many Indians who love their music via singers (playback singers, if I may be a bit more specific – a song is always a Rafi song or a Lata song or a Kishore song, not so much as a Pancham or OP Nayyar or Laxmikant Pyarelal song), I seemed to attribute 90% of the credit to composers and identified every song based on who composed it. Jagjit was one massive exception to this self-made rule; here was a man who was singing predominantly pedestrian and repetitive tunes, but was making each one of them memorable solely through his vocals and the lyrics.

For some reason, I never took to Chitra Singh’s vocals and only preferred Jagjit’s solo ghazals and I’d attribute this to the quality of his singing. Unfortunately, I have never seen or heard him sing live, something many of my friends have sworn is an incredibly enriching experience, including rumors that Jagjit, like Saigal, always had a peg or two before a live concert.

For anyone who has ever fallen in or out of love (which is everybody in this planet, I’d assume), Jagjit’s ghazals seem to talk directly to the soul. It may be very, very difficult not to be affected by his ghazals if you’re listening to them in a dark room, all alone. For something so less evolved from a musical perspective, that is a massive achievement.

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