“Jagjit Singh’s songs celebrate life and comment on its inequalities. He added new expressions, surprising twists and new instruments, revolutionising the performance of the ghazal.”
In remembrance of Jagjit Singh, Learning and Creativity-Silhouette Magazine presents a review of Baat Niklegi Toh Phir The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh. We compliment journalist-editor-biographer Sathya Saran for bringing out an eloquent and engrossing chronicle of the life and times of India’s unforgettable ghazal maestro, her third ace in the series of biographies on the legends of India’s movies and music scene.
Available on Amazon
Paperback: 246 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins India (12 August 2015)
Chaahe kuchh bhi ho sawaalaat na karna unse,
Mere bare mein koi baat na karna unse
Baat niklegi toh phir door talak jayegi…
Jagjit Singh evokes memories, emotions, moods. The voice of the soul whose bass is legendary, the one person who rewrote and redefined how ghazal would forever be looked at, Jagjit Singh almost singlehandedly plucked the ghazal out of the elite echelons of mushairas and kachehris and brought it to the common man, in a form that the regular listener could understand, connect with and relate to.
“The Unforgettables released in 1976, would catapult Jagjit Singh to an unprecedented level of popularity. Sharing the spotlight with him was Chitra Singh, life partner, singer and one-time student.” Her sharp, high-pitched, crystal voice proved the perfect foil to Jagjit Singh’s deep baritone as the duo went on to enchant audiences across the globe for years to come.
The opening nazm of this iconic album was ‘Baat niklegi’. Interestingly, it was supposed to have been sung by Bhupinder Singh but was eventually rendered by Jagjit Singh himself and was to be part of a film that never released and hence became part of The Unforgettables. Eventually, a part of the song was used in Basu Bhattacharya’s Grihapravesh (1979).
Baat niklegi toh phir door talak jayegi (The Unforgettables, 1976)
Think about the end result and you will realize that the name The Unforgettables could not have been more appropriate although English names for ghazal albums was another breaking of norm, and that happened on the insistence of Chitra Singh. “My ex-husband, Dutta, Jagjit and I designed the cover,” Chitra said, “but the title was given by my father. Prophetic, was it not?”
Baat Niklegi Toh Phir: The Life and Music of Jagjit Singh is an unputdownable book for all Jagjit Singh fans, peppered as it is with anecdotes, instances, stories and nuggets of information as it traces the life, works and music of India’s most popular ghazal singer. Renowned journalist-editor Sathya Saran, who already has two bestselling biographies Ten Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey and Sun Mere Bandhu Re: The Musical World of S D Burman under her belt, delivers another ace with Baat Niklegi Toh Phir, unraveling a fascinating story of an innocuous and rather shy singer who started by mesmerizing the audience at the shabad in the Gurudwaras and went to become the face of the ghazal for audiences across the world.
Trained under Pandit Chhanganlal Sharma and Ustad Jamal Khan of the Senia gharana, Jagjit Singh displayed his first spark of creative genius at the tender age of nine, when he set to tune a philosophical geet in Raag Bhairavi and sang it at a Kavi Darbar leaving the audience wanting more. And the little singer heeded to the requests for an encore, choosing to sing Mohd Rafi’s O Duniya ke rakhwale (Baiju Bawra), thus firmly establishing his love of film music.
Having come to Bombay with music in his heart and a pocketful of dreams Jagjit Singh was struggling to find a foothold in the world of playback music, living in the bed-bug infested Sher-e-Punjab hotel, walking the talk with fellow strugglers Subhash Ghai and Kuldeep Singh (of Saath Saath fame) near Gaylords restaurant or along the sea till six months later he cut his first EP with HMV with two ghazals on one side.
Sathya Saran’s racy style of story-telling turns this biography into an enchanting musical journey as the reader travels along with Jagjit Singh through his struggles and his successes, his deep-rooted passion for creating music that touched the soul, choosing lyrics “that went beyond the usual theme of love and longing, wine and roses to speak of the metaphysics or the tribulations of daily life”, his amazing expertise in arranging all the music by himself, his relentless strive to achieve perfection in each recording and concert and above all, his unusually generous heart that was always willing to help anyone who sought his assistance in any which way.
Along with him, you get a close look at the people who have mattered to him most and have been part of his musical journey. Baat Niklegi Toh Phir opens up the unknown side of Chitra Singh, his friend, co-singer, wife, creative collaborator, homemaker and mother to Monica and Vivek. Chitra Singh has been an enigma for her fans always, more so after she withdrew from the limelight.
For this reviewer, the acquaintance with the ghazal began while still in junior school when to celebrate the purchase of our first tape deck, one of those small single-cassette players that were an indulgence way back in the early 80s, my mother brought home our first cassette –the Come Alive In A Live Concert (1979) album of Jagjit Singh & Chitra Singh. As the first song of the album ‘Duniyaaa… Duniyaa jisse kehte hain / jaadu ka khilona hai’ rang out in Chitra Singh’s melodious voice, we dropped everything we were doing and listened.
Duniyaa jisse kehte hain / jaadu ka khilona hai ( Come Alive in a Live Concert, 1979)
That was the beginning of a long and growing relationship with the music of Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh – of falling in love with songs that were vastly different from Hindi film music, that had difficult words woven into such mellifluous and seemingly effortless rendition and evocative music that you had no choice but to ponder over their meaning and listen to them over and over again. Jagjit Singh had an uncanny ability to connect to the inner psyche leaving a deep impact and this book justifiably brings that through.
Sathya Saran weaves in the not-so-well known personal details of Chitra Singh’s first marriage and how her husband, the high profile corporate executive Deboo Dutta’s “penchant for recording” had made him convert his living room into a sophisticated four-channel recording room with imported quadrophonic equipment that attracted a bevy of singers, aspirants, talent scouts and music makers and filmmakers including Shyam Benegal, Vanraj Bhatia and Mrinal Sen.
The Calcutta-bred Bengali couple was host to many recordings of music and commercials till one day Chitra Singh ended up singing a jingle for one Mr Vaidyanathan to fill in for a well-known singer who had not turned up. That launched her in a career where she became ‘Jingle Queen’. Jagjit Singh too was singing jingles and creating music for ad films and documentaries and he became a regular in their household. Each of these anecdotes are meticulously detailed, often through quotes as the story unfolds. Sathya Saran narrates the story as a series of factual incidents, interspersed with quotes of the people in the picture and hence, what you read is a pictorial journey, woven through words and beautiful photographs.
The falling apart of Chitra’s first marriage, Jagjit Singh’s unflinching support and friendship, his affection for her daughter Monica who addressed him as Jagjit Kaku (Uncle in Bengali), Chitra’s growing popularity in singing ad jingles and how their relationship grew to find comfort and understanding in each other – unspools through detailed incidents and anecdotes that spin a rich imagery for the reader.
Through their journey, we also get acquainted with the people behind the scene who played catalytic roles to make their musical genius reach out to the national and international audience. Sanjeev Kohli, the son of music maestro Madan Mohan, whose innovations with the ghazal in film music are part of film folklore now, has been one of the key people in the creation of many a popular album in the Jagjit Singh repertoire. Through many a cherished memory, right from his first brush as a ten-year-old with Jagjit Singh on a rain-drenched evening to his stint as a Polydor executive when he had roped in the ghazal exponent to compose music for an album for the company, Sanjeev Kohli recounts brick by brick their creatively fulfilling partnership.
The duo moved on to cut several albums together for HMV and worked out new innovative ideas for creating and promoting music at every second step. How they launched albums at concerts, how they managed to cover up a misspelt Ecstasies (perhaps the most popular album after The Unforgettables), how the iconic Sajda happened despite Lata Mangeshkar’s initial reluctance and its excruciatingly slow production, how Beyond Time was recorded in a sophisticated London studio but still had to be re-mixed and re-balanced – Kohli’s remembrances bring out not only the musical genius of Jagjit Singh but also his sharp presence of mind and his eye for detail.
With Gulzar it was another series of creative milestones – Mirza Ghalib, Nammo, Marasim and a slew of stage shows left fans wanting more. ‘Mirza Ghalib is Jagjit beyond Jagjit’, Gulzar had said about the prize-winning album.
And then who can ever forget the ethereal music of Arth and Saath Saath? Yes, the book talks in detail about the two films whose everlasting music was the fulfillment of Jagjit SIngh’s long cherished dream to make it big in film music. HMV’s smart move to bring out a combo album of these films has been a marketing masterstroke as we all know.
On the personal side, we see Jagjit Singh as the doting father to his son Vivek (nicknamed Baboo in true Bengali tradition), a loving parent to Monica and a responsible son and son-in-law. “There are countless stories of Jagjit Singh’s ability to reach out and help others in need, but Chitra avows that he ‘bought me (her) over for twelve lifetimes’ by being a son to her parents. He was always there whenever they needed someone and her father would proudly that Jagjit was his son.”
On the other hand, through their concerts little Baboo would travel with his parents, sometimes sleeping backstage and his musical talents were sharply visible. He grew up to be a strapping, handsome, sensitive young man, the apple of his parents’ eye but his untimely death turned life’s course for the couple irrevocably. The author meticulously details how the family coped with the loss and their brush with spirituality. Things were never the same again although Jagjit Singh did strive to pick up the pieces and make music again.
Jagjit Singh will forever remain in the hearts of music lovers. The evocative music, the soulful voice and the heart-touching lyrics that made his music stand out from the rest, will stay, irrespective of changes in technology or in music trends and fads.
Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar (Saath Saath, 1982) – An evergreen Jagjit-Chitra duet written by Javed Akhtar and set to tune by Jagjit Singh’s long time friend Kuldeep Singh.
Two pictures from the book have been used in this article with permission from the book’s author Sathya Saran.
More to read
Remembering Jagjit Singh: The Music Of Poetry, Life, And The Soul
Sahir’s Poetry Awakens Me From My Slumber
Bade Achchhe Din Thhe, Bade Pyare Saathi, Aur Guni Bhi’ – In Conversation with Majrooh Sultanpuri
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