Jagjit Singh: An Immortal Voice of Silences

Back in 1980, I got my first Tape Recorder (two-in–one) as a gift from my father. Two blank Sony tapes came free with it. On one we recorded our voices and voices of all the family and neighbourhood bacchas. Believe it or not, that was an amazingly fun pastime for our generation.

On the other I recorded the runaway hit of the time Jagjit and Chitra’s – The Unforgettable. I did not understand all the Urdu lyrics. But his voice transcended the necessity of mere understanding meanings of words. Even as a frisky teenager I could appreciate the soothing silences and the meaningful pauses animated by his silken voice.

Then came Mirza Ghalib on Doordarshan. I had no inkling about Ghalib. Gulzar recreated Ghalib’s life and brought him into our drawing rooms – but he could have scarcely done it without Jagjit’s rendering of all those Ghalib Ghazals. One immortal, lending voice to another immortal. I could appreciate Bazzecha-e –atfaal before I could understand it. Ghalib’s life story was about making Urdu poetry a popular idiom. Taking it out of palaces and courts to the lanes and streets. Jagjit’s life story is about making Urdu poetry a listening pleasure for the masses.

He could lend gravity to nostalgia (kaagaz ki kashti) and love ( jhuki –jhuki see nazar). He taught me that life is all about nuances (Tum itna jo muskara rahe ho), that love is reaching home (tumko dekha to yeh khayal aaya…) and that there is dignity in despair (chitthi na koi sandesh).

His bhajans are imbued with spirituality for the same reason. Even an agnostic can put on Hey Ram or Kabir and feel the calmness and peace flooding them. His voice is able to reach places in our hearts that even we are not aware of. That is why he always stood above and apart from all the raucous cacophony and even melodious pleasantness that is popular music.

He had his roots in the classical tradition, his heart in Urdu literature and a deep spiritual instinct. His spirit soared high to bring together all this for the listening pleasure of the man on the street – from an auto driver to youngsters to aficionados. We could never have enough of Jagjit.

His going is going away of those magical silences that made music go beyond words beyond language and beyond meaning. Aah ko chaahiye ek umr asar hone tak – Jagjit we will never stop sighing.

Varsha Tiwary

Full time bureaucrat and mother of two,part-time dabbler in rhymes and preacher of health and fitness as a way of life.