Death is debilitating. It leaves you feeling weak and helpless. Allah Mian takes away what you give but does not return what He takes away. Is that right? I know death helps to put life in perspective, but at what cost? Jagjit (Singh) was a dear friend, a part of me, but he is gone now. It is difficult for me to talk of him in the past tense. I will miss him a lot, not just as a ghazal singer but as a friend. I died when they (the medical staff at the hospital) put him in a morgue. My friend, who was like a breeze, jo shaqs kahin thham tanahin thha, kabhi Pune to kabhi Satara, kabhi Kolkata, aaj ek frozen box mein thha! I could not control myself then….He was very close to me.
Where do I begin? He was a friend of over 50 years. I met him when he had just come to Bombay. I cannot recall the exact moment but our relationship grew over the years, things just accumulated and we came to realise that we shared something everlasting in common. He knew my younger brother and I met him in Juhu for the first time. Then he was looking for work but in the evening we used to chat, he used to recite shayari. We bonded over talks and discussions about Sahir Ludhianvi, Qateel Shifai and Ali Sardar Jafri. Back then both Jagjit and I noticed a streak of Nehruvian socialism in the kalaam of Jafri Saab. One day Jagjit sang a ghazal of Mehndi Hasan, who was the shahenshah of ghazal at that time. Then I realised that there was something in him that he understood the temper of ghazal. I used to call him ‘Ghazal-jit' Singh. He used to caress words. You know his singing had that pain, that quality you experience when you rub an old wound. Initially, you might feel some pain, then gradually you begin to love it as it has a healing quality. Jagjit's voice did that to people. Ek lutf aata thha us awaaz ke saath .
Whereas all others who came to the industry to become singers took to playback singing and got support too from the music directors, Jagjit never tried to be a playback singer. He grew up to be a ghazal singer, in fact to be a custodian of ghazal. Back then, Rafi Sahab and Talat Mahmood were the masters of ghazal. But they had the support of music directors. Ghazals were composed for them. Jagjit started his own compositions. He took the help of some musicians for interludes, gradually picked it up himself. Then none of us could say that Jagjit who sang Ram dhun and Shiv bhajans with equal relish, would scale great heights as a ghazal singer. But he opted for the romanticism of ghazals. True he might have sung a “Kaagaz ki Kashti” but he was essentially for the romanticism of the medium. His real qualities as ghazal exponent come to the fore in his album with Lata Mangeshkar. In “Sajda”, Lataji has sung beautifully but Jagjit sang like a true ghazal connoisseur. Hridaynath Mangeshkar's compositions were brilliant but they were not ghazals. I have heard Begum Akhtar in earlier days; she could capture the mood with each couplet. But Jagjit captured the entire ethos, the mood, the nostalgia of ghazal. When he sang he was like an adolescent boy, became a lover! Ghazal has its own romance, Jagjit had it too.
He met me just two days before he fell ill. I used to tell him to slow down, take it easy. But he was forever busy. It was difficult to control him. He had such enthusiasm. It was particularly remarkable for a man who went through so much adversity. Bahut paas thha woh mere. I feel really sorry for his wife Chitra. First she lost the son….now even the husband has gone away. When they brought his body, she just thought he was in coma. She had spent 18-20 days in hospital looking after him. She thought he would recover. It was only in the crematorium that it hit her he is no more. Then she burst into tears. It was so unsettling, so deeply disturbing. Why does God take away whom we love? Death is….we all have to go but nobody knows where….It is like you are walking. Suddenly a door opens. You enter, it shuts. Then it never opens again. You are gone….