'There was a simplicity with which he uttered every word, the manner in which he coerced the notes and the way they all blended seamlessly to produce music that could stir your soul'
I was in Class 11 at the R A Podar College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai and was representing the university for a ghazal competition. There was a boisterous group of boys and girls who had come to cheer me. As we waited for the competition to begin, at around 4.30pm or so, Jagjit Singh and Penaz Masani walked in to take their seats as the judges. It was almost like a dream, a vision. I sang Mohabbat Ruswaa Ho Chuki Hai and won the first prize. Even today, when I close my eyes, that visual is vivid in my mind.
Before I could believe it, I received a call from Jagjit Singh’s office asking me to come to the recording studio to be part of a jingle that he was composing. My mother and I went from Chembur to Colaba, with excitement and anticipation expecting the studio to be packed with a bunch of people. Surprisingly, only Jagjit Singh and his recording engineer were at the studio. He looked at me and said very kindly, “Beta, yeh line likh lo (Please write this line down.)" It was a jingle for a meal maker and a duet of sorts; Jagjit Singh and I sang it in all languages. That was in 1981.
On several occasions thereafter, I had the opportunity to listen to Jagjit bhai. I remember one particular concert that he performed at the famous Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai, almost a month after he lost his son It was a very poignant performance; at the end of it, he said the concert was dedicated to his son; he spoke, very movingly about soonaapan (loneliness) and how that’s the way of the world, everyone is only meant to get what’s their share in life.
More recently, when he was in Chennai for an event, a radio channel interviewed him. When asked about South Indian singers, I believe, he mentioned my name and said he loves my song, Zara Zara (from Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein). He said, her music, is the kind that “dil ko chhoo jaata hai” (that could touch your heart). For me, to hear that my music could touch his heart was so humbling. I was always fond of ghazals; my Hindustani guru, Pandit Jaipurwale, taught me a few and it helped that I was also always interested in ghazals. So while growing up, Jagjit bhai’s music was an inspiration of sorts. His musical refrain was always at the back of my mind. I always felt that some day, I must be able to make music like that. As a musician, there are many other musicians you are in awe of; but Jagjit bhai’s music was the kind that left me feeling a burning desire, an urge to do something that was fulfilling and uplifting.
His music was packed with a sense of soulfulness; it was steeped in shruthi and bhava. To a listener it might seem very simple on the surface but rendering it in the exact same fashion was near impossible. There was a simplicity with which he uttered every word, the manner in which he coerced the notes and the way they all blended seamlessly to produce music that could stir your soul. When you heard him sing, you heard one voice; the Urdu wasn’t alien, the ghazal genre seemed familiar somehow. Credit for introducing Indian cinema to this genre must go to him. Somewhere, I think he was able to touch so many hearts and really prove that music has no language because he believed in his own music; he poured his life and soul into it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any opportunity to work with him later. After moving to Chennai, and becoming a full-fledged classical performing artiste, I was also not in the vicinity of Bollywood. But I often stayed in touch with what he did through my many friends in the music space. My tabla friend, Kamal, gave me sneak previews on how Jagjit bhai, for instance, rehearsed before a concert, how he gave a lot of freedom to his musicians, how he loved drinking tea as much as he loved making it for his friends. I wonder why, we often tend to remember people and how they have influenced our lives so much only after they are gone. How I wish I’d had the opportunity to recall these moments while he was alive.
Having spent her early years in Mumbai, soaking in Hindustani as well as Carnatic classical music, Bombay Jayashri has given Carnatic performances in the Opera House in Durban and the Russian Opera House in Helsinki, Finland. As told to Akhila Krishnamurthy