How Jagjit Singh would make magic with Gulzar

[Book extract] The singer-poet combination worked wonders both on and off stage.

 |  5-minute read |   24-09-2015
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Perhaps the most significant service done to the ghazal by Jagjit Singh were the recordings tracing the history of the genre, on which he collaborated with Gulzar. Already, his contribution to the art form had been nationally recognised, with the conferring of the Padma Bhushan award on him in 2003. The collection that HMV planned would highlight his place in the history of the ghazal.

"Jagjit could play favourites with artists and songs, so I got Gulzar as a balancing factor," music composer Sanjeev Kohli remembers, as he rewinds to the recording of the Ghazal Ka Safar series. "The cassettes had an introduction of each artiste by Jagjit, which I scripted. As EMI Pakistan was an affiliate of HMV India, the collection also included Pakistani singers like Noor Jehan.

The series did phenomenally well, thanks mostly to Jagjit and Gulzar and the USP they brought to the series. It was also transferred on to a CD collection, but as the contract with EMI Pakistan did not cover CDs, the singers from there had to be left out. Despite this, the two introducers made for such good listening that the CDs were also a hit."

The poet-singer combination worked wonderfully on stage too. "When I first suggested to Gulzar that he do a stage show with Jagjitji, he demurred. 'I am a serious kind of man,' he said, 'Why will the audience listen to me? Jagjit will come on stage and sing a tappa, and the audience will be floored.'" Surprisingly, Jagjit was also hesitant, saying that Gulzar's aura was so powerful, the audience would be floored and not pay him any attention. However, the shows did happen, and became something that audiences flocked to.'

Gulzar recounts how at one of their collaborative programmes together at Siri Fort, Jagjit kept repeating two lines of a ghazal at the end, his eyes shining with mischief.

"I realised it was my cue to enter. When I entered the stage, he said, much to the delight of the audience, 'Did you understand my ishara?' Our shows were full of such give and take, the audiences of course loved them."

51e9dlzli2l._sx367_b_092415041235.jpg Baat Niklegi Toh Phir; HarperCollins; Rs 699.

Breaking the ice

Whether it was a concert in Bombay (Mumbai) or in a small town like Nagpur, Jagjit Singh realised that a joke was not only an ideal way to break the ice and give the audience a change of pace, but also a way to ensure his accompanists got a break. His fans have, over the years, created small compilations of his jokes, and shared them through word of mouth or on the internet.

One joke was narrated at a show in Glasgow in 1993: "There is a big store in Delhi, quite like the one owned by Salli sahabin Glasgow, but the Delhi store sold only liquor. One evening, when the owner was at home, after shutting the shop for the day, the telephone rang. Someone asked him, 'Lalaji, when does your shop open tomorrow?' The owner responded, 'At ten in the morning. It is closed for the day now.' After an hour, the phone rang again. A much deeper voice asked him if it was Lalaji speaking, and asked when the store would open. The owner responded that it would open at 10am. The phone rang again after half an hour, and a voice, slurring as it spoke, asked him when his liquor store would open in the morning.

Recognising the caller, and realising that he must be desperate, Lalaji told him, 'Does not matter, you come now, you seem desperate. I will give you what you want.' 'That is not the case,' the man answered, 'I am not desperate. You see I am asking because you have shut the shop and gone and I am still inside.'"

Then there is the joke of the good-looking, fair-skinned young man who came to Bombay to seek his fortune. In Jagjit's words, "After the first few days of going around and meeting people hoping for a break but getting none, he realised his money was almost finished. But he was hungry and had to buy some food. He decided to find something in the market that would be cheap but filling. His eyes caught sight of a watermelon, which proved real value for money. In Bombay, watermelons could be bought for five or six rupees, and he was sure he could fill his stomach with the fruit. He carried it to a spot under a tree, and settled down to eat. When he cut into the watermelon, smoke started coming out of it. Following the smoke a genie emerged.

Laughing ho ho ha ha ha as genie are wont to doing, he addressed the man, 'Master, what is your command?' Overjoyed at the fact that all his wishes would be fulfilled, the young man said, 'I am hungry, get me food.' Immediately the genie got food for his master from Balbir Singh's restaurant.

Then the man asked for decent clothes, necessary to make a good impression when he set out again to meet influential people. A dozen suits were lined up for him in the blink of an eye. The man then said, 'I need a place to live, find me one; even a small flat will do.' But before he could complete his sentence, the genie stopped him. 'Master,' he said, 'if I could find a flat in Bombay, would I live inside a watermelon?'"

It was a new method of entertainment, very different from the staid, structured, strait-jacketed ghazal singing that was the norm; and the audience loved it.

(Reprinted with the publisher’s permission.)

Also read: Why ghazals owe their life to Mehdi Hassan


Sathya Saran Sathya Saran

The writer is the author of 'Baat Niklegi Toh Phir'.

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