Death, almost always, makes us quite emotional and makes us over-evaluate the contribution of a person who has been embraced by death and throw a blind eye on the limitations of that person. Though this is more in cases of untimely death and unnatural death, natural death and death at an expected age also results in the same. Death can not only cut short lives but also elongates life even after death in a larger than life manner.
To my mind Jagjit Singh (may his soul rest in peace) was more of a popular ghazal singer and not a great ghazal singer. At his death I do not want to be dishonest to the departed soul or to myself by over-evaluating the position of Jagjit Singh as a ghazal singer.
Jagjit Singh did have a sonorous voice and was a good singer. He did touch many a souls, including mine, with his voice. But, looking through my eyes and listening through my ears, the ghazals to which he gave voice did not take a second birth in his voice. The poetry hardly got lifted through his voice to the next level. They remained a poetry but in a melodious voice. Moreover his compositions all sounded the same, once you listened to a couple of them. Even when they sounded the same they did not fail to touch you, thanks to the poetry that he chose to sing.
Yet Jagjit Singh gave us very memorable moments through memorable songs. Many, I am sure, like me, started off listening to ghazals and developed a taste for ghazals, listening to Jagjit Singh sung ghazals. So for many of the ghazal lovers ghazal and Jagjit Singh are synonyms. I remember once, in a concert, Gulzar referring to Jagjit Singh as Gazal-Jit Singh. To that extent Jagjit Singh was a part of ghazal for the common man, which Gulzar understood very well.
Though not a great ghazal singer the greatness of Jagjit Singh remains in further popularizing the form of ghazal and keeping the tradition of ghazal alive among the common men. He kept ghazal alive among the masses, yes. But we need to ask ourselves if Jagjit Singh diluted the ghazal singing tradition which was more vibrant than the kind of singing which he practiced which was more monotonous, though it gave a feel of depth.
What we cannot forget over here is the fact that in a post-independence situation where Urdu was being marginalized as a part of the Hindi Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism it has been Bollywood songs which in many ways kept Urdu alive among the common man. With Urdu, the form of ghazal, which is so closely associated with the Urdu language, could also have gotten marginalized if not for bollywood songs and the various albums of Jagjit Singh, Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udaas apart from Ataullah Khan, Ghulam Ali etc. It appears like Jagjit Singh’s style of singing and his voice was almost like a negotiation between the intense Urdu ghazals and light music style which had a mass appeal. This negotiation was also done by the kind of poetry which he chose to sing. He chose to sing the less Persianised Urdu which the post-independent Indian mass could not follow easily. This negotiation worked very well among the masses and not just appealed to the listeners but also kept ghazal alive and through ghazals, to some extent, even Urdu or Hindustani.
As we acknowledge the fact that Urdu/Hindustani and ghazals, to some extent, survived among the common men through Jagjit Singh and did not die at the hands of Hindi Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism we cannot forget his album ‘Samvedana’ where he gave voice to the poems of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpeyee. Though the poems, by themselves, did not have anything fascistic in it, how can one dismiss the fact that A.B. Vajapeyee was from the Bharateeya Janatha Party, which came to power because of its Hindu Nationalism and that Vajapeyee himself was known for his highly Sankritized Hindi which was an offshoot of Hindi Nationalism. The poems of A.B. Vajapeyee are of not great literary merit, according to literary critics, yet Jagjit Singh went on to give his voice to those poems. Was it to please the then PM and the party that he represented? I don’t know. If yes, why did he choose to do so? I wonder!
On one hand Jagjit Singh, it appears to me, diluted the vibrant ghazal singing tradition by his dull singing, which appeared deep. On the other hand he has kept ghazals alive among the common men and popularized the form of ghazals. On one hand he has, knowingly or unknowingly, fought for Urdu/ Hindustani which is closely associated with the form of ghazal and on the other hand he has given voice to the poems written by a man in whom Hindi nationalism and Hindu nationalism comes together.
As I sit and think of all these I am reminded of that one line which he sang:
Tum Chaley Jaaogay Toh Sochengey,
Humney Kya Khoya? Humney Kya Paaya?