With every passing year, we seem to be losing something from our past. I have always loved the idea of old fashioned romance. Young lovers stealing glances from across the street, writing love-letters in perfumed sheets, leaving red roses in books for their loved one to retrieve. Arranging stealthy meetings in parks. Pining for someone in the loneliness of their room. Serenading the lover with mushy poetry and songs. Somehow, in this age of social media and Internet romances, such notions have retreated to the realms of fantasy.
I have an old audio tape of a recording of Jagjit Singh's concert in Singapore. I still keep it as a memento of the olden times. The old ghazals remind me of love in the age of innocence. Their sombre, haunting strains resonate with the desperation of unrequited love, the pain of separation, and the small delights that passion brings to the heart. They emanate the fragrance of spring when love is in the air. These days I have become cynical when I see relationships being reduced to power games and love being replaced by lust. Somehow these songs give me a sense of cheeriness in knowing that somewhere love exists unsullied by the corruptions of the world.
In the later half of 2011, Jagjit Singh passed away. A few months later he was followed by Mehdi Haasan. It was the end of Ghazal gayaki as we know it. In a way their deaths were symbolic of the joy of simple pleasures that we are losing. Ghazal gayaki enthralled generations of music lovers. Drifting a little apart from its classical moorings, its distinct sensibilities garnered immense appeal with the masses. But with the changing times it became less relevant and could not attract new listeners. In the 80's when digital music and electronica started to make inroads into the music industry, Jagjit Singh offered it a fresh lease of life. He adapted the ghazal to suit the preferences of the new age listener. At the same time he never altered the soul of the composition. In the recording that I have, he brought back the simplicity and honesty usually associated with ghazals, occasionally breaking in with a sher or a chutkula. To this day, I regret having missed an opportunity to attend one his concerts and see him perform in person.
These and more gems that will remain immortal in the hearts of anyone who has inhaled love through the breath of a ghazal.
- Hoshwaalon Ko Khabar Kya: This was the first song of Jagjit, I ever heard. The resonating melody and mellifluous vocals make it an all-time great ghazal.
- Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar: This song featured in Mahesh Bhatt's semi-autobiographical movie Aarth, which dealt with the complexities of relaationships. Against this backdrop, Jagjit Singh's compositions became a medium, through which the unspoken thoughts and feelings of the characters were conveyed in pivotal situations of the story.
- Gulshan Ki Faqat: As a poetic form, Ghazal came into contact with Sufism in the Middle ages. Consequently, it has found itself delving into the metaphysical and the themes have expanded to include philosophical interpretations. This ghazal tries to view love from such a perspective. Roughly translated, the first verse goes something like this : "Not just the flowers, but also the thorns lend the garden its allure,Sorrow too is necessary in our life, for sure."
- Baat Niklegi To: A wonderful composition reminiscent of the olden times when love was considered taboo and young lovers lamented about their unforgiving generation.This song caught the imagination of music lovers across the country and was his first brush with commercial success. The Independent described it as "ground-breaking ... it became a transformative, before-and-after milestone in the history of Indian popular and ghazal music."
- Shaam Se Aankh Me : The fire of passion gets somewhat dimmed with the passage of time. The song deals with the fleeting nature of love and the anguish it causes. The journey to rediscovering the love that is lost can be as magical as it can be agonising. Whenever I watch the video, I am inundated with such contrasting emotions.
- Kaagaz Ki Kashti: It was one of Jagjit's many qualities, the choice of poetry for his songs. Here the poet speaks of longing for childhood. Setting afloat paper boats in the rain, making castles out of sand, listening to fairytales, taking turns on the tree swings, chasing butterflies- he presents a kaleidoscope of every child's experiences growing up.
- Yaad Nahin Kya Kya Dekha: Moving from the usual grim mood of melody, it is almost as if a young Jagjit Singh on the throes of his adolescent love is crooning to his lover.
- Tera Chehra: Jagjit Singh surprised even the most ardent of his fans by giving a complete new flavour to a ghazal. Purists will definitely frown over the liberties taken with the musical arrangements but nevertheless it was a statement to show the way forward for ghazals.
- Hazaaron Khwayishen Aisi: Jagjit's compositions for the series on the life of Mirza Ghalib is regarded by many to be his magnum opus. It was only fitting that an artiste of his calibre give a tribute to one of the finest poets of Urdu.
- Honton Se Chulon Tum: Strictly speaking, not a ghazal but nevertheless a timeless classic. "Caress it with your lips, And just so make my song eternal ". It almost seemed like it was a plea to the world to keep alive the legacy of Ghazal gayaki.