The Week, November 2011

Recitation of poetry or ghazals was earlier done only in mehfils (chamber music or private concerts) and was patronised by the maharajas, nawabs and zamindars. The history of ghazal singing covered a long journey before it reached the platform of concerts. I have attended many magical performances by the legendary Begum Akhtar, who gave ghazals an unthinkable status. We participated in many music festivals together. A similar legacy was shared by Fareeda Khanum of Pakistan. I have beautiful memories of both these ghazal divas.

Barkat Ali Khan, the younger brother of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saheb, also had a unique vision and canvas for ghazals. These great singers paved the way for the two stalwarts of recent times, Mehdi Hassan, who dominated the scene for many years, and Ghulam Ali. Many other talented ghazal singers also entered and flourished in this arena. Sardar Jagjit Singh was another notable personality who achieved and sustained his iconic status in the world of ghazals for many years. He simplified the literature and poetry of ghazals and made its presentation more interesting and appealing to the common man.

Although there were many other singers who were singing ghazals, it was Jagjit Singh’s appealing and melancholic voice that captured the hearts of millions of people all over the world. What distinguished him from other singers was his lower octave, deep voice which was full of emotions.

Soon after my wedding, one evening Jagjit Singh and his wife, Chitra, were performing together at the Tejpal auditorium in Mumbai. My wife, Subhalakshmi, expressed the desire to attend the concert. When we entered the hall, the concert had already begun. I requested the presenter to give us seats somewhere in the centre of the auditorium so that the artistes and the audience are not disturbed. We took our seats very quietly even as the duo belted out a popular song. Taking note of our presence, Jagjit stopped singing and congratulated us on our wedding. This was followed by a huge round of applause by the gracious audience of Mumbai. Subhalakshmi was highly embarrassed and happy (I am sure). The legendary Lata Mangeshkar was also present in the hall. Jagjit Singh passed away on October 10. I will miss this truly visionary musician.

Another legendary musical figure also passed away recently in Mumbai. Bhupen Hazarika was a multi-dimensional and creative musician. He was highly educated and was far ahead of his times as an artiste. Always brimming with confidence, he left his mark in all the fields that he ventured into, be it films, music composition, singing or even politics. Hazarika became the face of Assamese singing and folk music. No Assamese would have grown up without being touched by his music. I had the honour of meeting Dada (elder brother, as I called him) on numerous occasions. He had a deep love for the river Brahmaputra. Dada became the voice of the people of Assam and an inspiration for many young and talented singers in the region.

He lived a full life. He was very close to my father-in-law, Parasuram Borooah, who was an industrialist and had acted in the first Assamese movie, Joymati, and his elder brother P.C. Borooah, former member of Parliament and the first Assamese singer to sing for the Gramophone Company of India. They were both very influential names from Assam. I pray that Dada rests in peace.

-By Amjad Ali khan