Friday, October 14, 2011

Sarhad ke uss paar se kuch mehman aye they : A tribute to Jagjit Singh

The crowning glory was without doubt his rendition of Ghalib’s timeless poetry for Gulzar’s unforgettable television serial based on the life of the great poet, brilliantly essayed by Naseeruddin Shah. While the bard has always been a favorite of most ghazal singers, perhaps no one has presented Ghalib as Jagjit has. Each one of those ghazals, every line indeed, is a rare gem, forcing you to listen again and again. He poured his heart into Ghalib forever tugging at the heartstrings of his audience. This from someone who didn’t study Urdu at school nor did inherit it from his parents.

What is most fascinating though is his universal appeal and how he touched millions of lives around the world and helped them connect. I have been amazed by the spontaneous outpouring of grief across the border in Pakistan. Hours after his death, Pakistani television networks paid fulsome tributes to the singer, vying with those across the border. The two leading English dailies of the country, Dawn and the News International, even carried editorials recounting his stupendous contribution. It’s not often that you see Pakistani media shower such unqualified and unreserved praise on an artist from the other side. Which incidentally holds true for Indian media as well.

I remember years ago when I expressed my hopeless admiration for Mehdi Hassan, a Pakistani friend had surprised me by declaring, “but I love Jagjit Singh! He’s incredible.” She found solace in Jagjit’s comforting voice amid all the confusion and pressures and demands of an expat existence.

As India and Pakistan mourn the singer, I am once again struck by all that the separated at birth twins have in common despite the unpleasantness of the past few decades and wars they have fought on and off the field.

Despite the best efforts of our perpetually scheming politicians, duplicitous diplomats and ever zealous media to divide us and poison our relations, what unites and bonds us, Indians and Pakistanis, is still greater than what divides us. From music to culture to literature and from food to sports to arts, the things that ordinary people of India and Pakistan share is truly mind-boggling.

Much of what Jagjit Singh sang was not just about love, longing and the heart-wrenching pain of losing a loved one, usual themes of a traditional ghazal. The songs of innocence and experience that he sang were also about finding peace amid conflict, keeping your sanity when everyone around you is losing theirs. The collection of Gulzar’s pNaetry, Marasim, to which Jagjit lent his voice is a dream about reuniting with long lost friends from across the divide (“Sarhad ke uss paar se kuch mehman aye they”).
The day he suffered that wretched brain hemorrhage, from which he never recovered, the singer was to join his old friend and fellow traveler from Lahore, Ghulam Ali, for a rare concert in New Delhi. Indeed, it was to be a series of concerts bringing together the best of voices from both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

It may sound like a silly call from a sentimental scribe but this is what we all need to do — bring together the voices of reason and sanity from India and Pakistan. There has never been a greater need to speak out for love, peace and reason — and not just in South Asia. There cannot be a better tribute to Jagjit’s enduring legacy.
Aijaz Zaka Syed in Arab News. Here

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