It was probably the most pertinent and heart-warming tribute to the late Indian singer, Jagjit Singh (on the eve of his 71st birthday, February 8) when Pakistani ghazal virtuoso Ustad Ghulam Ali, put forward a musical rendition of his compositions and rekindled his oeuvre in the city.
Talking about Singh, he said, “He (Jagjit Singh) was like a brother to me. Only one in a million becomes a good ghazal singer, and he was one.” Cherishing some memorable moments, he said, “The first memory I have of him dates back to 1976 when I was performing in London. Jagjit and Chitra (Singh) were there too. It was a private show and he just barged in. He embraced me and said ‘Yeh mere liye bahut achha din hai (it’s a great day for me)’. I was delighted, and said it’s a great day for me too.” And since then, the friendship only blossomed further. “We did several shows together. We shared meals, cracked jokes, spent several nights chatting endlessly!” Well, the fact that the Pakistani singer flew down for a day, even though he wasn’t keeping well himself, is testimony enough to the bond he shared with Singh.
Best known for his unique style, the Ustad never repeats or sings any ghazal in the same style again, but chants it in a spontaneously new tune and harmony each time. Is that a conscious exercise? “Not at all,” he smiles. “Jab main stage pe baithta hoon ton main sabse pehle upar waale ko yaad karta hoon. Aur woh mujhe har baar zyaada zyaada variations deta hain. Main toh bas unhe pesh karta hoon. (Each time I sit on the stage I remember God first. And as I begin to sing, He gives me so many variations in which I can sing. And I just present the same).” He elaborates with examples, “If I want to say ‘aaiye’, (sings in three different tunes and expressions). Yeh taane aur murkhiye hamare kaam aati hain!”
And we did witness the same, as he performed the famous Chupke Chupke, and Kal Chawdvi ki Raat (in fresh versions).
The Ustad flew back to Pakistan the same evening though he wished he had time in hand to meet and greet his friends in Mumbai.