Jagjit rubbed shoulders with many other artistes, some of whom were as passionate as him. Among them […] Subhash Ghai, with whom he would forge a friendship that lasted his entire life.
‘I used to grab the gold medal in dramatics, he would win his for classical music,’ the producer-director said. ‘It was a portent of things to come.’
Ghai and Jagjit continued to meet at other inter-state festivals. Himself a singer of some talent, Subhash Ghai would join his new friend as they sat together at night, sometimes by themselves, at other times by the campfire, and sing together the songs they knew. It was at one such festival that Subhash Ghai suddenly realized the full measure of his friend’s talent.
‘We were at an inter-university competition in Bangalore,’ he recalled. ‘Though it was 11 p.m., there was no stopping the event as it rolled on. One student after another came up to the mike and sang fantastically. South Indian singers are so well trained, they have amazing confidence and expertise. The audience was equally charged, applauding each performer with great enthusiasm. Then it was Jagjit’s turn. When it was announced that the student from Punjab University was presenting a classical number, there was a bout of laughter from the audience. It implied that Punjab was better known for the folksy Bhangra numbers; why would a boy from Punjab want to take on the classical-loving South?
‘Jagjit entered and took his place at the mike. Seeing a Sardar with a turban and beard, the audience burst into laughter again. There was a lot of commotion, with some boys whistling and shouting. Through it all, Jagjit stood for a long moment with a half-grin on his face. Then, he started his alaap, but the audience laughed louder. The noise was deafening. I remember thinking, “It’s over, he is going to flop.” But Jagjit held his ground. He continued singing, his voice flowing clear and pure, over the noise from the crowd. Slowly the magic unfolded. The crowd grew silent, the audience started listening. It was an audience that understood classical music well. Soon, they were clapping, first tentatively as if taken by surprise, then enthusiastically, almost every five seconds. When Jagjit ended his song, they clapped for so long and so loudly that we were in tears. He won the first prize.’
Read all about the ghazal maestro’s extraordinary journey in English here
and in Hindi here.