While music lovers are still mourning the loss of Jagjit Singh, the maestro also left a void in the world of ghazal singing. There may be no dearth of listeners for this genre, but, unfortunately, few youngsters are taking to it and pursuing it as a profession. With no promising talent making it at the top levels, is this the end of the road for the genre?
“The current generation is drifting away from language and poetry,” says lyricist Javed Akhtar, who has worked with Singh on songs like Jaate jaate woh mujhe achchi nishani de gaya. “Due to lack of patronage, the genre is not getting enough support that it ideally deserves.”
However, he says, youngsters alone can’t be blamed for this. In a fast-paced environment, parents rarely bother about introducing their children to the finer aspects of art. “As a child, I was given books, short stories, plays to read. Today, in urban centres, people have no time for such things. Most parents send their children to English medium schools. Therefore, the vocabulary changes. Sadly, it’s only the lowermiddle and underprivileged sections who, due to lack of means, send their children to vernacular medium schools. So while these children are learning the language, they don’t have the luxury to indulge in music or fine ar ts,” Akhtar says.
Music director Shantanu Moitra of 3 Idiots and Munnabhai, MBBS fame agrees. “Anything that is non-flimi is fast losing its charm. We, as a nation, are not hailed any more for our classical greats. India’s sole entertainment USP today is Bollywood. Not thumri, ghazal, sehnai or sitar. It is an unfortunate situation. When a child refuses food, his parents forcibly feed it. In this case, our children aren’t force-fed with good classical forms of music. Bollywood and reality shows are the be-all and end-all for them,” says Moitra.
With so many such shows being aired on television, the race for TRPs is all-consuming. We are a nation caught by the fantasy of the “seeing is believing” syndrome, Moitra adds. There is little depth or seriousness. “We are satisfied watching an actor perform and sing on screen.” It’s no wonder that many ghazal singers in smaller cities and towns are not getting enough coverage. It’s not as if there isn’t much activity going on in this sphere. “Many ghazal singers perform in cities such as Lucknow and Pune, but we never recognize such parallel narratives,” says adman and lyricist Prasoon Joshi. “In smaller cities, ghazal is alive and thriving, but such singers are never talked about.” Though Joshi himself has been reciting poetry at mushairas since he was a teenager, he says the wider audience woke up to his recitations only after he performed at the Jaipur Literature Festival. “People came up to me and said they never knew I also recite,” he says.
While lack of visibility has hit the genre hard, some are optimistic that ghazal singing will survive the test of time. “The form has undergone a lot of change since the days of Begum Akhtar. Jagjit Singh presented it in a very different way, and the masses lapped it up. In future, too, the form will change, and there still will be listeners for it,” says an optimistic Joshi.
Ghazal singer Penaz Masani is also hopeful. “This art form has survived, and will continue to do so. A lot of singers are still practicing it. I get many calls from youngsters who say they want to learn ghazal singing. Perhaps the reason why we get to see few singers making it is because the era of cutting albums has gone,” says Masani. She, incidentally, has cut over 20 albums. Akhtar sees promise in young singers such as Jaswinder Singh, son of legendary composer Kuldip Singh. “Jagjit Singh was a phenomenon, and expecting someone to fill his shoes will be asking for too much. But there are people who are trying to restore the genre to its glory days,” he says.
Till then we will have to wait for another Jagjit Singh – one who wins over the world.