Chitra Singh: I am Jagjitji’s Only Disciple

Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh. Two names. One identity. What truly made them ‘unforgettable’ (also the name of their largest-selling album) was the fact that their renditions were not about sharab (wine), shabab (youth) and shama (flame). Rather they spoke of the rites of passage — of love and longing, dreams and dejection, suffering and spirituality.

The pair grew iconic through the ’70s and ’80s, triggering the trend of ‘couple singers’ but remained peerless. Then one day, Chitra turned silent... After losing their only son Vivek Singh (18) in a road accident in 1990, Chitra ‘lost her voice’ and receded into the shadows.

But she remained intrinsic to Jagjit’s life and art. A ghazal from his upcoming album The Master And His Magic, which she released on October 10 (Jagjit’s first death anniversary) sums up her journey with him: “Dil mein aaj dard-e-mohabbat ke siwa kuch bhi nahin. Zindagi teri ibadat ke siwa kuch bhi nahin”.

In some ghazals, his voice sounded young, in some mature.” Chitra has lent a voiceover before each ghazal, giving insight into her husband’s music and personality. “Papa’s earlier ghazals were romantic. They became largely spiritual in his later years,” she says, surprisingly referring to Jagjit as Papa. “He called me Mummy, I called him Papa. When Baboo (their late son Vivek) was alive, I’d say, ‘Jaao, papa ko bulao’. That’s how I began calling him Papa.”

Jagjit Gives Me Strength
Chitra Singh’s life has witnessed more tragedy than all the pain condensed in her ghazals. Having lost her son Vivek and later her daughter Monica Datta (from her first marriage) in a span of two decades, the vacuum only grew after her husband Jagjit passed away last year.

But Chitra seems more in control of herself than ever before. “I know he’s around and gives me strength,” she says, looking at the huge frame of Jagjit in her house. “I have too many responsibilities, too many loose ends to tie. I’m a fighter. However, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to fulfill my responsibilities before my time is up,” says the stoic singer. She has grandsons (Monica’s sons from her first marriage with cinematographer Jehangir Choudhary) Umair (16) and Armaan (22) as family. “My inner circle has shrunk. People have simply faded away.”

My Guru, My Guide
She recalls their first meeting in 1967. “I met him at a recording for a music director who wanted to compile a collection with various singers. He was resting his hand on the door as I opened it, half asleep. He came in, walked to the corner of the room and fell asleep.” But when she heard him sing, Chitra found his voice unlike all that she had heard.

“I told the music director that his voice was heavy and that I wouldn’t be able to sing with him,” recounts Chitra. But she did sing. And as his voice grew on her, so did his ‘caring’ personality. Chitra eventually married Jagjit in 1969 (she was earlier married to Debu Dutta).

From singing jingles, they went on to cut the most iconic of albums The Unforgettables (1978). With gems like Raat bhi neend bhi and Baat nikalegi, he simplified the ghazal without robbing its richness. A string of albums including Main Aur Meri Tanhai, The Latest, Ecstasies, Echoes and Beyond Time (the first digitally recorded album by an Indian artiste) and concerts, won the pair worldwide appreciation. In the same decade also came the films Saath Saath and Arth (the highest-selling cassette combination). But soon life hit a catastrophic note.

Tragedy and Tears
Jagjit and Chitra’s world came crashing down on July 27, 1990 when their only son Vivek passed away in a road accident. The shattered mother lost her voice and withdrew into a shell. While Jagjit immersed himself in music, Chitra sought solace in spirituality and even practised Bowen healing. The difficult phase also fuelled rumours of trouble in their marriage. “It was jealousy. People spread rumours that we had split and were living separately,” says Chitra.

The mother was somehow coming to terms with the loss when tragedy struck again. Chitra’s daughter and ex-model Monica Dutta, 50, committed suicide on May 29, 2009. “Jagjitji was shaken after Monica’s death. He had seen her as a five-year-old. She was like his own daughter. He was touring America then. He cancelled his shows, flew for two days, catching connecting flights to reach home. He was distraught though he never expressed much. But his quiet presence and support was enough.”

“My daughter was so beautiful and strong. She handled things single-handedly. But ultimately, she lost. She couldn’t cope any more. She had a rough life (referring to Monica’s failed marriages),” says Chitra, who was living with Monica then.

“I was talking to her till 3 am. I must have been insensitive not to have sensed that she would do such a thing. What kind of a mother am I? I should have given her more support. I blame myself for that,” says the devastated mother who’s keeping up a brave front for the sake of her grandsons Umair and Armaan.

“They have lost the roof over their heads and the ground below their feet. I cook for Armaan, he needs a different diet as he gyms. It gives me joy.”