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Indian Ghazal And Playback Singer Pankaj Udhas Dies At 72

Pankaj Udhas, the sweet voice that comforted wounded hearts, passed away in Mumbai on February 26 at the age of 72 following a protracted illness. Ghazals became popular among young people thanks to Udhas, who followed in the footsteps of Mehdi Hasan and Jagjit Singh at the beginning of 1980, when the “angry young man” had squeezed melody out of our lives. He defied convention by releasing the romantic form from Persianized Urdu, allowing them to express their suffering in a straightforward verse such as Deewaron Se Milkar Rona Achcha Lagta Hai. He also modified the melancholic orchestration to produce a fresh, modern melody that could proclaim Mohe Aai Na Jag Se Laaj Main Itna Zor Se Nachi Aaj Ki Ghungroo Toot Gaye.

For most people who grew up during the period when music videos were replacing Chitrahaar and the middle class was becoming more open to the idea of going to ghazal concerts, the image of an exquisitely dressed Udhas with a harmonium, not a hair out of place, whispering ever so softly into the mic is etched in their memory.

However, Udhas’ performance of Chitthi Aayi Hai for Mahesh Bhatt’s Naam is the song that made him immortal. The Laxmikant-Pyarelal song, which was released in 1986, became the anthem of migrants and the diaspora. The song, which focused on Udhas, was intended for the Indian diaspora in the movie. However, because of the passion in Udhas’ voice, Anand Bakshi’s lines came to represent the longing of every immigrant for their homeland. Emails, Skype conversations, and Zoom calls replaced letters, but every time Udhas raised his voice to beg Panchhi Pinjra Tod Ke Aaja, Desh Paraya Chhod Ke Aaja, the song stuck in my throat.

After making an impression on youthful listeners with Purab Na Jaiyo Paschhim Na Jaiyyo (Jawaab, 1985), the song elevated him to a household name. Ek Hi Maqsad (1988), in which he composed the music and performed the hit song Chandi Jaisa Rang Hai Tera, came next. The same year, he sang the popular duet Aaj Phir Tumpe Pyar Aaya Hai with Anuradha Paudwal for Feroz Khan’s Dayavan. Another unforgettable heartfelt ditty that continues to evoke pain is Jeeye To Jeeyen Kaise that he rendered for Nadeem Shravan in Saajan (1991). His voice could engage the connoisseur as well as the aesthete in a truck driver. We all have covered many miles listening to a bus driver playing Na Kajre Ki Dhaar (Mohra, 1994) on his rickety cassette player.

Udhas, who was up in a family of landowners in Charkhadi, Rajkot, was first exposed to music by his government-employed father, a rabab player. At first, Ustad Ghulam Qadir Khan taught Udhas the tabla, but he quickly transitioned to the classical genre. After the family relocated to Mumbai, Udhas studied under Navrang Nagpurkar, a Bhendi Bazar Gharana practitioner who also instructed Asha Bhosle. Manhar and Nirmal, his older brothers, were already well-known performers. Manhar was the one who first brought playback singing to Udhas. Udhas experienced early failures before turning to non-film ghazals, where he quickly became popular with albums like Tarannum, Muqarrar, Aahat, and Mehfil.

Many of his popular ghazals revolved around paimana (flagon) and maikada (tavern). Ghazals like Ek Taraf Uska Ghar, Ek Taraf Maikada and Sharab Cheez Hi Aisi Hai became an essential feature of his concerts but he also faced criticism for normalising boozing. Udhas held that these were metaphors for the intoxication of the divine in Sufi poetry but the argument didn’t always hold as he sang Ek Ek Ho Jaye Phir Ghar Chale Jaana with Kishore Kumar in Ganga Jamunaa Saraswati (1988). Music companies also pandered to this image by naming his albums Nasha, Paimana, and Madhosh.

The Padma Shri was in high demand for international engagements due to his strong emotional ties to the diaspora; he gave performances at Madison Square in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had a devoted fan base for his concerts even after Hindi cinema moved away from ghazals.

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