KAAGAZ KI KASHTI: A heartfelt paean to a voice that spoke through our silences.

KAAGAZ KI KASHTI ( THE PAPER BOAT, 2017 ) – – – a documentary on iconic Indian ghazal singer Jagjit Singh.

DIRECTOR : Bhrahmanand S. Singh.


“POETRY IS DEAD.” Hither and thither goes this proclamation from a great many fledgling sources. So who makes up this composite of uninformed voices that falls not far from issuing a kind of profane invective to the most sublime and refined of artistic pursuits? A little of those who have never cared for its nuance, a bit of those who receive it in literary and musical gatherings of a select few only sparingly and superficially. Then there are those who sing its praises to seem attuned and polished to an unsuspecting public but would happily yawn at a moment’s wink if given the chance. Also all of them will be seen fidgeting and shuffling and squirming in their seats, dazed by even the most universal couplet. There’s more to their time than fantastical, high headed poetry sessions, you see. A temperament, a distant flame of brilliance accorded by the powers that be of the cosmos to few outstanding individuals is how they celebrate and ironically compartmentalize poetry. Like something utterly unattainable. They admire the practitioners but are coldly aloof of its ramifications and universality. Don’t take me to be a cynic but this side of the coin is grasped at even the most high profile literary festival. You and I know the ironies inherent in this discussion. The proof is apropos of a general waning interest in the humanities. Here as a beginning to the eventual writing about the documentary on Jagjitji, I mean to enlighten one about the state of poetry and especially the ghazal.

It’s utterly profane to render poetry in any form infirm, if you ask me and as our sensibilities are annexed by regular sound and fury of crass commercialism, the fever pitch of this proclamation is getting amplified. In the evaporating ethics of lyrics in popular songwriting alone that is the hard and fast rule. To imagine there was melody that hinged on the efficacy of words and the poetic in the world of spontaneous song craft that we then hummed and sung along with, seems like belonging to a distant past. Does anything like a skeletal remain then stays of as astute and tenuous an art form as the ghazal? One snap of the rope and the expressive impression comes faltering to a halt ;such is the tact and care it requires, a true maverick’s discipline. Even using this most sophisticated branch of Urdu poetry as a term ( and as regards its adaptability to music and lyrics it has enjoyed for centuries) , within the larger pantheon of today feels distinctively odd and very out of place.

Songwriting has hit paydirt, genres are mixed and matched to grotesque effects and sexism has become such a mainstay the Hindi language film and private album canon has lost itself to its cacophony. The general soundscape, as such, is one of boom booms and strange little boomerangs that reflects as much this generation’s idiocy as sinking tastes where anything that glitters with approximations of its crude lingo and lack of imagination is acceptable. To say it is the case with most global outings in particular will hardly be a novel statement. ‘How do these songs even get commissioned, leave alone composed and written or sung?’ is most often the refrain that goes in concentric circles around us yet the trend continues to be updated to blundering new heights. Once started, this wheel will keep on churning as it has more so in the post 2010 demographic.

And sigh! No relief in sight, we turn to selective subscription to the choices few and far between and then as if taking a time machine back to the basics of all that should define creativity, we reiterate the legends, the classics and timelessness of their efforts that cut pointedly through all the worst musical formulae and swathes of our times. It is pride of a legacy we don’t necessarily wear on our sleeves because we cherish, preserve and are punctuated by these in our silent musings. It’s a legacy of serenity. An antidote to the noise of the present. A tapestry that keeps on unfolding over the years, over successive generations.

The ghazal form beckons us in this case and its paragon and exponent Jagjit Singh is one such figure. He’s all that is true and sublime and refined about poetry and its everlasting perfume of details, with art imitating life and vice versa. As an avid admirer of the man who revolutionized the ghazal, I feel an alternative, better than this to those seeking to be touched by his sobering halo, cannot be there. With the medium of this sterling documentary, the repository of our musical legacy comes blooming with the same depth as Jagjitji’s baritone – a well of emotions galore and more.

The ghazal form was a mainstay of the nobility and genteel society as part of the culture of mehfils (as a short snippet about it would inform you) but largely it was patronized as the acme of economical expressions and life changing intellect.

*** Credit : WIKIPEDIA

I believe ghazal form as is general poetry is not dependent on just invocations of grandeur or the resulting ‘ wah wahs( bravos / praises)’ of listeners but really is the private self merging with the public and best exemplified as speaking inner truths through the silences of rapt listeners. When read, it only achieves a greater wealth of significance. However, pedanticisn is in clear opposition to it. Jagjitji brought it a lyricism, a merging of the private and public selves and the universality his critics thought would eventually elude him. Ghazal was now a way of life for the thinking man’s unraveling. Such is his prominence that to this date a prominent hotel, club or gathering will honour him by singing his ghazals or playing them on the stereo. A genteel get together will opt for his ghazals over renditions of popular film numbers. For a playback, his oeuvre invites challenge, rapture and a kind of divine light just in the simple fact that another voice gets the felicity of enunciating his lines. Also I dare you to find one true Indian acolyte of music who has never heard him, even if fleetingly ( those from the present generation may attest to that). As a child of the 90s, I had heard and memorized his lines even when I could not understand their meanings. In a nutshell, no mention of subcontinental popular culture can be complete without him and his legendary partnership on records with his better half Chitra.

** the legendary couple

So it hurts when ghazal singers are not even given the dignity of a clap at the end of a performance as their lingering voices waft in halls drowned in conversations, cutleries and shallow words exchanged. To the spirit of the man who commanded each and every one’s attention with his captivating voice and lifelong credo of humility, another trait which is out of tune nowadays. This introductory portion before I write about contents of the documentary was meant as a bow of respect to poetry, Ghazals and the man himself. It’s a triumph of sorts to actually have the freedom to write about all these as they deserve more than a glance even as some discerning souls make earnest efforts to revive successfully imprints of these forms through literary retrospectives and festivals.

** the documentary’s director Bhrahmanand Singh.


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