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Pankaj Udhas: A voice so calming, it soothed hearts amid the din

The ghazal singer once said in a media interview that he was inspired by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan to learn ghazals.
Last Updated 26 February 2024, 23:45 IST

The year was 1986, and a song, 'Chitti aayi hai, vatan se chitti aayi hai', from the film Naam stirred the conscience of Indians, especially those who left their homeland for work and opportunities. It was selected as one of the 100 songs of the millennium by BBC Radio.

The voice of this timeless track, Pankaj Udhas, who had also made a cameo by singing that ghazal in the film, died at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai on Monday after a prolonged illness at 72.

The ghazal singer once said in a media interview that he was inspired by Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan to learn ghazals. Udhas, along with Jagjit Singh and Talat Aziz, went on to form the “ghazal trio”, occupying the melody mind space of the audience.

Melody amid the noise

The period of the 80s and 90s saw a surfeit of potboilers in Hindi cinema, with exotic locales and the deafening sound of gunshots and dishooms. Unfortunately, melody became a casualty in this melee.

It was this vacuum that Udhas filled with his calm, silken voice and a certain rootedness that made people go back to switch on the radio for Hindi music.

Udhas catapulted to fame in that era with many popular tracks in blockbusters like Saajan and Mohra. His renditions of 'Chandani raat mein, Thodi thodi piya karo' and 'Na kajare ki dhaar' became chartbusters. The video of the song, 'Aur ahista kijiye baatein', from his 1988 independent album, had become such a rage with girls that they began dressing up in Indian clothes amid the onslaught of western couture.

Early years

Udhas was born in Gujarat and began his musical journey from the Rajkot Sangeet Academy. According to a report, his first stage appearance was at the age of 5, when he recreated Lata Mangeshkar’s iconic 'Aye mere watan ke logon'.

It is said someone from the audience was so moved that he gave the young Udhas a reward of Rs 51. Incidentally, a number of music critics have compared his iconic Chitti song with this 1962 Mangeshkar classic.

His initiation into the world of music began with rhythm, as he learnt the tabla. He later took Hindustani classical music training from Ghulam Qadir Khan Sahab. He then moved to Mumbai and continued his training with Navrang Nagpurkar, a vocalist from the Gwalior Gharana.

He made his film debut with a song in a 1972 movie, Kaamna. In 1980, Udhas cut the disc for the first time with an independent album  Aahat (those days, when they released an album, it was called cutting the disc).

Thus began an illustrious career in music, where Udhas struck a chord with people. He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2006. He may have faded from the film circuit but continued with his ghazal performances across the world. His most recent song as a playback singer was for a 2016 film Dil toh deewana hai.

The world of music has certainly lost a luminary, but Udhas’ voice lives on.

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(Published 26 February 2024, 23:45 IST)

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