‘I learnt to be humble from Pankajji’

‘He was a wonderful singer, but more importantly he was a wonderful human being.’

Photograph: ANI Photo

There was much more to Pankaj Udhas than ghazals and Chitthi Ayee Hai.

One of the three singing brothers (the other two being Manhar and Nirmal) Pankaj Udhas sang lilting numbers like Teri Aashiqui Meri Zindagi Hai in Ghaat and Kitaben Bahot Si Padhi Hogi Tumne in Baazigar for Composer Anu Malik.

Says Anu, “I am saddened, shocked, anguished. The world has not only lost a great singer but a greater human being. We worked together on some songs .He had a terrific sense of poetry. He was always jovial and very witty. He always smiled. Spoke very sweetly.”

Apparently Pankaj liked Anu Malik’s songs. “He always spoke about my music and complimented me on my music especially Kitaben Bahot Si Padhi Hogi Tumne from Baazigar which I made him sing with Asha Bhosleji for an album for Venus Records. He loved it and told me how could I turn a ghazal-numa poetry into a commercially viable song.”

“After the recording he hugged me and said, ‘You know what? You are extremely talented.’ I was taken aback because he said it with so much love and respect for my talent. It was no less than an award for me.”

Anu reciprocated Pankaj Udhas’s compliments. “I called him when he sang Chitthi Ayee Hai. He was humble in success, just took my compliments with a soft laughter. The music world, the ghazal world, all of us have lost a shining star a gem of a human being. The best of the best. May Pankajji‘s soul rest in everlasting peace. May god give his wife, his daughters and his entire family immense strength to bear this irreparable loss,” says Anu.

Composer Mayuresh Pai recalls Pankaj Udhas with a sad smile. “We shared the one thing in common: Our bhakti for the Goddess Mata Saraswati Lataji. He used to call her Maa. They were very fond of one another.”

“Lataji sang some wonderful duets with Pankajji: Aur Bhala Kya Maangu Main Rab Se in Thanedaar, Ga Ga Mere Sang in Gunahon Ka Faisla and Mahiya Teri Kasam in Ghayal.”

Mayuresh describes Pankaj’s voice as velvety. “I grew up listening to his velvety singing. His soft-spoken humble nature was inspiring to all artistes. Jagjit Singhji and Pankaj Udhasji took the ghazal to the masses. He was a wonderful singer, but more importantly he was a wonderful human being.”

Kavita Krishnamurthy has not just lost a colleague, but also a friend.

She knew him for years. “He was the finest and the sweetest person I’ve ever met. We were friends from our Sangeet Mandal days in St Xavier’s (college, Mumbai. We would often participate in group singing activities in college.”

“Success hadn’t changed him and he was courteous to one and all. The kindness of his heart reflected in his singing. His emotional approach to singing and his melodious voice were his strength. I shall miss his smiling face and gentle ways.”

Photograph: ANI Photo

Udit Narayan recalls Pankaj Udhas as a very generous co-singer. “When I was a struggler in Mumbai. And even before that, when I was a nobody in my village, Pankaj Udhas was a big name. Ghazal used to be an elitist experience before him. Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Farida Khanum, Begum Akhtar….hamari sun-ne ki auqat nahin thi.”

Then one day after Udit’s songs in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak became a hit, he got a call. “There was no mobile phone in those days. So it was on the landline. And it was Pankajji calling to congratulate me. ‘Bahot achcha gaya aapne Papa kehte hain bada naam karega. Mazaa aa gaya!‘”

“Tell me, kaun aisa karta hai?” asks Udit. “Such generosity towards an upcoming singer who had just recorded his first success, it means the world to me. I learnt to be humble and generous towards my juniors from Pankajji. A kind word goes a long way when you are coming up in life.”

Udit got his first opportunity to perform with Pankaj Udhas. “It was for a Durga Puja concert in Patna. Both Pankajji and I were scheduled to perform. Imagine my pride and happiness… I was sharing the platform with the singer whom I looked up to. I first sat in the audience and enjoyed Pankajji‘s singing. Woh jab stage pe gaate the toh duniya jhoomti tthi.”

“Then I went up to sing and he watched me. It was a historic moment.”

Over the years, Udit never lost touch with Pankaj Udhas. “We kept bumping into each other at social gatherings and at music associations’ meetings. He was always very warm to me. In his going we’ve not only lost a great singer, but the world is short of one more good human being.”

Alka Yagnik remembers Pankaj Udhas with misty-eyed warmth. “He was a very well mannered, soft spoken, thorough gentleman, ever-smiling, with a good word for everyone… An icon and a legend in the field of music … Held his own unique place in the world of ghazals… has so many great evergreen memorable songs to his credit … will be remembered for ages to come, and will be greatly missed by all music lovers … A huge loss to us all … May he rest in eternal peace.”

“He was a very fine gentleman, and of course, a great singer,” says singer Shailendra Singh. “I remember when I had gone to the US and Canada, in 1975 or 1976, I was in my hotel room in Toronto when I got a call from the front desk. It was Pankaj! I met him and he told me that he was also a singer, and he was there to perform.”

“Over the years we became friends. We used to meet socially. His death has come as a shock. May his soul rest in peace.”

“Saddened by the news!!! He had such a soulful soft and melodious voice,” Alisha Chinai adds. “One of the Greats of the Ghazal era..he will be missed!!”