Analysis: Pankaj Udhas – The Singer Who De-Urduised The Ghazal

Analysis: Pankaj Udhas – The Singer Who De-Urduised The Ghazal

When Udhas forayed into ghazal singing, it had a touch-me-not aura and was appreciated only by a niche crowd, claiming to understand the nuances of Urdu language and poetry

Sumit PaulUpdated: Wednesday, March 06, 2024, 11:28 PM IST
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Pankaj Udhas | x

Ghazal wahi ghazal hai jo har koi samjhe

Dushvaar alfaaz se ise bojhal mat kar

Kar aise lafzon ka istemaal ae ghazal-go

Sun-ne wala kah uthe mukarrar, mukarrar

— Nashtar 'Nishapuri'

(A true ghazal is one that's understood by all / Don't make it cumbersome with recondite words / Oh, the creator of a ghazal, use such words/ Which can make connoisseurs say encore)

The aforementioned quatrain, written by Nashtar “Nishapuri”, fully applies to Pankaj Udhas, whose sonorous voice fell silent on February 26 after enthralling the listeners and connoisseurs of Urdu ghazals and nazms for nearly five decades. The very name of Pankaj Udhas became synonymous with ghazal gayaki post-1980. Years ago, Urdu critic Moin Faisal captioned his mazmoon (article) on Pankaj Udhas: Udaas dilon ki apni aawaaz. Got to say, a very apt description! Udhas’ ghazal singing became balm for frayed nerves.

Purists are of the view that though Pankaj Udhas popularised ghazals, he trivialised them. They could be right in their observation, but there’s no gainsaying the fact that till the late 1970s, ghazal was smugly ensconced in the snug environs of condescending superiority with its highfalutin’ Persianised Urdu. Ghazal came out of its ivory tower, thanks to the efforts of Udhas, Satish Babbar, Jagjit Singh, Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota among others.

Coming from a Gujarati family with musically inclined elder brothers Manhar Udhas and Nirmal Udhas, Pankaj had a hunch that it was ghazal where he would excel and impress scores of people. As I already stated, when Udhas forayed into ghazal singing, it had a touch-me-not aura and was appreciated only by a niche crowd, claiming to understand the nuances of Urdu language and poetry. Pankaj wanted to popularise it among the proletariat without diluting its essence. He, therefore, cherry-picked ghazals written in Hindustani.

It can well be said that Udhas de-Urduised ghazals and purged them of abstruse Persian and Arabic words. But never did he sing ghazals and geets that catered to plebeian tastes. So, even those ghazals of Udhas that revolved around taverns and goblets, didn't sound downright pedestrian. It was his disarming modesty that he never considered himself to be the Shanshah-e-ghazal (the emperor of ghazals). " Ye khitaab faaqt Mehdi Hasan sahab ko zeb deta hai," (This title does justice only to Mehdi Hasan sahab), he once said very humbly. I had a couple of meetings with him in Baroda and Ahmedabad. I once interviewed him for an Urdu daily and he requested me at the outset, “Aap bahut dushvaar Urdu ka istemaal na keejiyega” (Please don't speak in difficult Urdu). He was aware of his limitations and was never shy of admitting them in public. No one ever saw him behave abrasively. He was extremely friendly with his fans and obliged them whenever they requested him to sing a ghazal or geet . “Inhin logon ki badaulat main aaj iss maqaam pe pahuncha hoon,” (I’ve reached this stature, thanks to these people), he told me during that interview for a Pakistani Urdu daily. In addition to his musical prowess, Udhas was recognised for his philanthropic initiatives, actively supporting charitable causes and social welfare projects. Notably, his 1989 album Nabeel became a best-seller, and the first copy was auctioned for Rs 1 lakh, with the proceeds donated to the Cancer Patients Aid Association. The ghazal maestro also dedicated himself to the Parents Thalassemia Unit. Whenever people listen to his ghazals and songs like Jheel mein chand nazar aaye, Niklo na benaqaab (Naayaab, Vol 1, 1985), Ik taraf uss ka ghar, Thodi-thodi piya karo, Shikwe bhi hazaron hain, mohabbat, inayat, karam dekhte hain, Chitthi aayee hai, Chaandi jaisa rang hai tera, Na kajre ki dhaar, Aaj phir tum pe, Jiyein toh jiyein kaise, to name but a few, they will fondly remember him with moist eyes.

Throughout his career, Pankaj Udhas released numerous albums and singles, many of which have attained timeless classic status. To encapsulate, Pankaj had a voice the masses could relate to. Call it a fate's cruel coincidence that two magnificent voices from Bollywood, Ameen Sayani and Pankaj Udhas, dissolved into eternity in quick succession. But both the maestros will always remain alive in the collective memory of their fans and admirers. If Ameen Sayani taught the art of compering to all the future announcers, Pankaj Udhas revolutionised and resuscitated the moribund ghazal scenario, at least in India. Lovers of Urdu ghazals shall remain beholden to him. Take a bow, maestro.

Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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