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I have been thinking of pain lately. The pointlessness of it. The inevitability of it. Why some people court it and others shun it. Some hide it and others hide from it. Some people gather painful moments like they were spring flowers. Their life is defined by pain, what it did to them, will do to them, is doing to them. They cannot stop talking about the hurts, the wounds, the scars. What would happen if they all disappeared? They cannot imagine their souls whole. They cannot imagine themselves without their injuries because somehow for them their pain is their power. Their weapon against the world. The stick they can beat everyone with. Even the ones who love them.

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And then there was Jagjit Singh who lost a young son in a freak accident, watched his wife become a mute shadow of the beautiful woman she was and then somehow learnt to align his soul to the thrum of the tanpura, dug deep into his pain, sang deeper, of God, of loss, mysticism, even love, even hope and in a way told us, “Whatever it is..get over it..get through it..dhoop mein niklo..ghataon mein naha kar dekho.”

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Not all of us have the gift he had. Of music in the veins, a love for the integrity of the written word, the ability to sense the emotion behind each phrase, the ability to communicate what the poet was feeling when he was writing, “aawazon ke baazaron mein khamoshi pehchaane kaun.” But all of us have something. That we can use to go beyond our pain. What pain does is to burn away the inessentials and then it becomes fuel that we can either use to burn ourselves or to light up our lives and of those around us and in our life. Jagjit Singh could not have used up all his pain. There was too much of it. But he did not use the pain in his life to waste his gift. He did not grow walls to shut himself in. He gave us the best part of himself, he gave breaks to new poets, young voice talents, did countless concerts for charity.

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Nothing ever came easy to him. While researching his life for a radio show, I learnt how when he came to Bombay in the 60s, powerful men from the film industry would invite him to their homes to sing for free in exchange of the hope that one day they would give him a break. They never did. He decided then to turn to ghazal. And liberated it from limitations of classicism without diluting it and brought it into middle-class homes. Not that things got easier. He would compose jingles to get by. He was once taken abroad to sing at a wedding in exchange for food and lodging. He stayed as a struggler in a room that had a metal cot and rats for company. Yet when he made it big, he did not let money become more important than his love for music. He composed the by now legendary music of Saath Saath for almost free, even paying the recording fees because the small budget film could not afford them. He helped people because no one had helped him when he was struggling. He created an alternate industry to rival film music. An industry that brought into focus, poets, instrumentalists and sound engineers we would have been too lazy to discover. In these commerce and profit driven times when even big producers resent giving royalty to lyricists, he made it a point to pay lyricists a part of his earnings. One man did all this. Just one.

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It all began for him one night  at a college in Sriganganagar, when as an unknown young talent he sang before 4,000 people. And then the power went off and there was utter darkness.  The battery-operated sound system  remained live. He kept singing. There was no sound. No movement. People kept listening and his life was a bit like this too. When the darkness fell, he kept singing, not waiting for light to come back. Using his own voice to fill up a void within himself and in us.

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Today is his birth anniversary and this is a note of gratitude to a man who knew that “Umr jalwon mein basar ho..yeh zaroori toh nahin.” And yet also that when hope leaves, love leaves, “faasla toh hai magar koi faasla nahin.” And indeed,  even in his absence, there is a presence. That tells us life is to be lived. And everything can be a gift. Even loss.
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Reema Moudgil has been writing for magazines and newspapers on art, cinema, issues, architecture and more since 1994, is a mother, an RJ , an artist. She runs Unboxed Writers from a rickety computer , edited Chicken Soup for The Indian Woman’s soul, authored Perfect Eight and earns a lot of joy through her various roles and hopes that  some day working for passion will pay in more ways than just one. And that one day she will finally be able to build a dream house, travel around the world and look back and say, “It was all worth it.