There isn’t an Indian music lover whose heart doesn’t fill with emotion on hearing the song ‘Chitthi Aayi Hai’ by the legend, Pankaj Udhas. This anthem of longing still tugs at our heartstrings and evokes a deep sense of nostalgia. That is the immensity of the soulful voice of the Padmashri awardee. With a singing career spanning over 35 years, Udhas continues to be a music icon to millions of fans around the world.
BizAsiaLive.com’s Anil Kumar Bharath caught up with him, ahead of his 2019 UK concert tour.
Starting with your childhood. You were born in Gujarat and hail from a heritage of landowners. Would you like to share some memories of your growing up years? And especially, were you fond of music and singing at back then?
Everyone in our house loved music and it was a quite a musical environment. During my growing up years, from the time I realised about anything in life, I think music was the first thing I was introduced to in my house, and this is the reason why I had an interest in music. I remember when I was about five or six years old, I was singing since my school days.
Who was and had been your Gurus (Teachers)? Who inspired you to sing at that age?
In think periodically, there are many elements that affected and influenced me from childhood. I’d say my first inspiration came from the radio. In that era, we had no other sources of entertainment expetd for a radio, and I loved listening to songs on the radio. I used to listen to them attentively.
What type of songs did you listen to?
From childhood, I was a very big fan of Lata (Mangeshkar) Ji. I used to sing Lata Ji’s songs in school as a small child. My favourite was Lata Ji’s ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo’, and with that song, I won many prizes in my school competitions.
When it came to learning music, contrary to what everybody thinks, I was crazy about Tabla in my childhood. In Rajkot, there was the Sangeet Natak Academy, a nationwide government institution where music is taught. I enrolled myself and started learning tabla.
When you made the decision that you want take music further, what were your parent’s views on the matter?
I am so very thankful to both my parents. Both of them encouraged me a lot. Firstly my elder brother Manhar Ji, he was the first one to start singing professionally and let me tell you that, Manhar Ji is by qualification a mechanical engineer. So obviously you can imagine, you’ve got to give full compliments and credit to the parents who would encourage their son to sing instead of taking up a job. So, this was a big support, both my parents were very very supportive and they were very very encouraging.
After completing your secondary school education, you moved to Mumbai and won an intercollege competition.
Winning the inter-college competition trails back to radio again. Though I was very young, I used to listen to listen to Begum Akhtar’s ghazal’s on the radio. I liked her voice a lot. At that time, my knowledge of Urdu was limited but I did understand Hindi though. In spite of not knowing the language of ghazal, I was attracted by her vocals. There was an air of magic in her voice and when I started college is Mumbai, I started singing Ghazals. I remember that the first competition I took part in, I sang a Ghazal instead of a Hindi film song, and due to the style I sang it, it was greatly appreciated by music director Shankar Jaikishen, who was one of the competition’s judges.
Why did you choose Ghazal?
The thing I like most about Ghazal is the shayari (poetry). The couplets in Ghazal have a tremendous impact, that was my favourite part. When you read a great shayar (couplet), the whole world applauds. Also, Ghazal singing is slightly different to other types of singing, I liked its uniqueness.
‘Chitti Ayi Hai’ is one of your most popular songs. Do you have any special memories associated with this song?
I have lots of memories relating to this song, I could write a book. But, it certainly became an iconic song. When we recorded it, we felt that it would have an effect on a lot of people because of its universal sentiment. The song illustrates the emotions you feel when you’re far away from loved ones. Even after 33 years since its release, the song is still fresh and evergreen.
In addition to your 2019 tour, do you have any musical plans for the future?
After the tour, I will be launching a beautiful track which is going to be single. It is written by the famous poet Qaisarul Jafri who also wrote the ghazal, ‘Deewaron Se Mil Kar Rona Acha Lagta Hai’.
The Pankaj Udhas tour in the UK is currently underway.