|Genres||Ghazal, Classical, Devotional, Folk|
Chitra Singh (née Dutta) was a well known Indian ghazal singer. She was a regular accompanist for her second husband Jagjit Singh, the renowned ghazal singer, and never sang except in concert with him.
Chitra was born in a Bengali family. She had no formal musical training, but had an abiding interest in music from a young age. She was an average student at school, and after completing her education, took on a secretarial job in Kolkata.
Within a couple of years of this, her parents succeeded in identifying a suitable young man for her to marry. This was Debo Prasad Dutta, an executive in a leading advertising agency. He hailed from a background similar to hers, and his family and educational qualification were suitable. After meeting each other a few times over the space of a month (usually chaperoned by one or more family elders), both Chitra and Debo Prasad consented to the match and the wedding was duly celebrated in traditional style. Within a couple of years after the wedding, the couple became the parents of a daughter, Monica.
However, things began unraveling soon afterwards. Debo Prasad quit his job at the advertising agency, opened an agency of his own, and set up a small recording studio in a room of his house. He and Chitra began to have difference and their marriage came under strain. At this juncture, the struggling singer Jagjit Singh became a frequent visitor to the house. He came there because Debo Prased Dutta employed him to sing ad jingles for several products. Jagjit and Chitra came into contact frequently, and Chitra took a shine at the gentle, sensitive, handsome Punjabi youth with the fabulous voice.
Ad jingle debut
It was Jagjit Singh who noticed that Chitra had a voice which was at least adequate for singing jingles. He told Debo Prasad that he should get his wife to sing some jingles and thus save the money to be paid to professional singers. Debo Prasad was reluctant, because his parents and family were of traditional outlook, and women who sang or danced in public spaces were looked down upon in India. Jagjit (whose own parents were opposed to the idea of their son pursuing a singing career) well understood this instinct. He artfully argued that since Chitra would never leave the sanctity of her own home, and since even her name (as a jingle singer) would be unknown to the public, no disgrace would attach to the reputation of the Dutta family. Yet the family resisted. Finally one day, the female jingle singer for a certain advertisement absented herself on grounds of ill health. With the delivery deadline at hand, Debo Prasad took the expedient way out and requested his wife to sing the jingle. She sang the ditty in duet with Jagjit Singh. That was her musical debut, and the result was breathtaking. Debo Prasad was duly impressed and had the integrity to say so. It became a regular feature for Chitra Dutta and Jagjit Singh to sing all the ad jingles produced by Debo Prasad Dutta's ad agency.
Divorce and second marriage
While Debo Prasad Dutta's ad agency was now doing better business, and the financial situation had eased considerable, the marriage of the Duttas did not witness any similar recovery. Debo Prasad Dutta and Chitra Dutta were divorced, and Chitra married Jagjit Singh. Indian courts give child custody to the mother as a matter of course, and Chitra took Monica with her when she left the Dutta household. jagjit has stated that the divorce "had nothing to do with me although I was there to comfort her and lend a helping hand." Divorce was a phenomenal taboo and earth-shaking scandal in the India of that era, and the couple were disowned, cursed and berated by their families. Both of them came from conventional families, and Jagjit in particular came from the rural society of Rajasthan. At this point, Jagjit was still a struggler singing jingles for a living, and how he had married a divorced woman who was also the mother of a small child.
For several years after their wedding, Jagjit and Chitra continued to earn a meager living by singing jingles for radio and TV advertisements. They augmented their income by singing live in posh hotels, for which they were paid well and also received tips from diners. During this period, they became the parents of a boy, Vivek, born in the later 1960s.
Stagnant for many years, their career took off suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly in the mid-1970s. This happened after some of the rich people dining at the five-star hotels appreciated their singing, and reported it to the big bosses of HMV. The turning point of their career came in 1977, with the launching by HMV of The Unforgettables, a hugely successful album of ghazals. This was the start of a brilliant career which took the couple to the heights of fame and fortune and brought them both popular and critical acclaim. Some of their memorable songs include "Yeh Tera Ghar, Yeh Mera Ghar", "Tum Aao To Sahi", "Woh Nahin Milta Mujhe", "Saare Badan Ka Khoon", and "Mitti Da Bawa". Singh's voice is, was and will be for ghazals, producing soulful gems like "Lab-e-Khamosh Se" (album: "Beyond Time").
It is held by fans of the couple that while Jagjit had a voice which approached perfection in the specific context of Ghazal-singing, Chitra had a high-pitched voice which occasionally betrayed its lack of formal training. Her clear, touching and high-pitched voice provided a suitable counterfoil for Jagjit's deep, low and dulcet baritone. Their duets created an extraordinary effect in songs like "Ishq Mein Ghairat-e-jazbaat Ne", "Aaye Hain Samjhane Log", and "Uski Hasrat Hai Jise Dile Se Mita Bhi Na Sakoon". Her voice also had a special dimension within the gamut of ghazal singing, so that in the case of "darbari mehfil" ghazals (as in "Dil-e-Nadaan Tujhe", "Dil He To Hai", and "Har Ek Baat Pe Kehteh Ho" from the album, "Mirza Ghalib") she was at her best.
In addition, Chitra also sang popular songs in Bengali. These were a different genre of music from either Ghazals or Bhajans (devotional music). Songs such as "Ki Dile Amai Tumi?" (What have you given me?), "Bujhini To Ami" (I didn't understand), "Duti Mon Ar Nei Dujonar" (Two hearts are one), "Amar Chokher Joler Majhe" (In my tears) are still popular in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
The couple took several innovative steps which not only promoted their career but also changed the character and perception of Ghazal singing radically. The effect of their innovations was three-fold: firstly, it brought the Ghazal to common people; secondly, it freed the Ghazal from the perception that it was a "Muslim" art-form and made it both available to and accepted by Hindu and Sikh audiences; thirdly, it introducing the Ghazal genre of singing to language-groups such as Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi.
Ghazal singing had until then been confined to "mehfils" (Soirees ) performed for small, elite audiences and usually held at the residence of a wealthy host. The couple were among the first set of professional singers to perform before large audiences of ticket-purchasing middle-class audiences. This not only increased their popularity but also vastly boosted the sale of their albums.
The duo also sang songs in the Hindi, Punjabi and Bengali languages, apart from the Urdu and Persian languages to which Ghazal-singing had been confined until then. This was another revolutionary step, which brought Ghazals into the ambit of the common people of India. A third step which promoted their singing career was the fact that they moved beyond strict Ghazal singing into the field of Hindu devotional music. They released albums of devotional hymns and songs, including Krishna, Chirag, Hey Ram and various Shabad kirtans of the Sikh faith (to which Jagjit belonged). Krishna is one of the largest-selling titles in the devotional music category in India.
Retirement and final years
In 1990, Vivek (Chitra's son by her second husband Jagjit Singh) died in a road accident at the age of 20. This came as a profound shock to Jagjit and Chitra Singh. They gave up music for a full one year after the death. At the end of that period, Jagjit returned slowly to music, but Chitra announced her retirement and declared that she would not sing or record any songs any more. She rarely ventured out of her home, only occasionally attending Jagjit's more important concerts.
Further pain was in store for her. Her daughter by her first marriage, Monica Dutta, went through two divorces and long spells of depression before committing suicide in 2009. Monica first married a Muslim businessman named Jahangir Chaudhury and had two sons by him, named Armaan Chaudhury and Umer Chaudhury. The couple divorced in 2005, and Monica married a Mumbai-based British national called Mark Atkins, who worked in an MNC. That marriage collapsed very quickly and the couple separated in 2007. Monica then filed a complaint of harassment and assault against Atkins at the Bandra police station and walked out of her husband's apartment. Eighteen months later, in May 2009, she committed suicide.
By the time this happened, Jagjit Singh had basically lost interest in pursuing his career and performed only occasionally. He was also keeping poor health. In September 2011, he suffered a brain hemorrhage and went into a coma. He died on October 10, 2011. After this, Chitra has become a total recluse and keeps away from society. In the past several years, she has begun learning and working on different forms of spirituality and spiritual healing therapies.