Anup Jalota sad and shattered by buddy Pankaj Udhas' passing

February 26, 2024
This was totally unexpected, a rude shock, learning of the sad demise of my dear friend and elder brother, Pankaj Udhas

This was totally unexpected, a rude shock, learning of the sad demise of my dear friend and elder brother, Pankaj Udhas, when he still had a lot of singing to do and give much more to the people and his art. We were close friends for over 45 years, though we hailed from different cultural backgrounds – Pankaj was from Gujarat while I was from Lucknow. However, we both hit it off instantly after our first casual meeting decades ago in Mumbai, we both progressed in our chosen field of singing, he specialised in ghazals, and I specialised in bhajans.

Though he hailed from a very wealthy background (of landlords) of Jetpur (Gujarat), I noticed that he did not have the ‘airs’ of an aristocrat. Most people surprisingly found him to be very humble, down-to-earth, practical and of an extremely helpful nature, to one and all, always.

I recall many decades ago, one of his singing Gurus (Master) in Mumbai, under whom he trained for almost 8 years, had mentioned a problem of accommodation. Pankaj quietly resolved to do something, and after speaking to me and all other friends, organising a few special music concerts, he managed to collect sufficient funds to gift his Guru a decent house in Mumbai.

Even today, his Guru – who I do not wish to identify – considers it as the most sincere ‘Guru-Dakshina’ he ever received from any of his disciples.

That was the greatness of my elder brother Pankaj…

As a singer, he had a remarkable talent of ‘simplicity’, no complications, he adopted a very lucid style of singing that directly pierced into the hearts of the audiences. I can cite many such songs that he rendered in a very simple style, but that have become memorable, and indeed, synonymous with Pankaj’s persona.

Another noteworthy aspect of Pankaj was his sheer professionalism and dedication to his work, discipline in anything he did, arriving on time for performances or recordings, no tantrums despite his status, he knew his singing range and remained within it. All the signs of true greatness in a person… Whenever we sang together, it was always in a ‘supportive’ manner, never attempting to overshadow each other and that was the reason for our close bond surviving decades. We even collaborated on a joint album “Zindagi Har Lamha” (2016) which was released by Amitabh Bachchan, and it was also very popular.

Over the years, Pankaj and I managed to tour the world, performing jointly or solo in groups of artists at hundreds of concerts that were packed with music lovers. I was pleased to witness how Pankaj was not only popular in India but equally adored abroad, especially the Indian community which thronged his stage shows wherever he went.

Then, we spent many evenings together, at his home or mine, or elsewhere… Of course, singing our favourite songs was always on the menu, plus we discussed other big singers and those who influenced us. We shared a joint passion – on how to encourage the younger generation to our styles of creative, classical and pure form of music like Ghazals, Bhajans, etc, which seem to be overshadowed by the modern musical forms.

Some 20 years ago, it gave birth to our initiative, ‘Khazana Ghazal Festival’, which introduced, encouraged and presented new, promising talent to the country, and we pursued it like a mission; now I will vigorously take it forward alone… I am happy that till date, we managed to dig up over 100 young gems of artistes, who are not only highly talented – like Pooja Gaitonde or Sumeet Tappoo, and others – but have the potential to keep alive the traditions of Ghazal-Bhajan singing for many more years.

Today, as I am left with a treasure of Pankaj Udhas’ memories and jewels of his music, I also vow to continue our dream project, as long as I can…

(As told to Quaid Najmi)

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