Pankaj Udhas (1951-2024): Pankaj leaves; nation udaas

26 February,2024 06:15 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Sonia Lulla

Singer Rekha Bhardwaj pays tribute to the Ghazal king, who taught her about humility and dignity

Pankaj Udhas

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I can't speak of Pankaj ji as a person who has passed away because I am yet to comprehend his passing. I fail to come to terms with the fact that I cannot meet him, and hear his words of wisdom. I'm glad to have been embraced in this family called Khazana. I built a relationship with him in the last 10 years due to it. I've been listening to him since childhood, but what I learnt about patience, grace and dignity in the last 10 years is unparalleled. Few artistes have the grace to only speak well of people. Even if someone spoke ill of anyone, he'd ignore the conversation.

On Khazana, he was the most instrumental person, but he was always eager to give someone on his team the credit for his work. That shows his humility. Usually, in the Khazana melody, everyone is on stage. But [sometimes], he'd sit in the front row, watching every artiste. He'd patiently await his turn, even if he had to perform at 3 [am]. These are practices to adopt.

Pankaj ji would always keep his word. Even if we felt we could [showcase] some talent another year, he would egg us on to [retain them]. He was always encouraging and respectful towards every artiste, even if the artiste was 15. I can't imagine Khazana without him. The courage he'd give us when things wouldn't work out was so vital for us.

From my school days, I loved his ghazal, Deewaron se milkar rona achha lagta hai. Another ghazal, Jheel mein chand nazar aaye was one that I heard for an entire day, and then texted him telling him how his voice had a beautiful blend of romance and melancholy. That's what attracted me to his singing. Whenever he would sing, I used to always get emotional. His music [had] depth, regardless of what he [sang]. He had wonderful memories with Shankar-Jaikishan and other composers, and I told him to write a book on it. He had started to write it, but it got deferred. When I reminded him about it, he said he was busy. I told him I have spoken to a publisher, and that I was looking forward to it.

My heart goes out to Nayyab. I built a relationship with her [working together on Khazana]. It's a big loss. There is a void that won't be filled, even if we eventually return to routine. I was constantly in touch with him, except in the last few months. In the recent past, we had only spoken to Nayyab, and maintained the privacy.

Somesh Mathur

I've known him for 35 years. When I was starting out, he was a big star, and always encouraged me. He believed that the next generation must be encouraged and supported so that the legacy of Hindustani poetry and music can be transferred to them. That was his aim with the Khazana festival, which I had the great fortune of [being part of]. It brought established artistes and new singers together, and thereby helped launch the careers of many people. His contribution is invaluable.

Unlike a lot of other artistes I know of, [who] were also legendary, he was the epitome of humility. I learned from him that it's not always about oneself; one must share their knowledge, and creativity with the world. And if one is privileged, share the platform as well.

In that way, he inspired thousands of artistes. Today, as a Grammy mentor, I'm teaching Indian music, art, and culture to American and European students.

I remember the encouraging messages he'd send me when my album came out, telling me I'm setting a trend in music. He was there for every artiste who he liked and believed [needed] support and encouragement.

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