(This is an old story I’m re-publishing. I wrote this in October 2011, right after the sad demise of Jagjit Singh.)

“Did you take the pen drive?” Rekha asked, about to shut the main door to their house.

Nishant tapped his pockets, looked at his wife and shook his head. “I think I forgot it on the computer table.”

Rekha made a face, an expression Nishant couldn’t decipher, and went in to fetch the pen drive. A couple of minutes later, Nishant’s phone buzzed, he answered the call, wondering why Rekha was calling from inside the house when he was right outside in the car. “What happened?” he asked.

“I can’t find the pen drive,” she said, “it’s not on the computer table.”

“It should be there only; I just transferred all the ghazals into it.”

“It’s not there…”

“Wait, wait, I’ve it here with me, it was in my back pocket…”

“What the…”

“So sorry, so sorry.”

Rekha hung up, and rushed out of the house. Nishant inserted the pen drive into the USB slot of the car stereo, and off they went.

“It’s such a sad thing, no?” Rekha said, as Nishant steered the car onto the main road. “I didn’t even know he was in such a bad condition, found out he had passed away when I talked to Rani in the afternoon.”

Nishant didn’t say anything as he took a right turn to head for the highway. Someone in his office had given him the news; like everyone else, he too was shocked and saddened by it. He belonged to the generation that had grown up listening to the ghazals sung by the man who had silently passed away in a hospital bed that morning.

“Where are we going?” Rekha asked, breaking Nishant’s reverie.

“Like always, on the highway,” he replied.

Rekha settled down in her seat, the wind coming in from the open window caressing her hair. She loved going on these long drives with her husband, they were getting more frequent now because this was something they both enjoyed. They had sporadic conversations in between listening to their favourite music, but most of the time, they enjoyed each other’s presence without really acknowledging it

Nishant turned on the stereo as they began to leave the heavy city traffic behind.  Shaam Say Aankh Mein Namee Si Hain streamed out of the speakers, as Rekha sighed, “My favourite.”

Nishant hushed her, singing the ghazal in his head, the car cruising down the smooth highway now. He smiled when the line ‘…nabs kuchh der se thami si hain, aaj phir aap ki kami si hain…’ came on. It took him back to his college days; these words always reminded him of the days he had spent waiting for the girl he loved to love him back. And then the ghazal said, ‘…waqt rehta nahin kahin tik kar, iski aadat bhi aadmi si hain…’ and he looked at his lovely wife, he had moved on from the heartbreak he’d suffered in college and married a wonderful woman. It was almost as if this ghazal had been written for him.

As the ghazal ended, Rekha sighed again. “So beautiful, no? Which one is next? I want to listen to that Chandni Jaisa Rang Hain Tera…

“That’s Pankaj Udhas,” Nishant told her, shaking his head

“Oh, yes, yes…I actually meant that one, the…you know, another one my favourites…shit, I can’t remember the name now.”

“I know which one you mean,” Nishant said, shaking his head again. All of the ghazals they listened to were her favourites. He scrolled through the ghazals he had copied into his pen drive, eyes diverting between the stereo and the road. He finally came to Tera Chehra Kitna Suhana Lagta Hain and turned the volume up a bit.

“Yesssss,” Rekha said, settling back into her seat again. This time, Nishant didn’t sing the ghazal in his head; he sang it aloud, like he always did. Rekha giggled, Nishant had first sung this ghazal out to her on their honeymoon. And since then, whenever it played out anywhere, he sang it out to her, his eyes beaming because he meant every word of it.

As they drove down the highway, the stereo played one ghazal after another. Rekha and Nishant enjoyed the melodies, lost in their own worlds. When Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho came on, Nishant laughed out loudly.

“What happened?” Rekha asked him. “What was that?”

“Oh, nothing,” he replied. “Just remembered a chewing gum ad where they had changed a word in this ghazal…it was very funny.”

“What ad?”

“I don’t remember the brand, but the line was ‘tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, kya gam hain jisko chaba rahe ho…’ Got it? Gum, chewing gum…chaba rahe ho…always makes me laugh.”

“Stupid.” Rekha said, annoyed at having missed out on another one of her favourite ghazals because of one dumb thing that made him laugh.

On the way back home, their collection of ghazals had nearly run out. It had been a wonderful evening, not the first one they had spent listening to the late maestro’s ghazals. And it wouldn’t be their last. But Nishant felt sad knowing that there wouldn’t be any more wonderful ghazals coming from the legend, and even more unfortunately, there was no one else like him. His demise had been called ‘The End Of An Era’ by news channels, it was a cliché, but Nishant adhered to it. He was sure the newspapers would be full of such clichés the next morning, and they would all be right, because the man who had passed away wasn’t a cliché. The world had seen other ghazal writers and singers, but there hadn’t been anyone quite like Jagjit Singh. And that wasn’t a cliché, it was the truth.

As they neared their home, Nishant pressed the ‘Next’ button on the car stereo until he found the ghazal he wanted to listen to before their evening drive ended. It was his way of saluting a genius who had taught him a lot about life through his ballads.

‘Chha raha hain saari basti me andhera, roshni ko ghar jalana chahta hun.

Aakhri hichki tere zaanu pe aaye, maut bhi mein shayarana chahta hun.’