Chitthi Aayi Hai and more, Pankaj Udhas takes an era with him

Udhas was suffering from cancer, and was undergoing treatment for some time at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, sources said

Pankaj Udhas (photo: @salman7khurshid/X)
Pankaj Udhas (photo: @salman7khurshid/X)

NH Digital

Acclaimed playback singer and ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas took his last breath around 11.00 am at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai today. He was 72.

According to Udhas' close associate, he was suffering from cancer, and was undergoing treatment for some time. One of Udhas’ representatives told Indian Express, "Pankaj sir was suffering from a prolonged illness and wasn’t keeping well the last few days. He died this morning around 11.00 am at Breach Candy hospital.”

"With a very heavy heart, we are saddened to inform you of the sad demise of Padmashri Pankaj Udhas on 26th February 2024 due to a prolonged illness," his daughter Nayab wrote in an Instagram post.

Born in 1951 in Gujarat, the playback singer is known for delivering many hit songs in Bollywood in Hindi and other languages. He was also awarded the Padma Shri in 2006. Udhas was regarded among the country's best ghazal exponents along with the likes of Jagjit Singh and Talat Aziz.

In 1980, the ghazal maestro gained fame with his album Aahat. He was first noticed as a professional singer in the 1986 film Naam starring Sanjay Dutt, in which his song Chitthi Aayi Hai became immensely popular.

Apart from this, he has sung many songs including Jiye Toh Jiye Kaise (Saajan), Aur Aahista Kijiye Baatein, and Na Kajre Ki Dhaar (Mohra) among others.

There  was much more to Pankaj  Udhas than the ghazals and Chitthi  Ayee Hai. One of  the  three singing brothers (the other two being Manhar and Nirmal) Pankaj Udhas sang lilting numbers like Teri Aashiqui Meri Zindagi hai  in Ghaat and Kitaben bahot si padhi hogi tumne in Baazigar for  composer Anu Malik.

Malik said, “I am saddened, shocked, anguished. The world has not only lost a great singer, BUT a greater human being.We worked together on some songs .He had a terrific sense of poetry. He was always jovial and very witty.He always smiled.Spoke very sweetly.”

Music composer  Mayuresh Pai recalled Pankaj Udhas with a sad smile. “We shared the one thing in common: our bhakti for the Goddess Mata Saraswati Lataji. He used to call her Maa. They were  very fond of one another. Lataji sang some wonderful duets  with Pankajji, like Aur Bhala Kya Maangu main Rab Se in ThanedaarGa ga mere sang in Gunahon Ka Faisla and Mahiya Teri Kasam in Ghayal.”

Mayuresh described Pankaj’s voice as velvety. “I grew up listening to his velvety  singing. His  softspoken humble nature was inspiring to  all artistes. Jagjit Singhji and Pankaj Udhasji took the Ghazal to the masses. He was a wonderful singer, but more importantly he was a wonderful human being.”

Indian playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy has  not just lost a colleague, but also a friend.

She knew him personally for years. “He was the finest and the sweetest person I've ever met. We were friends from our Sangeet Mandal days in St Xaviers, Mumbai. We would often participate in  group singing activities in college,” she said.

However, Udit Narayan recalled Pankaj Udhas as a very generous co-singer. “When I was a struggler in Mumbai. And even before that, when I was a nobody in  my village , Pankaj Udhas was  a  big name. Ghazal used  to be an elitist experience before  him. Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Farida Khanum, Begum Akhtar…. hamari sun-ne ki  auqat nahin tthi.”

Then one day after Udit’s songs in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak became a hit, he got a call. “There was no mobile phone in those days. So it was on the landline. And it was Pankajji calling to congratulate me. ‘Bahot achcha  gaya aapne  Papa kehte hain bada naam karega. Mazaa aa gaya!’

Alka Yagnik also remembers Pankaj Udhas with misty-eyed warmth. “He was a very well-mannered, soft-spoken, thorough gentleman, ever-smiling, with a good word for everyone … An icon and a legend in the field of music …Held his own unique place in the world of ghazals… has so many great  evergreen memorable songs to his credit … will be remembered for ages to come, and will be greatly missed by all music lovers … A huge loss to us all … May he rest in eternal peace,” she said.

Alisha Chinai adds, “Saddened by the news !!! He had such a soulful soft and melodious voice .One of the Greats of the Ghazal era..he will be missed!!”

Devotional singer Anup Jalota said, "I've lost my friend. We would discuss everything. We had great fun together, Pankaj, Talat (Aziz) and I...  He had a great contribution in making ghazals popular and accessible." 

Expressing sorrow over the unfortunate news, singer Anuradha Paudwal said, "He was a very good artiste for the world but to me, he was a dear friend. We studied together in St. Xavier's. We recorded many popular duets. He was a great singer, a great artiste... but over and above that, he was a very nice human being.

Singer and musician Adnan Sami said, “Goodbye, dear Pankaj-ji. Thank you for lending your music towards my childhood memories…”

Singer Daler Mehndi said his heart was heavy with the news of the death of the gentlest music exponent. "Chitthi na koi sandesh... wishing you a beautiful, peaceful journey ahead. Your songs remain etched in our memories," Mehndi said.

In a tribute to the late ghazal maestro, singer-composer Sonu Mahapatra said, "Full of grace & a thorough gentleman... While many of us know him as a singer and performer, he was also a composer par excellence with super hits like 'Ek taraf uska ghar', 'Chand jaisa...'"

Singer Sonu Nigam took to his Instagram handle and shared Pankaj's photo along with a note that read, "One of the most important parts of my childhood is lost today. ( — can @ him)."

However, Mahesh Bhatt reminisced about the late singer's performance of Chitthi Aayi Hai from his film Naam. He said, "I’m very privileged to have been touched by a man like him. His simplicity was so disarming, and his voice had the same largeness of a simple heart."

Actor Kajol said, "You will be remembered every time music comes up..."

Actor Manoj Bajpayee wrote on his X account saying, "Had the privilege of listening to you and getting mesmerised by the sweet texture of your voice and sur! उत्तम कलाकार उत्तम इंसान."Subhash K Jha

Paying tribute to the Indian music legend, author Saba Naqvi said, "Bhajans and ghazals were (in) the repertoire of #PankajUdhas, who stood for the India where music unites us all. May he hear beautiful music wherever he has passed to."

Shekhar Dutt, an online educator, said, "It was the first time I had seen my mom (and) dad cry listening to a song. Well lived, Pankaj Udhas-ji, very well lived ."

In his special tribute to Pankaj Udhas, industrialist Harsh Goenka said, "His timeless ghazals will forever echo in our hearts. Associated with HMV, he leaves behind a legacy of melody and emotion. "

Sharing his thoughts about the ghazal maestro, media personality and host Irfan said, "Sophisticated and highly educated, his soulful renditions became instrumental in popularising ghazals. A true legend."

With inputs from Subhash K Jha

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