Ever since the world renowned Shahenshah e Ghazal passed away on June 13 2012 the eulogies continue pouring in, especially from across the border - he was revered there. Mehdi Hassan had a special bond with India which remains. He hails from the Kalawant clan of musicians that hails from Luna in Rajasthan. In the tradition of all trained musicians, Mehdi Hassan's roots were dear to him. Rajastahani was spoken in his home, he visited whenever he could. Roots are everything to gharaanas of gaiki, the awareness and discipline that stems from them is kept alive rigorously, however a gem like Mehdi Hassan who reinvents a genre and makes it so completely his own comes along once in a blue moon. Instep takes a closer look at the legend from the other side of the border and finds a sadness and nostalgia that equals ours…
Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar was a huge fan of Mehdi Hassan. On hearing of his demise she said "A singer like him is born once in a millennium. It is my bad luck that I could not sing with him when he was healthy. Now I can only regret. With his demise the music fraternity has lost a great and legendary singer."
Lata had in fact recorded a duet with Mehdi Hassan called 'Tera Milna (bohat achha lagta hai')' for her album Sarhadein, but he had recorded his parts here, she in India and they were mixed together. They two had met only a three or four times, but Lata says that they had a relationship of mutual respect “Gaana ek aisi cheez hai jo sab ko nazdeek rakhta hai aur gaane walay hamesha nazdeek hi hotay hain.(Singing is something that brings people closer aso naturally singers are close to each other.)” Mehdi Hassan and Lata Mangeshkar recognized the others qualities. According to Lata Mehdi Hassan's voice was imbued with the melody of Rajasthan. Who can forget Lata's effusive statement “Mehdi Hassan ke gale mein bhagwan bolte hain (The gods speak from Mehdi Hassan's throat). Mehdi Hassan in turn responded playfully with “Kambakht, hamesha sur mein gaati hai. (Damn woman, she always sings in tune)”. A memorable dialogue for the history books from two enduring legends.
Dilip Kumar and Mehdi Hasan’s was a historical meeting of two legends in 2005, after a gap of almost three decades at Dilip Kumar's residence in Mumbai. "All the things about him fascinate me whether it is his style of singing, or the depth. There is an art of listening when it comes to ghazal gayiki. One has to listen and imbibe," Dilip told the press then. Mehdi Hasan in turn recalled his first meeting with the legendary actor. "It feels like 1978, the first time we met. The environment is the same." Between these two even after all those years it was ghar ki baat and Dilip Kumar's wife went all out for Mehdi Hasan then. "I have prepared home cooked food. Dilip Sahib's favourite pulao, korma and gosht. We hope Mehdi Hasan Sahib likes our specialities," said Saira Banu.
That was a season of high profile cross-border exchanges and saw this low-key meeting of two giants. As rocky as the road of Indo Pak relations has been, the mutual understanding, respect and appreciation, especially of arts and literature have historically been the ties that bind.
Ghazal singer Talat Aziz, who trained under Hassan, said, "I feel a tremendous personal sense of loss. I was his shagird, spent a lot of time with him. For me he was a star. I don't have words to describe his loss. He was a great asset to the world of ghazal. Though he was not singing for quite sometime, but he will be missed.
There will never be another Mehdi Hassan."
Talat Aziz became a fan of Mehdi Hasaan when he first heard the maestro on the radio in the late ‘60s. He had the opportunity of meeting him in 1976 in Toronto and became his pupil. Ten years later, he did more concerts (a total of 22) with Mehdi Hasan in 1986 when he accompanied him for a ghazal tour of the USA. Mehdi Hassan also sang a bhajan with Talat Aziz called 'Main Atma Tu Parmatama' for a film but that never got released. Apart from Mehdi Hassan who remained the aspiring ghazal singer’s greatest inspiration, Jagjit Singh helped the young Talat Aziz too. People interested in ghazal gayiki come along rarely. There is a network of those who sing and appreciate this art form and they all appreciate and look out for each other. Mehdi Hassan himself once went to pay tribute to India's King of Ghazals Talat Mahmood who was a few years older than him and passed away in 1998. Talat Mahmood sang immortal ghazals for Indian films in a velvet voice. Mehdi Hassan would surpass him in technique, feel and choice of verse.
There have always been lunatics calling for the ban of the others sides artistes in each others nations. This was true for Mehdi Hasan's concerts too, but he had staunch supporters, among them Indian lyricist, writer, filmmaker Gulzar. A poet himself, he admired Mehdi Hasan's sublime understanding of and rendition of ghazals. “Like the light of the sun, the direction of the wind, Mehdi Hasan cannot, and should not be limited to one country. Woh saari qainaat ke sitare thhe. He was the star of the universe,” said Gulzar. A few years ago when the maestro was ailing, Gulzar composed a couplet to him: Ankhon ko visa nahin lagta, sapno ki sarhad hoti nahin, bund ankhon se roz chala jaata hun sarhad paar main milne Mehdi Hassan se. “People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mehdi Hassan, Lata Mangeshkar cannot be classified by their nationality,” he said. To borrow a line from our one time colonial masters, these are the true kings and queens.
Anupam Kher tweeted “Very saddened to hear about my fav Gazal Singer Mehdi Hassan's demise. As a student had gate crashed into Pak Embassy to listen to him. RIP.” A day later, he wrote about this experience in an Indian paper, talking frankly about how he fell in love with Mehdi Hasan's voice while he was a student and gatecrashed a show of the maestro at the Pakistan Embassy in Delhi. Anumpan describes Mehdi Hasan's music as 'therapeutic' and recalls that he had taken the ghazal king’s autograph on a five rupee note. Eventually after Anupam had become a star, they met and even went out for dinner. He ends the article on an emotional note to convey the stature of Pakistan's Shahenshah e Ghazal, “I love Ghulam Ali, I am proud of Jagjit Singh, but I just can't replace Mehdi Hassan with anything else.”
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
"It is a great loss. An era of ghazal singing has come to an end. His Ghazals were not complicated and could be understood even by a layman. His singing was soulful and moving, his command over Urdu made his singing more endearing. He was the uncrowned king of Ghazal," said Grammy winning musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt who has also performed and recorded in Pakistan.
Hariharan feels torn between the Ustad's liberation from prolonged suffering and the permanence of his absence. "I first met him in 1978 and kept in touch until the end. As for his music, you need not understand architecture to see that the Taj is breathtakingly beautiful," he says. "That is what Mehdi sahib did for ghazal."
Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh Khan: “Memories of my mom cooking in a grimy kitchen as it rained outside, while Mehdi Hassan floated out of a Beltek 2 in 1.” SRK's favourite Mehdi Hassan couplet is “Zingagi mein toh sabhi pyaar kiya karte hain...main toh meri jaan, markrr bhi tumhein chahoonga....” Yes, Indian legends have grown up listening to the magical ghazals of Mehdi Hassan too. Thhere was something incredible about watching his ghazals being tweeted all over the place after Mehdi Hassan's passing. The magic endures.
Amitabh Bachchan sent out a series of tweets, “Deeply pained to learn of the passing away of Mehdi Hasan, in Pakistan. A vocalist of immense fame and unique sonorous voice, an entire era of soulful ghazal singing, gone .. now left with beautiful memories and personal meetings with him. Mehdi Hasan once told me, he came from humble beginnings, and used to train and sing to the tone of the tractor sound in the fields” he ended his trip down memory lane with “Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhaane ke liye aa... immortal rendition.”
Ali Zafar who is a young Pakistani pop star with a true understanding of the classical understands the power of Mehdi Hassan all to well. “Mehdi Hassan moves on & lives forever. Leaving us with a legacy of music, magic, memories and so much more than words can describe. In my opinion, the government should build an institution on his name to continue his legacy through young/aspiring and established singers/ musicians.”
Ali Zafar who is traversing the Inidan Ocean in his own unique way is probably feeling the immensity of Mehdi Hassan's legacy across the border. He's probably also feeling the the length, breadth and depth of where he is at. It's sobering to realize that had talents like Mehdi Hasan and Noorjehan chosen to stay on India, they would have gotten a lot more as remuneration and respect for their talent. There is a corrrealation between arts and culture, level of civilisation and how that helps you be perceived by the world. About time the powers that be in Pakistan recognize how invaluable people like Mehdi Hasan are; they are the ones who are destined for immortality.