Special Reports

Au Revoir, Mehdi Hassan

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“When someone unthinkably great passes away, all obituaries sound cliches and condolences grate on ears,” wrote Louis Fisher when MK Gandhi died. Now the same words can be applied to Mehdi Hassan, the greatest ghazal singer of the subcontinent, who shuffled off the mortal coil on June 13. Some voices are to remember and some to perish / But a few voices are so memorable that one cannot but cherish.

Mehdi’s voice was like that. Soft voices, when music dies, vibrate in memory. Hassan’s voice was so great and immortal that even if music comes to an end, it will continue to enthral the collective consciousness of the connoisseurs and cognoscenti. Ghazal, a form of light classical music, was elevated to a sublime art by Mehdi Hassan. Who can ever forget ‘Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhane ke liye aa’ by Ahmad Faraz and sung by Hassan or Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s ghazal in Mehdi’s deathless voice, ‘Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubhar chale’?

The sub-continent has seen a number of ghazal singers like Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanam, Malika Pukhraj, Ghulam Ali, Colonel S B John (Pakistan), Ghulam Abbas, to name but a few. But the enduring fame and aura of Mehdi Hassan is unsurpassed. Every ghazal was a ‘sana’ (hymn) for him and every line was his ‘hamd’ (panegyric). What he sang was not a mere ghazal. It was a perfect symphony played, orchestrated and synchronized by the divine Master. Every ghazal sung by him perfectly depicted the passion and pathos of life and love. Even simple ghazals penned by lesser known poets like Ganesh Bihari ‘Tarz’ assumed significance when he lent his golden voice to them.

Such was the mystical quality and Midas touch of his voice that whatever he sang became a gem. ‘Teri har ek ghazal qaabil-e-daad hai/ Par meri aawaaz mein bhi kuchh baat hai’ (Your every ghazal is praiseworthy/ But my voice is also remarkable; Afsar Merathi’s ghazal, sung by Mehdi Hassan, 1957, no record available). It seems that Mehdi sang it prophetically, knowing that one day his voice would sweep the listeners off their feet.

Ghazal is an Arabic word that connotes ‘conversation between two lovers’. Hassan augmented its ambit and enriched its landscape. Despite Rajasthani being his mother-tongue (he was born at Luna village in Jhunjhunu district of western Rajasthan), his Urdu diction was impeccable and rendition was immaculate.

Hassan was a trained classical singer and all the ghazals he sang, reek of his profound classical background and are redolent of his mastery over gayki. He’s regarded as the greatest exponent of ‘ahmaaz’ (Arabic for the repetition of a specific line for greater effect) and no other ghazal singer could master this particular style of presenting a ghazal.

In spite of his greatness, he was humble to the core and would often quote Urdu poet Bashir Badr’s pithy couplet, ‘Shuhrat ki bulandi bhi ek pal ka tamasha hai/ Jis shaakh pe baithe ho woh toot bhi sakti hai’ (The peak of popularity is but a passing phase/ The branch you’re perched on, might break any time). Such was his humility. The likes of Mehdi Hassan are seldom to be found and impossible to be emulated.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2012 on page no. 13

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