REMEMBERING MEHDI HASAN
By: Siraj Khan
It’s been a full year since the uncrowned Shehenshah-e-Ghazal left this world at the age of 84, to join his Creator. Mehdi Hasan was loved in India as much as he was in Pakistan. Truly, artistes like him belong to the whole world, where no barriers or boundaries of nationality exist. It seems as if the Creator sends them to us not only for our collective joy of souls and spirit, but to also build bridges by virtue of their very existence.
A leading exponent of an ancient style of light Indian classical music, Mehdi Hasan effectively fused that style into the ghazal, a form that embodies rhyming couplets of Urdu love poems. In doing so, he developed a musical genre noted for its lyrical poetry and beauty, reviving the ghazal from years of neglect. He popularised the ghazal for the common man, performing in concerts, recordings and perhaps most visibly, on the soundtracks of more than 300 films made in Pakistan — the new nation he adopted after the partition of India.
Mehdi Hasan’s melodious voice gave new life to more than 20,000 songs. He sang not only in Urdu, but also in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto. He introduced an innovative approach to ghazals, traditionally sung in a “thumri” style and set to raags — a classical musical format that significantly constrained the scope of the ghazal. Mehdi Hasan pioneered the “ghazal gayeki” that concentrated on the free-flowing mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. In his compositions, he blended various aspects of traditional Indian classical and folk music to enhance the ghazal’s appeal. His work was also wildly popular in India and he became one of the first ghazal singers to entertain audiences on both sides of the border – shared culture at his classical best.
Mehdi Hasan was born on July 18 1927 at Luna, a small village now in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the 16th generation of musicians belonging to the Kalawant clan. His father, Ustad Azeem Khan, was a singer at the court of the Maharaja of Jaipur and Mehdi Hasan himself started to perform at the tender age of eight. Boston remembered Mehdi Hasan on June 15th. To pay tribute to the great man, a local NGO, Learn- Quest, presented a programme in the true Aman ki Asha spirit aptly titled Music Beyond Borders. The performance was a collaborative blend of local artistes with origins from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, along with a unique presentation by Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan who flew in from Minneapolis. They joined hands to pay tribute to the legendary ghazal singer each in their own delightful style, leaving a deep impact on the audience.
Trying to sing from the collection of a man whose voice was termed as being “the voice of god” by no less than Lata Mangeshkar herself, can be overwhelming in itself. But love for the great artiste is the ultimate winner and the Boston artistes provided clean and wholesome entertainment, singing Mehdi Hasan’s most loved ghazals and nazms, penned by classical poets like Ghalib, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Daagh Dehlvi as well as contemporary poets like Nasir Kazmi, Faraz and others.
It was refreshing to see and hear many local Indian artistes pay homage to the beloved ghazal singer with gems like Pyar bhare do sharmeele nein, Shola tha jal bujha hoon, Mujhe tum nazar se, Ranjish hi sahi and others. Dr Pooja Goswami Pavan, the visiting thumri artist from Minneapolis, enthralled us with her Begum Akhtar style gaeki, evident both in the semi-classical as well as ghazal renditions from her versatile repertoire. Mere humnafas mere hamnawa, Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe, were superb, as was her captivating Jhoola.
However, perhaps no other song symbolizes the spirit of Aman ki Asha more than the duet sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mehdi Hasan, recorded in 2009 for the album Sarhadein. They immortalised as a duet Tera Milna Bohat Achha Lagey Hai originally written by Farhat Shahzad for a solo track. The melting of Lata and Mehdi Hasan’s voices in the duet is so melodious that it is impossible to believe that the song was sung in two different countries. Tera Milna is not just a song, but a symbol of love between the people of two countries.
This is music to fall in love with. Boston-based Siraj Khan lives a life without boundaries. A connoisseur of film music, he is writing the authorised biography of O.P. Nayyar. Khansaheb2@ aol.com