Indescribable Magic of Mehdi Hassan
Mehdi Hassan’s poignantly soulful rendering of ghazals is a proof that great singers give voice to your inner silences, writes MUHAMMED NOUSHAD.
“Ab ke hum bichde to shayad kabhi khaabon me mile…” (As we part now, let’s hope to meet in dreams…) Mehdi Hassan keeps singing and his magical voice, with so much ihsaas and jazbaat, enchanting you timelessly. Great voices are like great memories. They do not recede into past; they keep alive and keep you alive. When you listen to Mehdi, you doubt if it is a song or a prayer or a deep-felt wail. To call somebody’s voice “God’s” could be an ultimate hyperbole that would even amount to blasphemy. But about legends, exaggerations are welcome. Even the most unromantic wouldn’t complain. Everybody who has listened to the poignantly soulful rendering of Mehdi Hassan knew it well that his voice was heavenly. It probably didn’t belong to the mundane imperfections of the earth. Its grandeur was matchless, his style inimitable. His voice had the rare quality of being so deeply painful inward and at the same time so endlessly consoling outward. Those who have been hurt by the world’s zulm in various ways and those who have been wounded by ishq took refuge in his voice – whether it’s ghazal or drupad. When his admirers listened to him, like Lata Mangeshkar, they heard God’s voice emanating through him.
Mehdi Hassan was born on July 18, 1933 in a Rajasthani village. Music was in his ancestral blood, as he inherited Hindustani from his forefathers. It was his father and uncle who initiated him to music. As a boy who was brought up in the vicinity of deserts, Rajasthan’s richly evocative folk tunes like that of the eternal Kesariya Balam took deep roots in his heart. He originally mastered drupad, the most complicated form of Hindustani. The vocal improvisations he passionately indulged in during the performances of his classics were from this tradition. As somebody who was trained in the complexities of drupad, ghazals were rather pretty simple and easy for him. The popularization of ghazals started with Mehdi Hassan, as Javed Akhter rightly told. Our debts to him are heavy.
After partition, Mehdi migrated to Pakistan with his family. Life was not very easy. He took up the job of a mechanic to sustain himself. In coming years, it was Radio Pakistan who discovered the immense potential of this young man’s voice. He sang for many films of Pakistan. Cutting across the political rivalry between two countries, he was widely accepted and enjoyed in India, too. “Ye meri badnasib he, tere kya qusur is mei” (this is my misfortune, why should I blame you), he sounded asking us. With several concerts and awards India – the state and the people – extended its reverence and love for this master. His last concert was in the South Indian city of Kozhikode. Like all genuine geniuses, he went far ahead of his time and space and was appreciated and welcome by people of many generations and cultures.
Even those who never understood the meaning of the lines he sang returned to quench their thirst from his river of music. It was pure magic. He must have sung from the depths of his soul; one often remembers what Kahlil Gibran wrote: the ones who give voice to your silences are the best singers. Mehdi filled our silences with his soft, delicate, irresistible and sonorous voice. It penetrated to the souls of millions. They found solace in him. The more aged he was, the more appealing his voice’s spiritual tone became. It kept on becoming irresistible. His songs rather reminded us of a chanting that slowly transcends to a prayer between the notes. Sometimes, he was like a gentle mountain breeze soothing you to sleep. Sometimes, a roaring desert wind blinding you to weep. And sometimes, his repetitive improvisations of a single line reminded you of a river hesitating before a waterfall. Almost always, the emotional waves in his voice washed off your grief and yet you wondered why you are shedding tears with this man’s magical voice.
He was not just inimitable. He was indescribable. With Mehdi Hassan’s demise, Hindustani music lost one of its finest singers ever. May his soul sing melodies of joy in heaven! “Zindagi mei to sabhi pyar kiya karte hei, mei to mar kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahunga..” (Everybody falls in love in this life, but, I shall keep loving you even after my death), he seems to be saying to express his love for humanity through his songs, forever.
[This obituary originally appeared in Interactive web portal: http://interactive.net.in/indescribable-magic-of-mehdi-hassan/. You may click here to listen to his ghazals: http://gaana.com/artist/mehdi-hassan]