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A tribute to Shahenshah-e-Ghazal Mehdi Hassan on his death anniversary
Ghazal is that genre of literature that comes closest to music. The magic of its rhyming couplets and soulful brevity make for an apt musical rendition. It is for these qualities that ghazal is considered to be the most popular form of musical expression.

Music has made it reach out to a large audience. Ghazal singers have helped to popularise it not only at national level but have also created a universal niche for it as a creative genre.

Some prominent names in the arena of ghazal singing are – Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum, Munni Begum, Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, et al. But for centuries these ghazal singers have left their indelible expression on the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately, two of them left for their heavenly abode in the recent past. First, Jagjit Singh passed away…and barely one had reconciled with his loss that Mehdi Hassan too left us.

The popularity of ghazal has been on the downslide for the last two decades. The major reason for this being that the singers who popularized ghazal have been fighting a losing battle against popular mainstream music.

One could still point fingers at Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali by saying that they did not walk the extra mile to restore the pristine glory that ghazal once enjoyed, but the same charge cannot be leveled against Mehdi Hassan as he had given up singing by the end of 1980s owing to poor health. One can hardly imagine the pain and hurt that a singer undergoes when his physical condition limits his ability to pursue his one and only passion and love.

Mehdi Hassan is hailed as the God of ghazal singing. Lata Mangeshkar celebrated his voice as the ‘voice of God’.

Although during his lifetime Mehdi Hassan couldn't do much to save ghazal from its fateful decline but the comforting thought that he was still around lingered in the minds of the audience all around the world. But with his demise the ghazal lovers lost a face whose mere presence signaled a resurrection of the dying genre.

Struggle is synonymous with the name Mehdi Hassan. Hewas born on July 18, 1927 in Rajasthan. His father Ustaad Azim Khan and uncle Ismail Khan were renowned singers. Mehdi Hassan had his initial tutelage in music under these two teachers. He excelled in Indian classical music. The two teachers prepared him to master the art of classical singing. Khatka, murki and loch - the finer nuances of ghazal were slowly mastered by Mehdi Hassan through rigorous riyaaz(practice). The range of his voice and versatility that he acquired remainsunparalleled.

While still in the formative years of his musical journey, the partition of India took place which forced the entire family to migrate to Pakistan. This marked the beginning of an age of penury. In order to fend for himself he had to work as a cycle mechanic. But in spite of spending the whole day in the workshop, his eveningswere devoted to music.

But these dark days could not crush his dreams of a bright future. And finally in 1957 he began to create a niche for himself on Radio Pakistan as a thumri singer. This was the beginning of his success story we are all familiar with. From then onwards he never looked back. His concerts were organized all over the world. The period from 1957 to 1999 saw his meteoric rise.

However, during the 1980s, because of his poor health he was forced to maintain distance from music – his first love.

In 2010, music company HMV released the album ‘Sarhadein’ in which for the first and the last time he cut a single with Lata Mangeshkar. His last recording was for the duet 'Tera Milna' from that albumwhich he recorded in 2009, in Pakistan. This track appealed so much to Lata Mangeshkar that she recordedher part in Mumbai in 2010. Thus this historic coming together of two musical geniuses resulted into a beautiful album. The fact that Lata Mangeshkar chooses to listen to Mehdi Hassan in her private moments is in itself a tribute to the genius.

Very few singers have the craft of weaving classical music, especially its myriad ragas into their singing with the soul exception of Mehdi Hassan. Some of his very famous ghazals are a live example of masterful integration in ghazal singing. For example:

Raga Yaman: Ranjish Hi Sahi, Dil Hi Dukh Anekeliye Aa…

Raga Aheerabhairav: Humein Koi Gham Nahi Tha, Ghame Aashiqui Se Pehle…

Raga Bageshri: Dil Ki Baat Labontak La Kar, Abtak Hum Dukh Sehte Hain…

Raga Bahar: Phool Hi Phool Khil Uthe Mere Paimane Mein…

Raga Bhairavi: Yaaro Kisi Kaatil Se Kabhi Pyaar Na Mango…

Raga Bhankhar: Khuli Jo Aankh, Voh Tha…

Raga Pahadi: Baat Karni Mujhe Mushkil…

That Hindustani classical ragas could be blended was unimaginable before Mehdi Hassan arrived at the scene and displayed this rare art. The way he has used these ragas to make his music more mellifluous is a feat which has not been achieved by any other singer.

The choice of poets whose ghazals he lent his voice to was also world class. He never resorted to cheap popularity. He always selected ghazals for their superlative content. He never compromised on the quality of the composition. In fact it is no exaggeration to proclaim that he popularised even the most serious and weighty thoughts through his divine and soulful voice.

The lyrics of one of his most famous ghazals are, “Abke hum bichde to shayad kabhi khwabon me milen, jis tarah sookhe hue phool kitabon me mile” (If we separate now we might meet only in dreams, just like dried flowers are found in books) today become very much relevant, as now he is no more with us.

It is certain that Mehdi Hassan’s haunting music will resonatein our heartstill eternity.

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