June 19, 2013 | 08:13 PM (BD Time)
19 June, 2013 Wednesday
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Saluting the Legend
As I remember Ghazal Emperor Mehdi Hassan
Kazi Liakat Hossain :
Ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan breathed his last on 13 June, 2012 in Karachi at the Aga Khan Hospital. He was born in undivided India in 1927. Some writers mentioned in their writings Mehdi Hassan as 'King of Ghazal'. But I say, he was not a King, he was emperor of Ghazal. Born to a family of Kalawant musicians at Luna village, district Jhunjhuna in the Indian State of Rajasthan, he was trained by his father ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan who were Dhrupad musicians. After partition they migrated to Pakistan. He had to face a severe hardship after migration. Young Mehdi began to work in a bicycle shop and later became an auto-mechanic. His singing abilities, quite naturally, went unrecongnised. The opportunity, however, came in 1957 when he was invited to sing song for Radio Pakistan. Thereafter there was no looking back for him. By the early 1960s, he was showing great promise as a rising ghazal singer.
It was in his mellifluous voice and psychedelic music that not only catapulated the left-wing poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz's well known poem "gulo mein rang bhare baad-e-nau bahar chale" into fame but also firmly established Mehdi Hassan as a leading artiste in Pakistan.
He sang many popular songs in the films in Pakistan as well as many Pustu, Sindi, Bengali, Hindi songs. In Bengali he sang "Harano Dener Kotha Mone Pure jai". He won the hearts of Banglalees by singing this popular Bengali song.
The emperor of ghazal's career spanned 50 years. He came to be known as "Emperor of ghazals" traditional laments for lost love ghazal, a genre of music specific to South Asia and parts of the Middle East, has been around for more than 400 years.
Legendary Indian Singer Lata Mangeshkar once likened his songs to the voice of God. He was an icon who mesmerised music lovers' in Pakistan and the sub-continent for decades. He cut back on his performances in the late 1980s due to illness, which included a serious lung and urinary infections. The severity of his illness forced him to give up all singing by the late 1990s. In 2010 however, he recorded a duet with Lata Mungeshkar, a long time admirer, which was released in 2011. An era of ghazal singing has come to an end with sad demise of the legendary songster. The demise of the Indian born Pakistani ghazal maestro was irreparable loss to the world of music and left a void that can never be filled.
Now let me come to my true story. How I came across with this legendary ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan. It was in 1967/68 political unrest had not yet started in the then East Pakistan. There was unabated cultural activities in both East & West Pakistan.
In that year Mehdi Hassan came to Dhaka to record some Bengali songs. He was supposed to sing some songs written by Nayeem Gahar (a noted poet, lyricist, national independence awardee and BBC news caster and commentator, London) who happens to be my (writer) first cousin. One day he (Gahar) told me that Mehdi Hassan had come to Dhaka to sing some songs and he was residing in a building near (Pak motor) now Bangla Motor. Hearing this I wanted to accompany him to see the Emperor of ghazal- Mehdi Hassan. The opportunaity came at last, it was perhaps 10-30 or 11 a.m. in the morning. We went to that residence at the then Pak motor where Mehdi Hassan was staying. He was residing in the first floor of the building. The Building is still existing there near Concord Tower, a small three or four storied structure with narrow space.
When Nayeem Gahar knocked on the door a gentleman with a smiling face opened the door. Having seen him (Gahar) he (Mehdi Hassan) said in Urdu "Aiyee Aiyee Gahar sahab Aiyee ha bhai Maye to bola apka gana maye jorur gaunga." I was standing behind my cousin Nayeem Gahar. He was gazing at me and telling these to lyricist Gahar. We were warmly received inside the room.
I was introduced to him (Mehdi Hassan) by Gahar. Having heard my nick name 'Badal', he was so amused that he (Mehdi) used to humming that popular Indian film song "dheray dheray aray badal dheray dheray jaa mera bulbul surahahay"
Singing these lines he hugged me so lovingly as if I was known to him long long before.
Our noted artiste Shanaz Rahmatullah was sitting in a cot wearing a red sharee calm and quiet. What attracted me most was that he was behaving with us like an ordinary person there was no vanity in him. I was thinking and asking myself "Is it Mehdi Hassan an icon of music a man with a voice of God. I said "Am I dreaming or seeing really Mehdi Hassan with whom I am talking?
Nayeem Gahar also said to him that I could sing Tagore song well. He was pleased to hear this and patted me on my back. What surprised me most was that he was meek, so modest and a gentleman. Being a reputed ghazal singer, whose name and fame has spread over the whole world his manners his behaviour were wonderful, there was no vanity in him. There are many artistes in our country but I did never see like Mehdi Hassan. He was a perfect gentleman.
His sweet words are still ringing in my ears. His sweet smiles still I remember. And it will be remembered so long as I live. May Allah rest his eternal soul in peace! "Death is the golden Key that opens the palace of eternity"- John Milton.
(The writer is Advisory Editor, The Economy and Columnist, national English dailies)
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