“You will never be able to forget me.” That is what he epitomised with every syllable he sang. Mehdi Hassan passed away yesterday in Karachi.
The entire country mourned the loss of one of its biggest maestros of melody, and the sorrow of losing him resonated among Pakistani and even Indian lovers of music. As we lost one of our finest, all who loved his work struggled with a singular painful truth — Mehdi Hassan was one of a kind, and with his demise, an irreplaceable vacuum has occurred, with the certainty that it will never be filled. One of Mehdi Sahib’s first songs, Shikva na kar gila na kar marks the last few years of his life, battling with a long drawn out illness that saw him confined to a hospital bed, with restricted movement, mostly soundless.
Mehdi Hassan went into oblivion in his lifetime because of the indifference of the industry he belonged to, music companies, and governmental disinterest that extended to the promotion of his earlier work, leave alone any interest in continuing his legacy. Even his medical treatment demonstrates the negligible respect we reserve for our gifted people. A performer the calibre of Mehdi Hassan, who should have got the best healthcare, received less than satisfactory treatment for years before his demise. It is a matter of collective shame for us as a nation that only once we lose our truly gifted people are we shaken into the realisation that it was all too little too late.
Like so many other great classical singers, Mehdi Hassan had a grounding in classical music that stood him in good stead when he made the transition to ghazal singing. It is rare that an artist attains the height of success and renown in his own life that he did. His fans and followers transcended borders, thus certifying him an unparalleled, everlasting stature. Historically, classical music was patronised by the court and the aristocracy; that tradition of promoting music was part of a structure that did not outlive both sources of patronage. Unfortunately, no other source replaced it, and incrementally over the years, the maestros of classical music — Mehdi Hassan being one — including the gharanas, have declined to the extent of almost complete obliteration.
In today’s world, like everything else, music is run on commercial lines, implying what is popular is what sells. Classical music, struggling to find a niche, has been limited to a few, for the few. Ideally, as the old resources of patronage dwindled, there should have been state-run culture and media backing to sustain the genre and the continuation of our great heritage. No society that ignores and allows such a rich cultural heritage to wither on the vine can claim to be a civilised one. The chances of another Mehdi Hassan appearing in the present scenario, deprived of state patronage, are slim, to say the least. That is another colossal misfortune we mourn today as the incomparable Mehdi Hassan is laid to rest.
The Shahanshah-e-Ghazal (King of Ghazal), as he was known, quite aptly leaves a legacy of music that is unique and for posterity. The Pakistani music, film and TV industry stand together in their grief and loss of a true legend. As the president, prime minister, parliamentarians, former presidents and premiers echo the nation’s sorrow over this huge loss, the Indian sentiment can be summed up in Prime Manmohan Singh’s message: “Mehdi Hassan is an icon who mesmerised music lovers not only in Pakistan but also in the subcontinent for many decades.”
How the great maestro influenced people across the border with unforgettable melodies, range of voice, taking vocal renditions to a never-before-seen level of excellence, the Twitter message of another living legend, Amitabh Bacchan says it all: “Deeply pained to learn of the passing away of Mehdi Hassan, in Pakistan…a vocalist of immense fame and unique sonorous voice. Mehdi Hassan, an entire era of soulful ghazal singing, gone…” As music lovers bow their heads to the matchless talent and loss of Mehdi Hassan, remembering one of his biggest admirers and contemporaries, Lata Mangeshkar, who said that bhagwan (god) lived in his vocal chords, we pray his soul rests in peace. You will always be missed, Mehdi Hassan. – Dailytimes