Gone with Mehdi Hassan

Mehdi Hassan

For nearly two years I listened to Mehdi Hassan more than to any other singer. It was a phase between 1973 and 1975.

Around this time, he came to Delhi too: for a packed concert at the Shankar Lal Auditoriun in Modern School. I was in college but still wangled a pass for it. By that time I was familiar with Mehdi Hassan and ghazals. My friend Faraz would give detailed annotations to every line of Urdu poetry in the ghazals of Hassan. I had an LP, which was simply called ‘Mehdi Hassan’.There was a phase when I would listen to it every day – 30 minutes, 6-7 songs of high poetry and magical melody. Hassan’s rendition of “Dhuan” in ‘Yeh dhuan sa kahan se uthhta hai’ conjured images of white smoke drifting up into the night sky.

It’s a ghazal by Mohammad Taqi, better known as Mir Taqi Mir. Powerful romantic poetry that could easily be addictive to a twentysomething. Incidentally, this was the first Hassan ghazal to be recorded by Radio Pakistan.Then there was Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s “Gulon mein rang bhare…” – deep, dignified, tuneful as a tuning fork; a song which – I read today – became a raging hit in Pakistan after Lahore’s Art Council invited Hassan to sing the poetry of Faiz. It’s said that thereafter, no musical soiree in Lahore and Karachi would be complete without Hassan singing ‘Gulon mein…’

The LP also had “Rafta Rafta Woh Meri Hasti Ka Saamaan Ho Gayey, / Pehlay Jaan, Phir Jaan-e-jaan, Phir Jaan-e-jaana Ho Gayey” – lilting, swinging gently like the songs of Mohd Rafi, the only other singer whose ghazals I had heard and liked until then. This song from a film called Zeenat was a great hit at the concert, to be beaten by the applause for Ahmad Faraz’s “Ranjeesh hi sahi…” – inarguably Hassan’s most popular ghazal.

At that time I didn’t fully appreciate that these ghazal singers – Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, down to Udhas and Talat Aziz – were also composers, not just singers. They composed the music of the ghazals – often haunting melodies laden with great Urdu poetry (the load became surprisingly lighter by the time Udhas and Jalota began to sing).

Composing the music of the song is not something, for instance, Rabindra sangeet singers have to do while rendering Tagore’s ineffably sublime poetry. Musicwise I find a certain sameness in the two genres – ghazals and Rabindra sangeet – the same cadence, similar tunes. Mehdi Hassan made you forget it. I like Rafi’s filmi ghazals, but still it seemed that real ghazals had come with Hassan. And they went with him: I didn’t take to ghazals after that. – TOI