Mehdi Hassan – File photo by Dawn

Surekha Kadapa-Bose from Mumbai remembers how Mehdi Hassan crossed the threshold of her home and continues to stay with them to this day.

Coming from a South Indian family rooted in Hindustani classical music, it was considered a blasphemy to even think of any other form of music (especially one considered as light music).

As a high school-going kid, one fine day, I just couldn’t control the urge to raise the volume of the radio as a silken voice singing Ranjish hi sahi dil dukhanay kay liye aaj filled my ears. Though unable to comprehend the lyrics or the form of the song, I cherished the melody. My Nanaji, the late Pundit Gururao Deshpande, a well-known Hindustani vocalist, was tyrannical when it came to classical music. He gave me and my radio set a look, and expecting to be berated I was pleasantly surprised when he inquired the vocalist’s name.

The very next day on returning from school lo and behold, there was Nanaji listening to a vinyl record with his disciples asking them to pay attention to the nuances of the bol, the cadences of the gayeki and sur! That’s how Mehdi Hassan Saheb crossed the threshold of our home and continues to stay with us.

Though none of us in our family saw him perform live, we sort of knew him and accepted him as one of us. In fact when poet, lyricist and director Gulzarji wrote Aankhon ko visa nahin lagta, sapnon ki sarhad koi nahin, Bund aankhon se chala jata hoon roz milne Mehdi Hassan se (The eyes are not restricted by visa, dreams have no boundaries; With eyes shut I visit Mehdi Hassan every day), he aptly described the feelings of millions of Indians who had come to think of the ghazal maestro as one of us.

This love of the masses for the ghazal icon is endorsed by Penaz Masani, a celebrated ghazal singer from Mumbai. “I was still in school in the 1970s and was learning Hindustani classical music and had not thought of pursuing ghazal gayeki. Mehdi Hassan Saheb was to perform at Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. The sea of people that had gathered to hear him took me by surprise. There was such euphoria. The tickets were quite pricey but still people had flocked to hear the magical voice from Pakistan. No one felt bound by any barriers.”

She also recalled that the best gift in those days was a Mehdi Hassan album bought in the UK or some other place, “That was the gift most of us loved in those days when there was no Internet and music albums from foreigners weren’t that easily available.” Penaz had the fortune of singing for him in the late ’70s at the residence of her guru, Madhu Rani, the celebrated yet reclusive Indian ghazal singer.

Mehdi Saheb’s hold over the audience is best emphasised by his Indian disciple Talat Aziz who feels sad that within a year he has lost both his guru Mehdi Hassan and his mentor Jagjit Singh. “Mehdi Saheb used to mesmerise audiences right from his first note. He always wanted me to remember that ‘Sa se sum tak sur lagna chahiye. He was a strict teacher but he taught me so much till our last concert together in the year 2000, when he had come to India for treatment.”

Emphasising on Mehdi Hassan Saheb’s popularity in India and the world at large, music director Khayyam says, “Mehdi Hassan knew each and every word that he sang. He knew on which word to emphasise and how much to do it. Aur unki gayeki mein laya-kari bhi bohot achi thi. It made his ghazals come alive. And he also knew who really understood his music. Every concert my wife Jagjit Kaur (former playback singer) and I attended, he would always dedicate at least one song to bhabhi jaan ke liye. The best part is that he has left behind a huge volume of work and disciples spread all over the world. So his music will live forever.’’


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