Mehdi Hasan at an art exhibition – File photo

‘If music be the food of love, play on’. That is what the English bard William Shakespeare wrote as the opening line of his popular play Twelfth Night. And that is exactly what the legendary singer Mehdi Hassan did to entertain the 1978 visiting Indian team to Pakistan, led by Bishen Singh Bedi, to keep them spellbound till the early hours of the morning at Lahore to spread the message of love.

Relations between the neighbouring countries had turned sour after Pakistan’s 1960-61 tour to India because of war and later due to crisis in East Pakistan in 1971 which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

Although some of the Pakistani and Indian players played against each other at county level, it was not possible for them to play Tests because of the feud that lasted nearly seventeen years before things normalised and the Indians and their fans were welcomed for the revival of the cricketing relations.

Besides cricket, the Indian team’s long cherished dream was to listen to Mehdi Hassan. That I discovered a couple of days before the Test at Lahore when during the nets, Bedi whom I knew from his playing days in Northamptonshire asked me if it was possible to have an evening with the great singer. Indian team’s manager, the Maharajah of Baroda, Fateh Singh Rao Gaekwad was just as keen to have a session with the gifted singer as were all the Indian players including the legendary Sunil Gavaskar.

I happened to be staying during the Test with my childhood friend, neighbour and college colleague Mohammad Ali, the matinee idol of Pakistan movie industry, who I thought could make this possible to fulfill the request of the Indian players.

When I sounded him out about it, generous as he was, he immediately sprung into action to invite Mehdi Hassan the very next day and then called the Indian captain and the Maharajah to invite them home for the musical evening.

Two hours before the Indians and Pakistan team arrived, Mehdi Hassan stepped in at the Gulberg house of Ali-Zeb where for the first time I had the honour of meeting the genius who I discovered was a keen follower of the game and a big fan of Hanif Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Gavaskar.

The visiting Indians shook hand in reverence with the great man and soon settled down for a mesmerising rendition of ghazals and songs by the maestro that followed. Glued to their seats, they listened to him with obvious admiration and respect that they had for his skill and voice.

Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, the great leg-spinner of his time who loved singing Mukesh, and his colleagues were so overcome by the ghazals that they would often rise from their seats to applaud Mehdi Hassan. The party went on till late in the morning before the Indian team left shaking the singer’s hand in appreciation and thanking Mohammad Ali and Zeba for providing this unforgettable opportunity to them on their tour.

The second time I came across Mehdi Hassan was when I flew from Georgetown to Trinidad on Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies in 2000-01.

No sooner had I checked in my hotel and was unpacking when I heard a knock at my room door. To my surprise, it was Mehdi Hassan standing right in front. Not recognising me from our first meeting in Lahore, he apologised in English and told me that he was looking for his son’s room.

I told him in Urdu to take me as his son and invited him into my room to remind him of my meeting with him at Mohammad Ali’s house during the Indian team’s visit. I soon located his son’s room, entertained him with a glass of coconut water before he departed saying that he was in Trinidad for a concert.

In 2007 when I boarded the plane at Karachi to cover Pakistan team’s tour of India, I noticed him in a wheelchair boarding the plane with another great singer, Ghulam Ali. At the Delhi airport before he had even gone to the immigration he was profusely garlanded as was Ghulam Ali and people at the airport rushed in from every direction to look at them. He made us all so proud, no doubt about it.

Mehdi Hassan’s popularity grew beyond borders as he toured the world to entertain his fans. Indians, I suppose, were his greatest fans as were the Pakistanis. To put it succinctly, he was the Don Bradman of ghazal singers.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (19)

Vikram
July 15, 2012 9:16 am
Great article! Just like the Don, there will never be another Medhi Hassan!
Hashim
July 14, 2012 11:06 am
To be Don. Bradman of anything you have 'to Have an average. Of 99.96. Example. Close. Enough. Is Dilip Kumar. Total Pictures. About 60 . And The Quality. Plus Success. Phenomenal.
Indian
July 14, 2012 10:47 am
beautifully put! such gems are born once in 100 years.We will miss him.
Shahin
July 16, 2012 3:55 am
Robin Ghosh and Madam Shabnam will always be missed in Pakistan. Ordinary Pakistanis will always miss the ordinary Bangladeshi as there was no misunderstanding between these two. Pakistanis always wished the Bangladeshi brothers good luck on any occasion , may it be a cricket match between the two countries.
Shoaib Mir
July 14, 2012 8:12 am
Wah, Qamar saab, you have said it so beautifully: "To put it succinctly, he was the Don Bradman of ghazal singers."
citoyen
July 14, 2012 8:39 am
A wonderful and heart warming article. Shukriya Qamar sahab.
Leftist
July 14, 2012 9:19 am
...or Don Bradman was the Medhi Hasan of cricket !
M.H.Rahmatullah
July 14, 2012 5:20 pm
Two things of Pakistan have never lossed popularity in Bangladesh. One is Mehdi Hassan and the rest is Pakistani Cricket which is most aggressive in the world.
Yemeen Zuberi
July 14, 2012 6:12 pm
The space here is not enough to list all Bradmans, Amir Khusros, Tansens or Mehdi Hassans of India and Pakistan. There efforts inspire us, and provide confidence to us.
Hashim ali
July 14, 2012 6:40 pm
U. Didnt Print My Full Comment ! Talat Mahmood Only Among The Ghazal Singers Qualifies For. The Don Bradman Title. Lata Mangeshkar. Muhammad. Rafi. Jagjit Singh Also Miles N. Miles Ahead. Hashim. Ali. Karachi. Dubai
Danny
July 16, 2012 7:52 am
it was a plan of PCB, to hire Mehdi to engage Indian team so they stay up till late night and then Imran and Big Z took care of the rest on the field. If you recall the results of 1978 Lahore match; the plan worked.
Gaurav Arya
July 16, 2012 7:32 am
There is only one male singer who can be compared to Mehdi Sahab, the immortal Mohd. Rafi. Both had voices of which people of the calibre of Lata Mangeshkar & Manna Dey had said "This is the voice of bhagwaan (God)". The two were blessed by the almighty. The only way to describe their voices was what Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir wrote of Mohd Rafi....."necter wrapped in beaten gold".
PNP
July 14, 2012 10:11 pm
Many thanks Qamar Saheb for sharing your personal experiences on this platform. My only regret is that I was not able to attend the Gazal King's live performance. What a soul!
Syed Wajahat CA, USA
July 15, 2012 6:05 am
Thanks Qamar Sahib for such a great article. I am a great fan and admirer of your cricket articles Nice to see your article in little different topic..Keep up the good work
Devendra
July 16, 2012 5:13 am
The Mehdi Hasans of this world do not belong to a country. They belong to all humanity because they spell bind all of us with their divine talent irrespective of our religion or nationality. Mehdi Hasan was born in India and left to live in Pakistan after the partition. Though he physically left India, he did not leave the Indian hearts. He was as loved in India, if not more, as in Pakistan. While we can not hear him sing and earth is improvished by his demise; the heaven is enriched by his presence where angels are lining up to hear his heavenly voice and gazals. May his soul find peace and eternal rest in the arms of the angles.
krishnan
July 16, 2012 6:54 am
my humble views - Talat saab belonged to a different time and genre. Mehdi Saab was exceptionally talented in a time when ghazals were facing competition from disco, hard rock music and all others. So Mehdi saab deserves a mention among the greats
robina
July 17, 2012 5:02 pm
Mehdi Hassan was a great singer, composer and many more qualities. I only wished that from his children some of them tried at least continuing his talent forward. He seemed like a simple down to earth guy which is very commendable. May Allah give his soul a peaceful rest and a place in Jannat. "ameen".
ruqaya
July 17, 2012 4:56 pm
Mehdi Hassan was a great singer, composer and many more qualities. I only wished that from his children some of them tried at least continuing his talent forward. He seemed like a simple down to earth guy which is very commendable.
Yasir(san Jose, CA)
July 18, 2012 4:28 am
They way He sang the ghazals no one else could. He andaz was excellent and no one has came close to his Ghazal singing Period.I watched him live in Portland, Oregon 10 or so years back he was still amazing.
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