Ghazal Emperor Mehdi Hassan says adieu

Mehdi Hassan

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ab ke hum bichhade to shaayad kabhii khwabon mein milen
jis tarah suukhe hue phool kitaabon mein milen


The 84-year old great ghazal maestro of Pakistan Mehdi Hassan, who was greatly loved by the Sydney community as well as the world, is no more. He passed away in Karachi on Wednesday. He had been ailing for some time and had stopped travelling and his fans and devotees rather went to get a glimpse of him back in Pakistan. Ghazal singers such as Jagjit Singh and Talat Aziz were Mehdi Hassan’s disciple as they learnt the art of ghazal singing from him. He was a hard taskmaster and his unique style of presenting Urdu couplets and giving a classical touch to soulful music made him the emperor of ghazals. His voice had an enormous range which till date remains unmatched. His mastery over the ragas made him the undisputable master of ghazals in the subcontinent. Mehdi Hassan was a regular visitor in the 70s, 80s and the 90s to Australia as people sat in the wee hours of the morning listening to Mehdi Hassan as he stayed in hospitable Sydney homes who loved to have him and listen to him.

Born  into a family of musicians on 18th July 1927 in Rajasthan, Mehdi Hassan for a long time could not pursue his passion. The ghazal maestro was trained at home in his initial years by his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan who were traditional Dhrupad singers. Being the 16th generation of a musical family, young Hassan had harbored to make a career out of music. But fate had a different plan for him in the initial stage.

The family was plagued by financial troubles when they shifted to Pakistan during partition. Young Hassan started working in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic. But as they say, the passion never died. He continued to pursue his interest, his passion albeit behind closed doors, within the vicinity of his home.

His first break came in 1957 when he got the opportunity to sing a thumri number for Radio Pakistan. The number got him instant recognition in the musical fraternity and he got more offers to sing.

The talented singer had an interest in Urdu poetry and slowly started experimenting with ghazals. Two producers of Radio Pakistan, ZA Bukhari and Rafiq Anwar, tapped this singer’s unique talent and encouraged him to sing ghazals on radio. Hassan had even admitted that he owed a lot to Bukhari and Anwar for establishing his career. The singer soon became a hit amongst the masses as well as discerning audience and rafta rafta wo sabki hasti ka saamaa ho gaye.

The veteran not only sang beautiful ghazals but also rendered his voice to several film numbers in Pakistan. Many feel that the 60s and 70s were dominated by Hassan and his style of ghazals.

Lata Mangeshkar had once said that Mehdi Hassan’s songs were ”˜Voice of God’. The singer till the very end yearned for his birth country, India. He had last performed in India in 2000 and had planned to visit in 2008 but the trip had to be cancelled in the wake of Mumbai attacks. Then in 2010, he had expressed his desire to visit India and meet Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan. But owing to poor health, the singer could not cross the border.

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