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Mehdi Hassan — the man who made classical music appeal to all

Karachi: To famous writers, poets, artistes and scholars, Mehdi Hassan was an unparalleled singer – a true maestro when it came to ghazals, singing them with a semi-classical touch. He was also an expert in musical compositions that were never previously introduced.

He was perhaps the only singer who was patronised by poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmed Faraz.

His passing away came as a terrible shock to the world of showbiz. Renowned writer Anwar Maqsood observed, “We have lost a man of manners and a great singer who was so versatile, his range extending over ‘ghazals’, ‘songs’ and all ‘raags’. I feel that it would be unfair to project the legend as only a playback singer.”

Elaborating his viewpoint, Maqsood said in the past, the art of singing classical pieces (thumri and ghazal) was limited to Akhtari Bai and Ustad Barkat Ali Khan. Hasan made it an art that appealed to novices as well.

Another TV artiste, Anwar Iqbal, said Hasan was a legend, but it was ironic that he spent his last days in a deplorable condition and some people had to collect funds for him.

Athar Javed Sufi and Wasi Qureshi, president and secretary of the Pakistan Film, TV Journalists’ Association, respectively, said they were in consultation with the bereaved family of the departed to hold a condolence reference within the next couple of days.

Hasan, who first earned his popularity for being a playback singer, later gained command over Urdu ‘ghazal’ and produced wonderful musical compositions – receiving the title of the ‘King of Ghazal’.

He was honoured with the ‘Tamgha-e-Imtiaz’, the ‘Pride of Performance’ and the ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’ by the government of Pakistan. He had also received the ‘Gorkha Dakshina Bahu’ from the government of Nepal. Besides Nigar Film and Graduate Awards, he was also given the ‘Tamgha-e-Sehgal’ in Jalandhar, India. Mehdi Hasan ruled the Pakistani film industry along with Noor Jahan and Ahmed Rushdi.

A famous Indian poet, Nida Fazili observed that the singing of Hasan had proved that heart-touching music has no boundaries of beliefs and no ideological limitations as he was equally popular in India and other countries, where people loved poetry, art and singing.

“The language of the music was unique and articulate and that bridged the gaps between the people of India and Pakistan.”

He recalled that the late popular Indian singer Jagjit Singh had visited Pakistan and presented five thousand dollars to the ailing Hasan.

Famous film stars, Dharmendra and Rekha were among the admirers of Hasan and whenever the legendary singer visited India, they arrived at concerts to listen to him.

Sharing his personal experiences, Ahmed Umer Shareef said the great poet Ahmed Faraz had told him that he (Faraz) became famous after his one of ghazals, ‘Ranjish hi sahee, dil hi dukhane ke leeye aa’, was sung by Hasan.

“Some people also used to request Faiz to recite the lines, ‘gulon mein rang bhare baade nau bahar chale, chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobar chale’, sung by Hasan.”

TV actor Urooj Abbas said, “We as a society did not take care of such a great singer and on an official level, he was not recognised according to his laurels and status.”

Some admirers, in reference to Ustad Salam Ali, Ustad Ghulam Qadir and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, concluded that Hasan had his own school of thought in the field of singing.

There were some critics who said the ghazal singer was very popular among ordinary people, but a few hailing from musical ‘Gharanas’ had a relatively different opinion on the grounds that in India, he was given the ‘Tamgha-e-Sehgal’ instead of the ‘Tamgha-e-Sangeet’. These critics argued that had Hasan been truly recognised in India, he would have been awarded the ‘Tamgha-e-Sangeet’ that was absolute appreciation.

But instead, he was given an award that indirectly declared that Sehgal was better in the field of singing.

To make both the ends meet, Hasan started working at a bicycle shop and later became a car and diesel tractor mechanic. Despite the hardships, his passion for music did not wither and he kept practicing on a daily basis. He started his career as a singer at Radio Pakistan in 1957. Primarily, he was regarded as a thumri singer that earned him

recognition within the musical fraternity. At that time, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar and Mukhtar Begum were considered to be the stalwarts of ‘ghazal’ rendition.

Hasan also had a passion for Urdu poetry and he began to experiment by singing ghazals on a part-time basis. Eventually, he became a ghazal maestro and a famous playback singer as well.

Following a severe illness in the late 80s, Hasan quit playback singing. Later, due to the severity of his illness, he completely departed from music. He then chose to live a secluded life in Karachi. Nevertheless, he kept visiting Lahore, where he had earlier spent a lot of time with his children and other family members.

In October 2010, HMV released “Sarhadein” in which probably the only duet song featuring Hasan and Lata Mangeshkar, “Tera Milna”, was released. The song was composed by Hasan himself and written by Farhat Shahzad. Hasan recorded it in Pakistan in 2009, and Mangeshkar later heard the track and recorded her part in India in 2010. The tracks were later mixed together for a duet.

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