Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

Sur Ishwar Hai : Remembering Legendary Ghazal Maestro Mehdi Hassan

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Bengaluru,13 June(HS): June 13th remains deeply etched in the hearts of every ghazal aficionado over the world for this day, Mehdi Hassan the Shehenshah of Modern Ghazal Genre of music breathed his last.
As the nation celebrated independence, this family of the 15th generation in Music from a small village Luna, near Jhunjhunnu in Rajasthan State moved across to the border. A Musically inclined highly talented boy was tutored by his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan, both Dhrupad singers.
Never did the teacher duo realize that their pupil would in the future through his magical voice erase the borders of not only the neighbouring countries but also Ghazal lovers all over the world.
Raag Yaman Kalyan was redefined in the realms of ghazal gayaki with the rendition of the immortal love poem Ranjish hi Sahi by this legendary singer.
Lata Mangeshkar, The Nightingale of the Indian subcontinent, described his singing as VOICE OF GOD. And this VOICE OF GOD belonged to “Mehdi Hassan” the emperor Of the ghazal genre of music.
From a mechanic in a cycle shop, a man who could fix his own broken Harmonium, Mehdi Hassan had developed a perfect sense of sound, that he could relate musical tones even in the sound of a car engine.
Music was omnipresent to Mehdi Hassan. Ghazal  Gayaki, The conversation with the beloved, fell in love with the voice of Mehdi Hassan to converse with the hearts of Ghazal lovers for more than five decades.
Kamran Hassan, the US-based Ghazal singer son of Mehdi Hassan in an exclusive interview with Hindusthan Samachar, recalls his memories about legendary Mehdi Hassan, the Person, the Musician and his Music.
“It’s been a tough time for all of us as we come to terms with the end of a journey of a great musician. My father was a great human being, very kind, very caring at home and a legendary singer to the outside world. His loss is not only a personal loss to all of us in the family but also to the entire music world. We are overwhelmed by the love, affection and compassion shown on our family from all over the world in these years of grief. Luminaries from across the Indian subcontinent reached out to us to express their sense of belonging with us. My father’s music is known the world over and Indian Legendary singer Latha Mangeshkarji’s quote. ” Sri Mehdi Hassan ki gale mien Bhagwan bolte hain, ” epitomizes the Man and his Music.
His diction, expression of words, the movement of the musical notes in different scales was impeccable. He breathed meaning to each word in the poetry. The division of the words, the composition of Raga to the mood of the poetry was possible since he had an absolute understanding of the language. The challenge was to express the feelings of the poet through the musical notes. The rigorous training he had as a child with my grandfather, uncle and exposure to the Dhrupadiya style intricacies did have a huge influence on my father and his music. The very fact that he was the 16th generation musician was a huge responsibility to carry forward. His understanding of this classical form of singing helped him immensely to experiment with composing the Ghazals to Classical ragas. His music was a complete symbol of Sur and his rendering, was  A VISION OF THE WORD. He gave a new dimension to ghazal singing by adopting classical Hindusthani ragas. He loved to experiment with Musical notes and Rhythm A case in the point is the ghazal.
“Jab tere nain Muskurathey hain” which was later adopted by Ustad Sultan Khan, a Sarangi player from India. This composition was named RAAG SEHERA, and Ustad Sultan Khan acknowledged this composition to Mehdi Saab every time he played it during the concerts.
The   ghazal “Ab ke Hum Bichade ” was again his own Raag . Many occasions he has composed music to the Ghazals on the stage without any preparation. I remember that during a festival of Raag Darbari special, he was given a sheet of paper containing the Poetry by Parveen Shakir.
In a matter of minutes, Mehdi Saab was ready and rendered the ghazal ” Ru ba Ru pehel gayi baath shana sayi ki ”  to the elite crowd in the studio and audience across the nation.
“Shola tha jal Bhuja hu ” the Ghazal composed in Raag Kirwani is another example of his ability to compose impromptu.   “Ek bus tu hi nahi jo mujse,  khapha ho baita” in the album Kehna Ussey is composed in Miya ka Malhar.
The  Raag is a  very difficult classical piece and was rarely used in Ghazal Gayaki.  Mehdi Saab broke the rules again.  “Komple phir phooot aaye shaakh par, Kehna usey, woh  na samjega magar Kehna Ussey”, in the album “Kehna Ussey featuring Farhath  Shehzaad ” is an example of blending  RAAG and THE POETRY.
Komple in Urdu means BUD indicating  The arrival of the Spring season and Raag Megh Malhaar was the Raag he chose to compose thus creating another masterpiece.  Similar was the experiment with the Ghazal” Khuli Jo aankh na who tha na who Zamana tha “.
Raga Bhankar,  in Bhairav thaat  was the base of this composition. it was a perfect blend of MOOD and THE  PAKKAD in his own creative style. He went to the bottom of the theme of the Ghazal and looked for the meanings unsaid in the words.
I remember during a conversation about his work on Momin Khan Momin (the 18th-century poet) poetry Navaq  Andaz kidhar di daye, the couplet. “Tu  kaha jayegi , Kuch Apna thikana karle,  hum to kal Kwaab-e-Adam mein,  shab-e-Hijra  honge.”(It means where will you go? make a little space for yourself. When the dawn beckons in the morning, we will part ways.)
For an ordinary person, this is a  conversation between the lovers. He deciphered the meaning to me as the dialogue between the ” Body and Soul. ” One has to look at life beyond the physical form existing in front of one. Life is a form of abstracts. Performing arts is the tool for insight into Life. Such was the intellect of Mehdi Saab. This conversation changed my perception of life.
I, Mehdi Saab and our group of musicians were travelling in my van from New York to Washington D.C after a Ghazal programme. It was late night and the musicians were fast asleep. It started raining heavily and I was driving the car. I switched on the wipers of the van. My dad sitting next to me said ” Kamran, can you give me divide four thaats for the timing of the wiper. I did. he then said make it Six, then ten then Seventeen, then nineteen and some odd numbers.
He was teaching me the timing through his innovative and simple techniques. Kamran recalls another incident. We were travelling from London back home to Karachi. As the engines of the Aircraft were turned on Mehdisaab asked to identify the note matching that of the engine. I could not, but he did, by matching the exact sound of the engine and the note.  Such was his passion for music. He was musically alert always.
He loved all kinds of music and had a special love for the Gamaka Gayaki style of Carnatic  Music. We did concerts in South India in Madras, Bangalore and Kerala. He obviously enjoyed interacting with the audience all over South India and long periods of conversation about Carnatic Vocal music.
I have known Kannada Cinema Legendary Actor Singer Dr Rajkumar was a true blue fan of my father. It’s heartening to know the adaptation of all time Miyan Ka Malhaar based Classic ” Nawazish Karam Shukriya ” was adopted by him in the movie Kavi Ratna Kalidasa. It’s a classic case of Art being collaborative in nature.
Mehdi Saab loved  India for two reasons. One is because he was from India, second, for the appreciation he got for his music from India. He is on record saying SUR EESHWAR HAI and believed that music is a divine language. We are deeply indebted to the ghazal lovers, netizens, Millenials for the love and affection showered on Mehdisaab and his Music. His life is a testimony to the adage ” One World No Boundaries “