General Ayub Khan honoured him with the Tamgha-I-Imtiaz, General Zia-ul-Haq with the Pride of Performance and General Pervez Musharraf with the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, but Mehdi Haasan was not just a ‘shahenshah’ in his country. As singer-composer Lalit Pandit says, “He was Pakistan’s biggest contribution to the world of music for his soulful renditions, perfect pronunciation, ‘hatke harkats’ in his ‘gaayki’ and impressive personality. Like Lataji (Mangeshkar) is to female singers, Mehdi saab was a role model to male singers.”
Lalit, born into the Mewati gharana of Jodhpur, is the son classical exponent Pandit Pratap Narayan and the nephew of Pandit Jasraj. “I met him several times and once he performed all night at our Ganpati baithak. In 2004, my brother Jatin and I were at the press conference in Pakistan he addressed after almost a year,” says Lalit.
VIDEO: Mehdi Hassan passes away
Hassan was born in the village of Luna in Rajasthan into the Kalawant clan. He learnt music from his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan, traditional Dhrupad singers. Post Partition, he migrated to Pakistan where after working in a bicycle shop and as a car and tractor mechanic, he moved from ‘thumri’ to more commercial ghazals to support his family. “Even after he came to be known as ‘ghazal king’, he continued to have a high regard for classical musicians and loved Rajasthan,” says Lalit.
Sukhwinder Singh was with him yesterday and they discussed him coming to India for treatment. “Today, he’s gone and will always be missed,” sighs the singer-composer. “He gave ghazals its soul while Jagjit Singhji made the genre more approachable to the comman man. With both gone, Ghulam Aliji will have to carry the burden alone unless another Madan Mohan is born.”
Singer-composer Nikhil Kamat who grew up listening to Hassan’s records in the college library insists that the void can’t be filled: “Who can sing ‘Ranjish hi sahi…’ like him. I have tunes in my music bank composed for him that will now remain unsung.”
‘It was the least I could do’
Says Ali Zafar from Lahore, the singer-actor-composer’s tweets had helped sponsor Hassan’s treatment back home
Eighty-five year-old Mehdi Hassan was admitted to Karachi’s Aga Khan Hospital on January 11 following respiratory trouble. In less than a week, Pakistani actor-singer-composer Ali Zafar dedicated a song to him in his album Jhoom, ‘Jaane man…’ This, along with his tweets wishing Hassan a swift recovery, turned the spotlight on the ailing singer.
A tribute to the ghazal maestro
Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, offered financial help and the Indian High Commission in Pakistan got in touch with his family. The Information Minister of Sindh, Shazia Marri, visited him in hospital and offered to bear the expenses, adding that if need be, he’d be sent abroad.
"I’m happy to hear that the government have taken charge. I’ll pray for his health," Ali had said a few months ago. Today, he’s mourning the loss that’s too big to express in words.
"His music transcended to our generation and beyond," says Ali who as a 10-year-old heard Hassan sing in a small room at the house of his first ustad who was a formal shagird. "I later met him at an award function and got his blessing."
He refuses to take credit for making Hassan’s last days tension-free insisting he only used social networking to create social awareness: "It was the least I could do for such a towering personality. May be some day I can pay a tribute to him through a composition or concert. There never was and never will be a singer like him."