The art of gazal singing found its niche in Mehdi Hassan’s voice. With his mesmerizing voice and innovative compositions he expanded the horizons of gazal singing
The entire world of music was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow as the sad news of Mehdi Hassan's demise flashed on television screens. In no time at all social media was awash with comments mourning the death of the gazal maestro. Many bereaved music lovers paid him tribute in their own way by switching to his gazals. Even those who were never for a moment concerned about his dwindling health during his long illness, wasted no time to pay homage to the Shahanshah-i-Gazal [Gazal King]. Suddenly the nation came to the realization that he was a genius in their midst.
I may be the only person with a taste for music, especially gazal, who did not mourn the departure of the Shahanshah-i-Gazal. Neither did I comment on social media about the departed soul nor listen to any of his gazals in a bid to pay him tribute. For me, Mehdi Hassan died on the day he was hospitalized in the wake of the stroke. Keenly aware of the dismal official apathy towards artists, I was convinced that the legend would never be among us again. I mourned his anticipated death every day till he bid farewell to this earthly abode.
Posthumous recognition of artists and men of letters has become a ritual in Pakistan. There are many instances of folk singers, film artists and poets who ended up in miserable conditions, their work recognized only after their departure. Mehdi Hassan was not concerned about personal recognition. He was loved and cherished equally by aficionados on both sides of the border. He received several prestigious national awards from the Government of Pakistan. Moreover, the popularity and veneration he earned in his career, his contemporaries could only have wished for.
Yet the last few years of his life were the most pathetic. During his glory days no one, including him, could have imagined that one day he would end up in a hospital bed, surviving on meagre funds and donations. Without a doubt he was one of the worst victims of official apathy and negligence in our times. He never received the quality medical care he deserved. Shamefully, as is mentioned in the print media, much of his financial assistance came from India. What the Pakistani state and nation couldn't do was done by the music lovers of India, reflecting their boundless reverence and love for the greatest ever gazal singer.
The art of gazal singing found its niche in Mehdi Hassan’s voice. With his mesmerizing voice and innovative compositions he expanded the horizons of gazal singing. Before him, several gazal singers dominated the scene of gazal singing. But as soon as he came on the scene it was clear that it was altogether a Mehdi Hassan show. He re-wrote the poetics of gazal singing - all old testaments of the very art ultimately became null and void.
He was an artist who could whisk his audience away from the hustle bustle of this violent world. Listening to him one would land in an enchanted world, surrounded by singing birds, humming fountains, blooming flowers, blowing breezes and fluttering trees.
Mehdi Hassan’s mesmerizing voice clothed the poetry of various popular poets like Faiz, Faraz, Qateel, Parveen Shakir and other lesser known poets. But it is the way he delivered classical poets like Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib that makes him unparalleled in the pantheon of Urdu gazal singers. Mir is one of the least sung Urdu poets. More often than not, gazal singers dithered to touch the poetry of Khuda-ay-Sokhan [King of Poetry]. Even those who dared sing Mir’s poems could not do justice to his work. Mehdi Hassan is the sole exception. He sang several heart-touching gazals by Mir Taqi Mir in a fashion, never before heard. Gazals like Daikh tou dil keh jan say ut’tha hay, Monh taka hi karay jis tis ka, Aa kay sajjaada nasheen Qes howa meray ba'd, and Patta patta boota boota hal hamara janay hay, hitherto confined to the pages of Kulliyat-i-Mir, remain profoundly indebted to Mehdi Hassan for their popularity.
Just as Mirza Ghalib remains unparalleled in the realm of Urdu poetry, Mehdi Hassan remains unrivalled in the domain of gazal singing. Undoubtedly he occupies the same exalted status in the world of music as does Mirza Ghalib in the realm of Urdu poetry.