Mehdi Hassan: The Ghazal Legend Of Pakistan And India No More!

Article first published as Mehdi Hassan: The Emperor Of Ghazals Passes Away! on Technorati. 

He had always been regarded as the most original Ghazal singer. He came into fame in 1957 in Pakistan and dominated the sixties and the seventies with a career ranging five decades. Bad health started plaguing him from the eighties when the masses, particularly in India, started listening to Ghazals and began to admire and love those thanks mainly to the friendlier and popular compositions of Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh. But even now, whenever we talk of Ghazal artistes we are told to go back to Mehdi Hassan to relish the essence of pure Ghazals.

Mehdi Hassan was born into a family of musicians in the Indian state of Rajasthan in 1927. Though his ancestors had been traditional singers of Dhrupad and though he had a burning passion for music Mehdi Hassan had the hardest time coming to music. Financially in trouble his family shifted to Pakistan during the Partition in 1947 and there in Pakistan Mehdi worked in a bicycle shop finally becoming a mechanic to help his family.

But Mehdi never gave up on music. Finally, he got a chance to sing a thumri in Radio Pakistan in 1957 and there was no looking back since then. Perceiving his immense talent his mentors encouraged him to sing Ghazals and over time he established his style of Ghazal singing firmly in Pakistan with his soulful voice, pure Urdu lyrics and effortless control over the ragas and gradually his fame spread to different parts of the world. He also did quite a few numbers for the Urdu film industry in Pakistan.

Mehdi Hassan always yearned to visit India—his home country. His dream was fulfilled only in 1978 when he performed in India. But his visits had not been frequent due to his bad health. His last performance in India was in 2000. He wanted to come back in 2008, but the Mumbai terror attack prevented that. Lately he desperately needed to be in India to meet Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan, but his deteriorating health never allowed him to do so. Ironically the legendary artiste was scheduled to come to India for medical treatment soon. 

The Indian masses flocked on to the Ghazal genre of music when Jagjit Singh, a disciple of Mehdi Hassan, revolutionized the genre by making it linguistically familiar and with compositions more like modern Hindi songs; and when Ghulam Ali started his regular performances in India mixing Indian Classical and folk music in his Ghazals making his compositions readily acceptable and hugely popular. His popularity in India was further heightened by his singing Bollywood (read Hindi) movie songs. Other popular Ghazal singers like Talat Aziz who also learned from Mehdi, PenazMasani, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota and the like joined in the wave. 

But Mehdi Hassan remained the Emperor of Ghazals for all in India and elsewhere. Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of India, lauded Mehdi as the ‘voice of God’ and in fact, she took up a famous Mehdi number, added her voice to it and released the duet in an album in 2010.

The Emperor finally decided to get rid of his obstinately sick body and ascend to heaven. Mehdi Hassan, the legend, died in a Karachi Hospital on today after a long battle with a lung disease and multiple organ failure. Indian music lovers comprising of celebrity performers of Ghazal and other genres of music, the film fraternity and the common people mourn his death deeply realizing the loss as irreparable.

Mehdi Hassan has ceased, but his music remains as strong as ever. 


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