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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Mehdi Hassan: Music permeates across borders

Mir Ayub Ali Khan, TNN | Jan 21, 2012, 06.57AM IST

Ravaged by ill health, legendary ghazal singer is today struggling to regain normal breathing in a hospital in Karachi. Connecting hearts through mellifluous voice overarching borders, Mehdi belongs to the generation of Manmohan Singh, Khushwant Singh, Pervez Musharraf and numerous others who migrated from one part of the Indian sub-continent to another and became aliens in their own places of birth. But they never forgot what their common heritage has been.

In Pakistan's critically acclaimed movie 'Khuda Ke Liye' the protagonist is a singer who goes to the US to study music further. When the teacher there asks him to give a sample of his singing talent, he begins with lines that come from the rich Hindu mythological background-Neer bharan kaise jaaon-indicating the yearning of Radha for Krishna. That song perhaps drove home the point of a common heritage of people of India and Pakistan, especially in Hindustani classical music. Mehdi Hassan is a symbol of that tradition that has survived the partition and flourished.

When news reached India that the ghazal maestro has been put on a ventilator, the first reaction came from Rajasthan, the state of his birth. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot picked up the phone, spoke with the singer's son Arif and offered to treat him in India. The health condition of the singer, Arif said, does not permit him to be disturbed. Gehlot was expressing concern for one of the greatest sons of Rajasthan.

Mehdi Hassan's family comes from Luna, a village in Jhunjhunu district of the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan. He migrated to Lahore couple of years before India was partitioned. He was 12 years of age then. The singer is said to still have some close buddies in Luna which he visited three times in the last six decades.

It is not just in Luna that he has friends. TOI has discovered at least three persons in Hyderabad who have spent considerable time with Mehdi Hassan. Mohan Hemadi of Sur Mandal remembers how the singer came to his residence in 1978 and spent the entire night singing and talking. Abdul Mughni, a noted ghazal singer who began his career with cloning Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh, recalls the suggestions the maestro had given him to improve his singing. "He showed me how to move from one sur to another, all the while enhancing the beauty of the song," says he.

May be there is no other person like the Hyderabadi Rashed Abdul Qayoom who after meeting Mehdi Hassan in Toronto in 1977 entered into a life-long relationship. "One day Talat Aziz (the popular ghazal singer from Bollywood hailing from Hyderabad) phoned me to inform that Mehdi Hassan, his guru, has agreed to joint performances in North America. That was a rare honour for Talat Aziz. It was also rare for the music lovers to listen to two singers-one from India and another from Pakistan from the same stage. I tagged along. They gave performances in 25 cities in the US and I attended all of them. The Indian-Pakistani diaspora loved it," he recalls.

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