Mehdi Hassan’s haunting baritone

Almost 18 years ago, I proudly began to brand myself as a ‘Mehdi Hassan Collector’. I was so fascinated by the ghazal maestro’s voice and repertoire that I would purchase every song possible. That even meant buying a cassette or CD when I already possessed 11 songs out of 12. On Hassan’s seventh death anniversary today, June 13, that phase of my life, vividly comes to mind. As much as I’ve thought about being the singular such character existing in Mumbai, I realised there were others too. While my ‘competitors’ were a small number, it didn’t stop me from getting jealous if they possessed a ghazal or nazm I had never heard of.

Encounter with the master

The craze began after my only meeting with the maestro, at a mehfil organised by businessman Saurabh Daftary at his Marine Drive residence in October 2000. Singer Talat Aziz introduced me to my idol, saying, “He writes very well.” Without realising my journalism was being referred to, Hassan innocently replied, “Yeh baat! Why don’t you write a couple of ghazals for me?” The conversation was interrupted by another well-wisher, and I was saved.

The doctor had advised Hassan not to sing, but then, who could stop him? He sang his popular ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’ and Ghalib’s ‘Dil-e-nadaan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai’, often pausing to explain the finer nuances.

The person next to me requested him to present ‘Charag-e-toor’, a song I was clueless about. Hassan didn’t sing it that evening, but I went to Rhythm House, the following day and discovered that it was written by Sagar Siddiqui. Until then, I was familiar with Hassan’s popular songs — ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’ (written by Ahmed Faraz), ‘Gulon Mein Rang Bhare’ (Faiz Ahmed Faiz), ‘Zindagi Mein Toh Sabhi’ (Qateel Shifai), ‘Mohabbat Karne Waale’ (Hafeez Hoshiarpuri) and ‘Bhooli Bisri Chand Umeedein’ (Razi Tizmizi), to name some. I had been an admirer for 15 years, but had restricted myself to his ‘Greatest Hits’ and live compilations. Much the same way I heard Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas and Begum Akhtar.

Devoted to ghazals

The interaction with Hassan converted me from a fan to a fanatic. Over the next week, I picked up songs I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t keep a count of new discoveries – maybe 80, maybe 100. But I played Hassan’s album Kehna Usey on loop. Written by young Farhat Shahzad, it had gems like ‘Dekhna Unka Kanakhiyon Se’, ‘Kya Toota Hai Andar Andar’ and ‘Komplein Phir Phoot Aayen’.

Besides Rhythm House, I would visit the well-stocked Time music store in Vile Parle. There, I found ‘Apnon Ne Gham Diye’ (poet unknown), ‘Yun Na Mil Mujhse Khafa Ho Jaise’ (Ehsaan Danish), ‘Gulshan Gulshan Shola-e-gul Ki’ (Asghar Saleem), ‘Dil Ki Baat Labon Par Laakar’ (Habib Jalil) and ‘Aaye Kuchh Abr’ (Faiz). To increase my understanding, ghazal singer Rajendra Mehta gifted me the Urdu-English-Marathi dictionary Aaina-e-Ghazal by Vinay Waikar and Zarina Sani.

The obsession continues today, but the medium has changed. I have kept all those CDs, but use online streaming platforms to discover unheard songs, finding translations on the Internet. It will take a few months to go through the entire catalogue. Hassan’s repertoire is as vast as an ocean, and this ‘collector’ has only sailed a few rivers.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 6:40:13 AM |

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