It was never an easy ride for Mehdi Hassan. The man with the golden voice had to go through trials and tribulations very early in life and it was the sheer passion for music which made him the ‘Emperor of Ghazals’ in the subcontinent.
Even though born into a family of musicians (on 18th July 1927) in a small village in Rajasthan, Mehdi for a long time could not pursue his passion. The ghazal maestro was trained at home in his initial years by his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan who were traditional Dhrupad singers. Being the 16th generation of a musical family, young Hassan had harboured to make a career out of music. But fate had a different plan for him in the initial stage.
The family was plagued by financial troubles when they shifted to Pakistan during partition. Young Hassan started working in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic. But as they say, the passion never died. He continued to pursue his interest, his passion, albeit behind closed doors, within the vicinity of his home.
His first break came in 1957 when he got the opportunity to sing a thumri number for Radio Pakistan. The number got him instant recognition in the musical fraternity and he got more offers to sing.
The talented singer had an interest in Urdu poetry and slowly started experimenting with ghazals. Two producers of Radio Pakistan, ZA Bukhari and Rafiq Anwar, tapped this singer’s unique talent and encouraged him to sing ghazals on radio. Hassan had even admitted that he owed a lot to Bukhari and Anwar for establishing his career. The singer soon became a hit amongst the masses as well as discerning audience and rafta rafta wo sabki hasti ka saamaa ho gaye.
The veteran not only sang beautiful ghazals but also rendered his voice to several film numbers in Pakistan. Many feel that the 60s and 70s were dominated by Hassan and his style of ghazals.
His unique style of presenting Urdu couplets and giving a classical touch to soulful music made him the emperor of ghazals. His voice had an enormous range which till date remains unmatched. His mastery over the ragas made him the indisputable master of ghazals in the subcontinent.
Lata Mangeshkar had once said that Mehdi Hassan’s songs reflected the 'voice of God’. The two brilliant singers had collaborated for a mesmerising number called ‘Tera Milana’ in 2010. The song was earlier composed and sung by Hassan in 2009 and later Mageshkar added her bit and it was released in an album.
Stalwarts like Jagjit Singh and Talat Aziz were his disciples.
The singer’s five decade long career started flickering in the late 80s when he started suffering from severe lung problem. The singer began making less stage appearances and also lessened his recordings.
The singer, till the very end, yearned for his birth country, India. He had last performed in India in 2000 and had planned to visit in 2008 but the trip had to be cancelled in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Then in 2010, he had expressed his desire to visit India and meet Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan. But owing to poor health, the singer could not cross the border.
Hassan leaves behind a legacy, a treasure trough of beautiful melodies. As he himself sang:
ab ke hum bichde to shaayad kabhii khwabon mein milen
jis tarah suukhe hue phool kitaabon mein milen
aaj hum dar pe kheenche gaye jin baaton par
kyaa ajab kal vo zamaane ko nisaabon mein milen
(If we now part, we might find each other in dreams
like dry flowers pressed against the pages of books.
Those consequences that have torn us apart today
Remarkable perhaps tomorrow, the world may call those fate)