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Mehdi Hasan: A bridge over the troubled divide

My tribute to Mehdi Hasan published here

He was the musical Midas who transcended borders with the same mastery that he transcended genres

Mehdi Hassan is gone. His devastated fans across the globe will mourn the loss of a voice that ruled their hearts for nearly half a century, a voice in which Lata Mangeshkar said she had found bhagwan.

Mehdi Hassan was born in a family of musicians in the town of Luna of district JhunJhunu in Rajasthan around 1927. Rajasthan is famous for its haunting melodies and the expanse of the desert, which celebrates man’s primal relationship with nature. Reshma is also from this region. Hassan’s father Ustad Azeem Khan and Uncle Ustad Ismail Khan were well known classical musicians and it is said that Mehdi Hassan’s first ever concert was at the Maharaja of Baroda’s darbar when he was just eight years old.

With Partition in 1947 this gharana moved to Pakistani Punjab. A young Mehdi Hassan took up the job of an automobile mechanic, something that he was supposed to have been quite adept at. But within a few years, it was his musical talent to which people began paying attention, and by 1952 he was singing at Radio Pakistan.

Mehdi Hassan remained a prized treasure of Radio Pakistan for nearly half a century. I remember growing up listening to his film songs, ghazals and thumris on radio. The launch of television in the 1960s provided an additional platform to Hassan and some of his memorable performances are from those black and white days of television programming.

Hassan proved to be a musical Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold — from the poetry of famous Urdu poets to romantic film numbers. […]

July 22nd, 2012|Arts & Culture, Music, Published in The Hindu|5 Comments

Mehdi Hasan: King of kings

mehdi hasanMehdi Hasan died today. There are no words to capture his influence on my generation and the ones before me. I am posting a shorter version of my essay which was published in a volume “Mehdi Hasan: The Man and His Music” (2010, Liberty Books). RIP Khan Saheb. The kesari balam has finally left for his new home..

From Khyber to Dhaka and from Skardu to Deccan wafts a lilting and profound voice that binds discerning lovers of music. The highly trained vocals are none other than Mehdi Hasan’s, which leave music buffs like this writer wondering how Mian Tansen may have sung Raga Darbari, his own innovation, with full-throated ease and with what degree of perfection in Emperor Akbar’s court, be it in Agra, Lahore or Fatehpur Sikri. Listening to Mehdi Hasan’s flawless exposition of what is often referred to as the most royal of the ragas on which is based his composition of Perveen Shakir’s ghazal Ku baku phael gayi, one feels privileged to be living in the melodious age of Mehdi Hasan. But it is not merely Darbari that he excels in; name any other raga that he has garbed his ghazal in and you will not miss his flair for classical music.


Mehdi Hasan: The Man & His Music

But this has been our tragic tradition. Our greatest artists, singers, poets and intellectuals have suffered at the hands of a conformist society and state captured by puritans especially since late 1970s. It is never too late for the intelligentsia of this country to mobilise public pressure on the state machinery so that it learns to respect cultural diversity and the imperative to nurture a creative, healthy and civilised society. Tansen taught us how music is a route to immortality. An ailing Mehdi Hasan in 2010 is fighting with death. His longevity is ensured. Tansen must be proud of his new age prodigy

September 30th, 2010|Arts & Culture, Music, Pakistan, Personal, SouthAsia|12 Comments

Music sans frontiers


Song of the soul Farida Khanum

‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, haaye mar jaayenge ham to lut jaaenge, aisii baatein kiyaa na karo’.
Strains of her most popular ghazal in all the grandeur of her voice wafted all over the room. Rehearsing for a concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the NGO ‘Routes to Roots’ at the FICCI auditorium in New Delhi this week, Pakistan’s legendary ghazal icon Farida Khanum, looked svelte and poised even in her 70s. She was busy chiding the tabla accompanist, asking him to tone down the percussion. “Flow gently with the music,” she told him. Turning to me with a welcoming smile and immense warmth, she said, “There is too much cacophony and too little mellifluous music these days. Often, I am completely put off by the raucous play of percussion and refuse to sing even in Pakistan.” The irritation was palpable. The rehearsal continued as I soaked in the rich voice. Music that is manna! Age has only added to the infinite variety of her music. Finally, she broke off and asked for another percussionist. […]

May 14th, 2010|Music, Pakistan, Poetry|5 Comments

Tau kiya yeh tay haye… (Gulbahar Bano singing)

A piece of Urdu poetry that has remained with me through seasons, years and all the vicissitudes…
This is an extraordinary ghazal (rhymed poem in Urdu composed in classical style). The poet is perhaps Saleem Kausar whose expression is subtle yet brutal. There is a sense of finality in the lyrics – a denouement that is being challenged and hence a dynamic is created that allows the tragedy of two people parting their ways to turn into a moment of absolute beauty. The sadness of the verse is augmented by Gulbahar Bano’s unique voice that brings out the depth of meaning in the lines.

I can only translate the first couplet:
Tau kiya ye tay haye ke ab umr bhar nahee milna
Tau phir ye umr bhi kiyon, tum se gar nahee milna

Is it now agreed that we shall not meet for life
But what good would be living if I will not be with you

As I rendered this literal translation, I wanted to curse myself for being so inadequate with words.. Those who can understand Urdu or Hindi would know what exactly I am complaining about. I dedicate this to someone special who remains as close as time itself. In fact, I am grateful to this muse who sent it the other day bringing back the smell of summer heat, the shades of white and all the flowers that bloomed and were tucked into thick books.

Here is the ghazal

another version found on youtube: […]

February 18th, 2010|Culture, Music, Pakistan, Pakistani Art, Pakistani Literature, Personal, Poetry, video|Comments Off on Tau kiya yeh tay haye… (Gulbahar Bano singing)

I have returned, like the new year (Rumi)

I am posting Sunlight translations of Rumi’s  Ghazal (Ode) 1375, from  “Diwan-e-Shamsi” (“The Collection of Shams”), rendered by Nader Khalili, and Prof. William Chittick:
i’ve come again
like a new year
to crash the gate
of this old prison
i’ve come again
to break the teeth and claws
of this man-eating
monster we call life […]
February 3rd, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry|1 Comment

Whatever shrine I go to

Another readable piece by Dr Sher Zaman Taizi

This poem in ghazal form is very simple and direct. It starts with a direct address to God and gradually moves on to ethical values, human needs and human nature. I will try to transliterate the original Pushto verses into English with the hope that readers will be able to appreciate its meaning.

Not for a single moment, am I indifferent to You! Not indifferent to Your invocation and reflection! Whatever shrine I go to, I have You in mind!

I am not interested in any pilgrimage to mosque or temple! […]

April 7th, 2009|Personal|1 Comment