A disclaimer first. When I say `music’, I refer to Indian, ie Hindi film music up to the 70’s - and the other `light’ music that comprises ghazals, geet and the stuff that Coke Studio comes up with. So if you’re a purist, and sneer at this form of escapist entertainment, this post is not for you.
Mehdi Hasan’s death came as no surprise – he should have gone ten years ago. No human, certainly not one as great as this maestro, should have had to suffer so much. Watching him in obvious pain and misery, lying on a hospital bed with tears rolling down his cheeks was heart wrenching in the extreme.
But it brought to an end an era. Mehdi Hasan stood alone. Not Ghulam Ali, not Jagjit Singh nor anyone that followed came anywhere close. Just as Sidney Poitier paved the way for the likes of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, so too Mehdi Hasan was the pioneer for a host of singers to follow. But none could match his mastery of the medium, and certainly no one had the mellifluous if somewhat gravelly voice that was simply a gift of God!
The worst thing that partition did to us was that it robbed us of so much of the sheer joy that only music can bring. The least that Nehru and Patel could have done at the bargaining table was to insist of Jinnah that the only pre-condition they had was that Nur Jehan would remain in India! Sadly, the queen of melody migrated to Pakistan, and we lost out. An apocryphal story that did the rounds in the 70’s had Gen Zia exclaiming “You can have all of Kashmir, just give us Lata Mangeshkar!” Lata is no doubt the nightingale of India, and Asha is anytime as good – but Nur Jehan was Nur Jehan - the malika-e-tarranum!
Our misfortune was worse confounded by the cussedness of the Indian government that simply refused to play any music from across the border on All India Radio! The only occasion we actually heard them was when they performed in India. But for every Abida Parveen who managed to come across, there were so many Tina Sahnis, Naiyarra Nurs and Tahira Syeds of whom we remained unaware! Just listen to Malika Pukhraj and her daughter Tahira Syed sing Hafeez Jalandhari’s `Abhi toh main jawan hun’ in tandem, and you’re transported into a wonderland that no government has the right to deny you.
Indian film music of that era also gave us such sublime poetry – from the sheer genius of Sahir Ludhianvi to the magical moods of Kaifi Azmi – to the Hindi greats Shailendra and Neeraj. But what of Ahmed Faraz (if he had only written `Ranjish hi sahi’ and nothing else, his place in the hall of fame would still be guaranteed) and the maverick Ibn-e-Insha (Inshaji, utho ab kooch karo), sigh..
So when the lead guitarist of the Pakistani rock band `Strings’ plays `Saare jahaan se achcha Hindustan hamara’ on his guitar, or Gulzar writes
Ankhon ko koi visa nahin lagta
Sapnon ki sarhad koi nahin
Bandh aankhon se chala jata hun
Roz milne Mehdi Hasan se..
you can just hold back a tear and lament the wealth, the khazana that you have lost..