Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Music sans Frontiers..

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..


  1. Your musing takes me back in years when boundaries were crossed unassumingly....Memories as elixir for youthfulness adding pep to life..….

    you talk of music without boundaries just as Gulzar…So true…I ask what boundaries? I ‘grew up’ in the Army listening to and enjoying Noorjehan, Malika Pukhraj and Mehdi Hasan and the like!!!! (Indian genre). And purism is for the uninitiated!!!

    In my unit in 1974 in Channakhera there was an officer (name withheld) from whom we learned to drink rum. He had the demeanor of a typical fauji with handle bar moustache, a booming voice and all. The staple in our mess, to go with the rum was, Nooorjehan (mere bachpan ke saathi mujhe bhool na jana……) and Malika Puhkraj – a heady cocktail by any standard. We called this guru Nawab saab. He hailed from a Koti in saabzi Mandi – a real koti with an Aangan. Nawab Saab was the Basket ball captain of Hasraj College in Delhi in his college days. With a glass of rum in the left hand, Nawab Saab would stand loosely with most on the weight on the right leg placed slightly ahead of the left leg, eyes closed and with the right hand raised with elbows bend he would weave patterns in the air to the Malika Pukhraj’s soulful rendition. He did this everyday of the week (that is what we called 24X7, those days). We partook of the enjoyment mesmerised by the music and the divine rendition.

    As I write this I am listening to Noorjehan’s “Phoolon Mein Nazar Yeh Kaun Aaya”…Could I have enjoyed this if I had not joined NDA? Well, who can tell?

    1. I agree, Vish - hailing as you do from God's own country, leave alone mellifluous Urdu, even Hindi would have been a foreign language! Am so glad you enjoy these divine renditions - I use the term `divine' advisedly, for these people were truly blessed by the Gods.. Sadly, we may be a dying breed - my kids will just not permit me to play Malika Pukhraj in the car - they just about tolerate Mohd Rafi because ever since they were born they've heard me proclaim him as the voice of God!!

  2. Samina Rizwan's Comments..

    Maya Das ka Lams, root phrase in Sanskrit for the Midas Touch....whatever the Shehanshah touched turned to gold. We know well that exquisite choice of poetry helped propel Mehdi Hassan's renditions to fame, but the contrary is true too, that modestly known poets became household names only after the Maestro blessed them with his treatment.

    Faiz ko teen fankaron se faiz hasil hua...Madam ofcourse to whom Faiz Sahib "gifted" Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat after she composed and sang it, the underrated Iqbal Bano who brought to life Dashte Tanhai and the reverberating "Red" anthem Hum Dekheinge, and finally Mehdi Hassan who, when he sang Gulon Mein Rang Bhare for a Pakistani film, helped romanticize Faiz's personal journey from society elite to rebel with a cause.

    Similarly, Faraz may have remained undiscovered were it not for Ab Ke Hum Bichrey by Mehdi Hassan becoming the lament of the unrequited lover, of which there is no shortage across the divide!

    My favourite poet, Parveen Shakir, was not yet out of her 20s when she wrote Ku ba Ku which I consider the most honest representation of the eastern woman's deepest fears and desires. How perceptive the Maestro was to choose an unknown poet's defining creation and give it the Midas Touch.

    These are the well known and regularly revisited pieces by Mehdi Hassan, but I wonder how well the Indian audience knows his filmy classics such as Yeh Kaghzi Phool Jaise Chehre, Mujhe Tum Nazr Se, Rafta Rafta, Jab Koi Pyar Se and the delectable Punjabi number Chal Chaliye. You must search for these and listen to not just the melody but the diction and delivery...many of us have learnt Urdu diction from Ustads like him, Madam, Farida and such.

    Alternately, when I listen to the Maand Kesariya by Mehdi Hassan - which I have only ever heard Indian artistes sing - I feel the gravelly earthiness of his Rajasthani roots in it. It is said that har sur ka aik mehboob sur hota hai and the objective, as is true of the universe, is to bring the two mehboob surs together. Mehdi Hassan had the Lams (touch) of Maya Das for he invariably found and connected two mehboob surs. Why else, I ask, did complete illiterates and non-language speakers feel spiritual peace while listening to his ghazals?

    1. As always, Samina - your insightful comments have added the proverbial `four moons' to my post. Am taking the liberty of cut-pasting the same onto the blog itself..

      Will definitely listen to the filmy numbers you mention, but personally I don't think Mehdi Hasan's vocals were suited to playback singing the way Rafi's or even Ahmed Rushdi's were - who would you pick as a playback for your favourite Waheed Murad from the subcontinent?

    2. Hi harish,

      I remember fondly the days we were neighbours at Mhow, where i enjoyed music on the HUGE stereo system of yours listening to jagjit singh and pankaj udhas. I dont remember Mehdi hasan, probably you were kind not to play him as it was too heavy for a thambi like me. I wish you had insisted on hearing him, i may have developed a taste for him too. Not withstanding a big loss.
      May be God is having a grand Mehfil at heaven as a lot of stalwarts like jagjit, ravi and now Mehdi have all left this year.
      Keep writing,love reading them, though i hardly write so.

    3. Ah, Srini - those were the days.. I remember Jagjit Singh's album `The Untouchables' had just been released, and the ghazal fervour was beginning to catch on.. Whereas Jagjit and Pankaj Udhas were `pop' ghazal singers, Mehdi Hasan was of the old school, and much more serious. Truly, he stood alone.. Slowly they are all departing, and the Sonu Nigams and the Ali Zafars are taking over.. Another day, another place...

  3. Harish, when I began to sing Ghazals at St Xavier's Bombay,(1970) the first song I was introduced to was, "Mujhe tum nazar se gira to rahe ho, Mujhe tum kabhi bhi bula na sakoge..."That's when I fell in love with Mehdi Hasan. As chance would have it, the next ghazal I graduated to was Rafta Rafta...and then Gulon mein Rang Bhare Baade nau bahaar chale". With the passing of this great singer we have indeed seen the end of an era.