IT was an evening filled with nostalgia. On Sunday, December 4, ghazal singer Talat Aziz presented a concert dedicated to his mentor Mehdi Hassan. Though Mumbai’s Tata Theatre had only a 60 per cent attendance, it was filled with a huge number of knowledgeable listeners, who kept requesting one favourite after another. And though two of Mehdi-saab’s most popular songs — the Ahmed Faraaz-penned ‘Ranjish hi sahi’ and Qateel Shifai’s ‘Zindagi mein to sabhi pyaar kiya karte hain’ — had been presented to much applause within the first half hour itself, the evening kept getting more and more special.
Part of the Lokpriya series organised by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the concert was a super-treat for those who’ve grown up on Mehdi-saab’s magic. The fact that Talat was in prime singing form added to the ambience, as he was wonderfully accompanied by a tabla, flute, violin, and additional keyboards and percussion. While Ghalib’s ‘Dil-e-nadaan’ opened the evening, the other classics comprised ‘Dil ki baat labon par laakar’, ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’, ‘Rafta rafta’, ‘Mujhe tum nazar se’, ‘Shola tha jal bujha hoon’, ‘Dekh to dil ke jaan se uthta hai’, ‘Ab ke hum bichde’ and ‘Ku-ba-ku phail gayee’. The gems one missed included ‘Bhooli bisri chand umeedein’, ‘Kaise kaise log’, ‘Phool hi phool khil utthe hain’ and ‘Mohabbat karne waale’, but then, everything couldn’t be packed within the 9.30 pm deadline.
Besides the Mehdi Hassan hits, Talat also rendered three of his own hits — ‘Phir chiddi raat baat phoolon ki’ from the film ‘Bazaar’, ‘Zindagi jab bhi teri bazm mein’ from ‘Umrao Jaan’ and ‘Aaina mujhse meri pehli si surat maange’ from ‘Daddy’. As a tribute to the late Jagjit Singh, he also rendered ‘Tumko dekha to yeh khayal aaya’, with the crowd singing along. In short, it was a memorable session.
WHEN one talks of ghazals, the names Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Ghulam Ali, Talat Aziz and Hariharan are usually mentioned. Followers of old Hindi film music would also talk of Talat Mahmood, who sang some marvelous ghazals both in films and in non-film recordings. However, if one asks the more serious and seasoned listener, he will in all probability speak of Mehdi Hassan and Begum Akhtar. The latter passed away in 1974, leaving behind some amazing recordings. Only a small section of old-timers managed to attend her concerts.
Mehdi Hassan, based in Pakistan, did quite a few concerts in India in the late 70s and 80s, when ghazals were at their popularity peak here. Because of ill-health, he has stopped performing for over a decade, but his recordings still have a devoted set of admirers. Though many of today’s ghazal fans would have missed his shows, some may have been lucky to see the other Pakistani ghazal great Ghulam Ali.
While listening to Mehdi Hassan, the first thing that attracts anyone is his voice. Mellifluous, melancholic, majestic, it captivates with its sheer timbre and texture. As one goes a bit deeper into his music, one notices how wonderfully he uses classical nuances and rhythmic elements in his compositions. Moreover, he always boasted of an amazing choice of poetry, whether it was by Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Fair Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraaz, Qateel Shifai, or even younger poets like Farhat Shahzad. The more one hears his songs, the more they grow.
Though I have been listening to Mehdi Hassan’s recordings for some 27 years now, and possess a pretty large collection of his songs, I have not had a chance to see him in concert. However, I was lucky to have met him once when he visited India in 2000. It was a private mehfil at the residence of Saurabh Daftary, and there too, Talat Aziz was the main performer.
It was a short meeting, with Talat introducing us. I was too much in awe of Mehdi-saab to request him for a formal newspaper interview, and once the music began, I simply preferred to enjoy the atmosphere. Though Talat, and later Jaspinder Narula, sang for a large part of the evening, Mehdi-saab did chip in with ‘Dil-e-nadaan’, despite being advised by the doctor to avoid singing. He also sang a few shers of ‘Ranjish hi sahi’, after Jaspinder had sung the first few lines. It was a moment etched in my memory ever since.
Over the next few days, I was on a total Mehdi Hassan trip, rediscovering old songs and adding new cassettes to my collection. The craze continues even today, for very few singers have had the kind of effect that Mehdi Hassan has.