Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

BACK in October 2000, at a private mehfil at a Marine Drive flat, legendary singer Mehdi Hassan was part of the audience. The gathering was organised by Mumbai businessman Saurabh Daftary, and the performers included Talat Aziz and Jaspinder Narula. And though his doctor had advised Mehdi-saab not to sing, he couldn’t resist. He rendered just a couple of shers from Ghalib’s ‘Dil-e-Nadaan’ and Ahmed Faraaz’s ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’, but they were enough to mesmerise the 40-odd people present. I was one of the lucky few.

Today, it’s difficult to believe the Pakistani ghazal great is no more. Though he had been unwell for a long time, and was critical earlier this year, the sudden news of his death on June 13 has come as a shock to millions of fans. To state the obvious, his passing marks the end of an era.

Personally, no other singer has moved me as much. Over the years, there have been many other favourites from the Indian sub-continent, but when it comes to hero worship and sheer obsession, Mehdi Hassan tops the list. And the reason for this has much more to do than with the texture, mellifluousness and purity of his heavenly voice. The brilliance of his compositions, the manner in which he adapted classical raags, the depth of the poetry he chose, his sense of ‘laya’ (rhythm), the way he expressed emotions and the way he enunciated words all contributed equally to his uniqueness.

If I were to describe my experience of listening to Mehdi Hassan, I would divide it into two phases — pre-2000 mehfil, and post-2000 mehfil. For after that event, I was converted overnight from an admirer to a devotee, from a fan to a fanatic.

It took a good 16 years for the transformation. My earliest memories of hearing Mehdi-saab go back to 1984, when I had bought few records from a friend. Most of them were English LPs, and I had picked up this Mehdi Hassan compilation as I was listening to a lot of ghazals too, mainly by Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Ghulam Ali, Rajendra-Nina Mehta and Talat Aziz. The ghazal craze was in full swing in India.

The first song that struck me was Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s ‘Mohabbat karne waale kam na honge’. The sheer depth of his voice blew me away, and for a few days, I listened only to that ghazal. Very soon, other songs took over — Ahmed Faraz’s ‘Ranjish hi sahi’, Ghalib’s ‘Dil-e-nadaan’, Qateel Shifai’s ‘Zindagi mein to sabhi pyaar kiya karte hain’, Mir Taqi Mir’s ‘Patta patta boota boota’, Saleem Gilani’s ‘Phool hi phool khil uthey hain’, Wafaa Roomani’s ‘Sataa sataa ke hamein’, Masroor Anwar’s ‘Mujhe tum nazar se gira toh rahe ho’, a few more.

Listening to Mehdi Hassan those days was very different from what it turned out to be later.  I would enjoy the songs more for the way they were sung, and for the tunes. But because of my limited exposure to or knowledge of pure Urdu, I wouldn’t follow many words. There was no Internet to refer to for meanings or translations, and I knew little about the importance of the poet in the creation of a ghazal.

Like many from my age group, I would spend most of my time listening to rock or jazz. But after a hard day’s work, or maybe after a cocktail party, I would switch over to Mehdi Hassan or eventually Begum Akhtar, whom I first heard in 1986.

For many years, I would play the same Mehdi Hassan compilations, with a limited number of songs. Some newer favourites had come in, like Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ‘Baat karni mujhe mushkil’, Ahmed Faraz’s ‘Ab ke hum bichde’ and ‘Shola tha jal bujha hoon’, Asghar Saleem’s ‘Gulshan gulshan shola-e-gul ki’, Tasleem Fazli’s ‘Rafta rafta’ and ‘Khuda kare ki mohabbat mein’, and Himayat Ali Shair’s ‘Nawazish karam’.

By this time, I had begun understanding the nuances of the genre — the difference between a ghazal, nazm, geet and ‘rubaai’ (quatrain), the opening sher ‘matla’, the concluding sher ‘makta’ (where the writer often takes his name or ‘takhallus’), the use of metre in writing and composition, and the way rhymes are created using ‘kaafiya’ and ‘radeef’.

My shift to music journalism with Mid-Day newspaper in 1995 led to interactions with many ghazal singers, and when I told Rajendra Mehta about my limitations with the language, he gifted me two simple books which would explain many ghazals. Soon, I began to re-discover many Mehdi Hassan and Begum Akhtar songs, as I started looking at them from the extra perspective of sheer lyrical beauty.

However, barring a few additions like Raza Tirmizi’s ‘Bhooli bisri chand umeedein’ and Munir Niazi’s ‘Kaise kaise log’, my Mehdi Hassan collection was restricted to some 20-odd songs, with ‘Zindagi mein toh sabhi’ and ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ being played repeatedly for months. The October 2000 mehfil made things even better.

Interestingly, it was by sheer chance that I attended that session. Talat Aziz had a show at the Oberoi where Mehdi Hassan was a guest, and knowing I was a fan of the maestro, invited me to Saurabh’s place. The evening was a dream come true. But strangely, I was so much in awe of my hero that I didn’t have the courage to ask him for an interview. Talat introduced us, and I was totally speechless, just touching his feet and basking in the momentary magic.

It took me a few weeks to recover, and even as I re-listened to my earlier favourites, I had decided to become a ‘collector’ of Mehdi Hassan recordings. Very soon, I was buying cassettes or CDs even if only one song out of 10 was new to me.

One of the treasures I picked up those days was ‘Kehna Usey’, written by the young poet Farhat Shahzad, who I met a few times later. The album was an absolute masterpiece, containing gems like ‘Kya toota hai andar andar’, ‘Dekhna ukka kanakhiyon se’, ‘Komplen phir phoot aayein’, ‘Faisla tumko bhool jaane ka’,’Ek bas tu hi nahin’, ‘Khuli jo aankh’ and ‘Tanha tanha mat sochakar’. The two of them later released the album ‘Sada-e-ishq’ in 2002, but sadly, ill-health had affected Mehdi-saab’s voice by then.

Over the next few months, there were regular showers of classics I hadn’t heard. Morning and night, I would listen to Saleem Kausar’s ‘Main khayal hoon kisi aur ka’, Faiz’s ‘Aaye kuch abr’, Ghalib’s ‘Daayam padha hua’ and ‘Arz-e-niyaz-e-ishq ke kaabil nahin raha’, Mir Taqi Mir’s ‘Dekh toh dil ke jaan se uthta hai’, Momin’s ‘Navak andaaz’, Sagar Siddiqui’s ‘Charagh-e-toor’ or Qateel Shifai’s ‘Tu ne yeh phool jo zulfon mein sajaa rakha hai’.

The collection has kept expanding ever since, with Hasrat Mohani’s ‘Roshan jamaal-e-yaar’ and ‘Kaise chupaoon raaz-e-gham’, Parveen Shakir’s ‘Ku ba ku phail gayi’, Habib Jalil’s ‘Dil ki baat labon par laakar’, Khatir Ghazanvi’s ‘Jab us zulf ki baat chali’, Ehsaan Danish’s ‘Yun na mil mujhse’ and Qateel Shifai’s ‘Yeh mojeza bhi’ (whose Jagjit Singh version I had loved). Older Pakistani film songs like ‘Apnon ne gham diye’, ‘Duniya kisi ke pyaar mein’, ‘Pyaar bhare do sharmeele nain’ and ‘Ek husn ki devi’ have also delighted me, though unfortunately, I don’t know the names of the lyricists.

The beauty about Mehdi Hassan’s songs is that one never tires of them. In fact, the more one hears them, the more enchanting and intoxicating they get. And when you hear them by surprise, it’s an altogether different experience – for instance, while watching ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ in a cinema hall, I was suddenly jumping in my seat when ‘Dekh toh dil se jaan’ was playing to the backdrop of an Irfan Khan scene.

Indeed, what Mehdi Hassan has left behind is a treasure trove. Each word he has sung dazzles like a diamond solitaire. The music world has lost a real gem and one of its truly golden voices, but his music will sparkle forever.


Comments on: "Zamaane yaad aaye: Goodbye, Mehdi Hassan-saab" (35)

  1. Brilliant Piece dear Naren. You have excelled, once again, as was, Mehdi Hassan Sahab’s music.I have nothing more to add except for the fact, that he is the reason, I am a Ghazal Singer {having heard him for the first time at the age of 12 years}, as may be the case with hundreds of other Gulokaars. His Music & Voice are Eternally New, Fresh, Instantly Captivating and Inimitable.. May His Soul Rest in Peace……. 🙂

  2. Nazzia Momina said:

    Thank you for a beautiful review Naren. And what an extensive playlist.

  3. Vicky Solanki said:

    Precisely like what Naren writes, most Urdu in Mehdi Hassan’s ghazals was [still is] latin for me. For ghazal fans like me who never attained fanaticm, started on Pankaj Udhas’ cosmetic renditions. The ‘real stuff’ from the Maestros like Mehdi Hassan came in like Statistics for first year Algebra student. I have no shame to admit – for me, the likes of Jagjit Singh, Ahmed Hussain-Mohammad Hussain and Mehdi sahab remained favorites more for their vocals, less for the lyrics. RIP Mehdisahab.

  4. Geetha Balsaara said:

    Wow! I envy you your collection… Very well written…a heart-felt tribute indeed! Unfortunate that our musical legends are leaving for their heavenly abode, one by one. But I seek solace in the fact that we have been very fortunate to have lived in the same era as them and experienced their musical divinity! Do check my blog and scroll down to the second post from top….my tribute to Jagjitji…


    • Thanks so much Geetha. Yes, read your blog. Very well-written, and will keep reading the blog. I had done a tribute to Jagjit-ji on my blog a few months ago. I hadn’t started the blog at the time he passed away, so when I started it, it was one of my early pieces

  5. His passing is an irreparable loss! RIP Mehdi Saab…

  6. naren your tribute is rich and insightful. Honestly I have learnt a lot reading the same. It’s important that writers like you share this knowledge . I have seen and am reading that some of our friends are confused between Mehdi Saab and Ghulam Ali. There is no doubt that Ghulam Ali, Jagit Singh, Chiitra Singh, Hariharan, Talat Aziz, Bhupinder-Mitali, Pankaj Udhas, Rajendra-Nina, and many more who made the ghazal genre popular in India. Like you this genre got so many of us interested to learn and understand Urdu. Unfortunately this language is painted by dogmatists with a particular colour, religion, and country.

    • Thanks Rahul. Agree with your views. It’s also sad that the younger generation isn’t exposed to these maestros. Hopefull there will be a revival of these classics

  7. After reading through your extensive collection, I am sure you must have heard these 3 too but if you haven’t then make try to get your hands on them:
    jal bhi chuke parvane ho bhi chuki rusawai
    jab bhi aati hai teri yaad kabhi shaam ke baad
    dono jahan teri mohabbat mein haar ke woh ja raha hai koi

    As to his demise, I don’t even know how to put it into words so am not going to try.

    • Hi
      Thanks for your mail. Yes I have heard Jal bhi chuke and Donon jahan teri.. the latter being by Faiz (I love the Begum Akhtar version of this)… but don’t think I have the other two you mention. Will check some of my CDs which I haven’t heard after buying….maybe they’re on it (there are three or four such CDs that I may have picked up for that one song, and should check out now).
      A few other songs didn’t make it to my original blog, which I wrote just a few hours after I got the news, but struck me later. Bhulata lakh hoon, Guncha e shauq, Hum bhi kya zindagi guzaar gaye, Tere andaaz-e-mastana, Mir’s Aake sajda nasheen.
      Just briefly scanned your blog but will check it in detail later. Do keep in touch

  8. Also
    Jo thake thake se the hausale woh chiraag banke machal uthe… by shayar Lakhnavi

  9. Oh the list is endless I tell you…
    Dekhana unka kanakiyo se idhar dekha kiye
    navak andaz
    Ja kahiyo unse naseem-e-seher mera chain gaya
    Aage Badhe na qissa-e-ishq-e-buta se hum
    Garche sau baar gham-e-ishq se jaan gujari hai
    Chalte ho to chaman ko chaliye
    Garmi-E-Hasarat-E-Naakaam Se Jal Jaate Hai
    Guncha-e-Shauq Laga hai Khilne

    I don’t quite remember the first time I heard his ghazals. My pappa played them endlessly everyday morning and night and it became part of my routine life. That was the time of records and turntables. I must be around 3. I enjoyed the tunes even before I understood the words. I remember listening to ‘tanha tanha mat socha kar mar jayega’ and wondering who is person is with the name Tanha. Many years later I got what it meant. Then later on my pappa got urdu hindi word dictionaries and then I could appreciate the ghazals even better. He had also managed to get some audio cassettes from Pakistan from some of his connections. I was raised on a staple diet of Lata and Mehdi with Ghulam Ali thrown in occasionally. Later on pappa and I parted ways when his love for Ghulam Ali exceeded over Mehdi’s.

    Hmmm…perhaps a post would be better afterall! 🙂

  10. 18.06.12

    Dear Naren:

    I must admit my guilt of not effectively following a genre that has – and continues to – enchant musical listeners globally. Moreso, having read your memorable tribute of the legendary Mehdi Hassan.

    I look forward to an early interaction with you to learn more about the genius to enable me to make amends…

    Warm regards,
    Parag K

  11. Ravi Hoskeri said:

    I liked your blog on Mehdi Hassan and Faiz

  12. maine chup kar teri baaten ki thii, jaane kabb jaan liya mehfil ne ….. guncha-e shauk laga hai khine …….. friends, am a fan of mehdi hassan saab , and I olnly listen to his ghazals ….. and I was listening to “Jal bhi chike parvaane” , when I heard the news of his death ….. please contact me I want some of the collections that I may not have ……. thanks

  13. Pratima Sharda said:

    A very passionate tribute…felt every single emotion and tribute.

  14. Chandra Sekar said:

    This is a wonderful piece Naren, with lots of insights into a genre that I hope I will be able to appreciate much better someday. I see lot of similarities here. Limited understanding of Urdu being the most important. I used to feel the same way when listening to Krithis of Thyagaraja, in Telugu. But atleast now, I have a book that I can fall back upon when required. How I wish I find something similar for Ghazals and Urdu.

    Another portion that I really thought was interesting in this post in the one where you are talking about the nuances of ghazals, nazm etc.. I would love to the see a separate post on that which will go a long way in helping the uninitiated like me.

  15. Hi Narendra, what are the names of those 2 books given by Rajendraji…?
    Also any site where one can get the lyrics of all such ghazals and if possible with the meanings of if not the whole ghazal then at least few difficult words…

    • Hi Deepak
      Thanks for your mail. One of the books ‘Aaina-e-Ghazal’ was by Vinay Waikar and Zarina Sani. Am forgetting the title of the other but it was by Vinay Waikar alone. Will twy and locate the book at home and send you the title.
      A verty dependable blog which I keep referring to is


  16. Hi Narendra,

    Excellent article. I play “Gulon mein rang bhare” to my 4 month old daughter when she is
    crying or not sleeping at night and she listens peacefully and i need to repeat it 2 -3 times and then she sleeps in peace. Need I say more on the magical voice.

    1. My 1st ghazal was “Mohabat karne wale” which I heard on AIR way back in 1998-99 during my college exams and I was instantly hooked.

    2. As you have mentioned ” I told Rajendra Mehta about my limitations with the language, he gifted me two simple books which would explain many ghazals.” can you please share the name of books. i would love to read them as well.


  17. Dinesh Gupta said:

    Hey Narendra,

    Excelent blog on Mehndi Hasan Sahib. He’s the reason I listen to Gazals. I initially started listening to Jagjit ji back in 2011 but no later than sooner I heard Guncha-e-sahauq on AIR and from that day I became Hasan sahibs fan.

    Now the status is that I can’t sleep if I don’t listen to him for 30-40 mins at least.
    I have limited understanding of Urdu however I always google around and read & understand the depth from different aspects of the translators.
    These things takes you to another world 🙂

  18. Nothing more to add , he was a true scholar of music ! Lot of singers were in tune but ustad mehdi hassan was pitch perfect ! What ustad did was something no one can do or even think , he realized the extinction of classical music back during 50s-60s which led him blending poems with different ragas and giving them life and thus two dimensional way ! Western music is a cheap copy of Indian classical music ! Poets were shocked as even they couldnt explain thier own poems better than what ustad did ! He was genre creator ! All the ghazals singers today recognized are alive because of ustad mehdi hassan ! One thing i dint like about other ghazal singers is that they broke the rules of ghazals gayaki , resulting in bad example ! Few bad famous examples are jagjit singh and ghulam ali ! Just singing in sur is not enough ! These ghazal singers drove ghazal gayaki to something else which was not right ! Ustad mehdi hassan rendered just one word in different styles 2-3 times ! Everytime he sung any ghazal live, it was always new and exciting !

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