Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘Ghazals’ Category

February 8, 2016 – A day of celebration, a day of mourning


File picture of Nida Fazli and Jagjit Singh


Jagjit Singh watches Deepak Pandit, Suresh Wadkar and Sonu NIgam celebrate his birthday

IT was a day of joy, it was a day of sorrow, it was an evening of celebration, it was an evening of mourning, it was a late legend’s 75th birth anniversary, it was a great poet’s final journey.

Ghazal fans and 1980s film music lovers would remember February 8, 2016, as the day 77-year-old poet Nida Fazli passed away when many were celebrating the late Jagjit Singh’s 75th birthday. Ironically, many will tell you that Jagjit passed away on October 10, 2011, exactly two days before Fazli was to turn 73.

The news of Fazli’s death came in the afternoon, initially through the social media and then through confirmation from online newspaper sites. Till then, people were posting Jagjit songs on Facebook and WhatsApp. This blogger had even written a tribute in The Hindu, Mumbai, a link of which is pasted below. Later in the evening, a huge concert was scheduled to celebrate the ghazal legend’s birthday.

With this background in mind, it will be interesting to chart the day’s progress. In the first half, the Jagjit ghazal ‘Duniya Jisey Kehte Hain’ and his Sarfarosh song ‘Hoshwalon Ko Khabar Kya’ made it to many online interactions. Some even shared ‘Kiska Chehra Ab Main Dekhoon’, the Jagjit-Alka Yagnik number from Tarkieb. Strangely, there was hardly any mention of Fazli, who wrote them.

Many other Jagjit favourites were shared. From Kafeel Aazer’s ‘Baat Niklegi Toh Phir’ to Sudarshan Faakir’s ‘Yeh Kaagaz Ki Kashti’, from Ameer Minai’s ‘Sarakhti Jaaye Rukh Se Naqaab’ to Qateel Shifai’s ‘Sadma Toh Hai Mujhe Bhi’, from Indeevar’s ‘Honton Se Choo Lo Tum’ (Prem Geet) to Kaifi Azmi’s ‘Tumko Dekha Toh Yeh Khayal Aaya’ (Arth), everyone posted without naming the poets. Strangely, only Ghalib was named for ‘Hazaaron Khwahishen’ and ‘Aah Ko Chahiye’, perhaps by those wanted to show off their Urdu poetry knowledge.

Once the news of Fazli’s death came in, his songs took over. Besides ‘Duniya Jisey Kehte Hain’, ‘Hoshwalon’ and ‘Kiska Chehra’, other Jagjit songs included ‘Har Taraf Har Jagah’, ‘Abhi Khushi Hai Na Koi Dard’ and ‘Apna Gham Leke Kahin Aur’. Non-Jagjit favourites like ‘Kabhi Kisiko Muqammal Jahaan Nahin Milta’ (Ahista Ahista), ‘Tu Is Tarah’ (Aap Toh Aise Na The) and ‘Aa Bhi Ja’ (Sur) were part of the share-list. Tributes were flashed across Facebook, and many responded with a formal ‘RIP’.

Cut to around 6.45 pm, when a serpentine queue was seen outside the Shanmukhananda Hall waiting for the Jagjit birthday concert. Many people seemed excited about Zakir Hussain and Sonu Nigam, who were to perform that night. Similar chats were heard in the canteen a few minutes later, but there was hardly any buzz about Fazli.

The Jagjit event turned out to be a perfect celebration. Beginning with a fusion set featuring violinist Deepak Pandit, drummer Ranjit Barot and keyboardist Atul Raninga, it went on to have ghazals by Hariharan and Suresh Wadkar, and some Jagjit songs by Sonu Nigam. With some accompaniment from Wadkar and violinist Pandit, he sang ‘Koi Yeh Kaise Bataaye’ (Arth), ‘Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho’ and ‘Honton Se Choolon Tum’, and with a pepped up Ranjit Barot drum section, ‘Sarakti Jaaye’.

Flautist Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia came next with Ustad Zakir Hussain, after which Kathak maestro Pt Birju Maharaj joined the tabla wizard on what was to be the evening’s highlight. At 78, the man danced so effortlessly. In the finale, Chaurasia, Birju Maharaj, Hariharan and Zakir came together on ‘Krishna Nee Begane Baaro’ and the Bhairavi composition ‘Na Maaro Bhar Pichkari’.

Chitra Singh later cut a cake with others joining in the Happy Birthday song. Up in Paradise, Jagjit probably was having a reunion with his old friend Nida Fazli, and telling him how happy he was with the celebrations down on earth.

The Hindu article on Jagjit Singh can be found on


Treat for ghazal lovers


FOR the third successive year, the Ghazal Bahaar festival was enjoyed by the genre’s followers in Mumbai. After the two-day festival in 2014, it was cut short to one day last year. This time, it returned in its two-day format, on January 15 and 16.

There was a change in venue too, as the fiesta moved from Rangsharda in Bandra to Veer Savarkar auditorium, Shivaji Park. The quality of music, of course, remained as good as it was in the earlier episodes, as the line-up was a mix of established and young artistes. The festival was held in aid of SBMS Vriddh Anand Ashram, a Pune-based old age home.

Both evenings had their highlights. Day One began with senior artiste Ghansham Vaswani, who rendered four ghazals, including the popular ‘Uske Dushman Hain Bahut, Aadmi Achha Hoga’. His daughter Shivani Vaswani presented two. The evergreen Chandan Das came on next with the brilliant ‘Khuda Ka Zikr Karein Ya Tumhari Baat Karein’ and followed it up with three more, including ‘Na Jee Bhar Ke Dekha’.

Other high points were Malini Awasthi’s rendition of Amir Khusro’s ‘Kaahi Ko Byaahi Bides’ and an Awadhi folk song, Jazim Sharma’s performance of the Ghulam Ali-popularised ‘Faasle’ and Sraboni Chaudhuri’s excellent presentation of Shakeel Badayuni’s ‘Mere Humnafas Mere Hum Humnawa’, immortalised by Begum Akhtar. Anup Jalota was next, and his set’s high points were ‘Tumhare Shahar Ka Mausam and ‘Chand Angdaaiyan Le Raha Hai’.

If anything, the opening night had a few limitations. To begin with, probably because it was Sankranti, one saw quite a few empty seats, and the overall attendance may have been around 70 per cent. Secondly, the time management went awry, as some singers took 35 or 45 minutes, while Jazim was restricted to two songs and Sraboni only one. One missed Aditya Saraswat, who was scheduled, as he was unwell. When there are many performers, it’s essential to ensure everyone gets a fair chance, and youngsters should in fact be encouraged even more.

Thankfully, the second night made up for these drawbacks. The attendance was much higher and the crowd enthusiasm even more. Even though the programme ended around 11.30 pm, the singers got good time. Pooja Gaitonde, down with w high temperature and hurt ankle, sang three numbers, including Faiyyaz Hashmi’s ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’, made famous by Farida Khanum. Anurag Sharma, who often enthralls with Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh compositions, did a new set, including pieces written by Farhat Shahzad and Shiv Kumar Batalvi.

Tauseef Akhtar impressed on ‘Yeh Rang Ashkon Ka’, ‘Ishq Karo’ and the Veer Savarkar-penned ‘Yeh Hindustan Mera’. Delhi-based Radhika Chopra was simply charming on ‘Deewana Banaana Hai Toh’ and ‘Yun Na Reh Reh Kar Humein Tarsaaiye’, whereas Ashok Khosla impressed on his evergreen ‘Ajnabi Shehar Ke Ajnabee Raaste’. Bhupinder and Mitali rendered film ghazals like ‘Dil Dhoondta Hai’, ‘Beti Na Beetayi Raina’ and ‘Huzoor Is Kadar Se’.

For the grand finale, the participants got together and rendered the ‘Haqeeqat’ hit ‘Hoke Majboor’. One of its antaras was brilliantly sung by Bangalore-based Biju Nair, who had come as a guest. It was an emotional moment for both singers and the audience.

All in all, it was a two-day treat. One wishes there are more festivals like this one and Khazana, spearheaded by Pankaj Udhas at the Trident hotel In July. Compared to Hindustani classical and film music-based shows, the number of ghazal events is very low. Hopefully, Khazana and Ghazal Bahaar may inspire more organisers to enter the fray.

The poetry in Begum Akhtar’s voice


Today, October 7 2014, is the birth centenary of ghazal empress Begum Akhtar. A tribute

Woh jo hum mein tum mein qaraar tha, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho

Wohi yaani vaada nibaah ka, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho

THE year was 1986, and it was the first time I was hearing, or rather overhearing, the divine voice of Begum Akhtar. I was 22 plus, and till then, I had been exposed to ghazals in a limited manner, mainly through the songs of Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Ghulam Ali, Rajendra-Nina Mehta, Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz. I had heard only a few songs of Mehdi Hassan, and my tastes were more inclined towards rock bands like Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues.

Abhay Kant, a journalist colleague who stayed in the neighbouring room in Jaipur, was obsessed with Begum Akhtar, and would play her songs late into the night. I barely paid attention, and at times, even got irritated with him. But once, after ending a round of Pink Floyd, I caught a few strains of ‘Woh jo hum mein tum mein’ playing through his window. The curiosity increased, and after a few days, whenever the ghazal queen played next door, I would ensure that the rock fraternity didn’t disturb her.

A few days later, I sat with Abhay for a Begum Akhtar session, and he patiently, but unsuccessfully, tried to explain the meanings of the difficult Urdu words that regularly came up. The songs that made some sense included ‘Ab chalakte hue saagar dekhe nahin jaate’, ‘Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, ‘Deewana banana hai toh to deewana bana de’ and ‘Dil ho to hai na sang-o-kisht’. He tried to explain the style of the poets, but at that time, I was never too interested, showing some expression only when the name ‘Ghalib’ was mentioned. He seemed to be in fashion, after all.

Abhay had seven or eight ghazals in his collection, and as long as he stayed there, I received an occasional dose of Begum Akhtar. He suddenly left for a job in Delhi or Patna, and for another four years, I did not hear that golden voice. When I relocated to Mumbai in late 1990, I picked up two cassettes from Rhythm House, just to give them a shot. That was when the craze actually began. Over the years, the two ghazal singers who’ve had the major impact on me are Mehdi Hassan and Begum Akhtar.

FOR the true appreciation of ghazals, a few things are required. The first aspect involves the basic composition. After all, a ghazal with a melodious and distinct tune is more likely to create an impact. For the listeners, additional knowledge of classical raags and taals will help, though in this genre, one may argue that it may not be as necessary as it is with Hindustani classical or Carnatic music. Since the ghazal is a lighter form, a catchy tune can instantly attract the listener, whether or not he can identify the raag.

Secondly, and more important, one needs to have a basic understanding of the Urdu language, or at least the desire to comprehend the words used. Since many poets, mostly the classical ones, tend to use complex phrases, one may need to keep referring to a dictionary or the Internet. But without understanding the true meaning of the words, one can never get the exact gist of the ghazal. In a related sense, it is important to know the mood of the piece, whether it is romantic or political or emotional or even satirical.

Next comes the technicalities of writing. One must be able to distinguish between a ghazal, which uses rhyming couplets, a nazm, which uses free poetry, and a geet, which is more of a simple song. One should be able to identify a qataa (which has two shers) and a rubaai (which uses a four-line format). One should be able to define the matla (the opening couplet), the makta (the last couplet), the behr (metre) and takhallus (the writer’s pen name, often used in the makta). Equally important, one should understand portions known as kaafiya and radeef, which are used for rhyming, and other forms of writing jargon like misra-e-oola (first line of a couplet) and misra-e-saani (second line).

While these terms may sound too highbrow to the lay listener, the fact is that they are actually very simple to understand and are essential to enhance true appreciation.

Finally, the singer’s own style plays a supreme role. The texture of their voice and the soulfulness with which they express words distinguish them from the others. Though one hears the singer’s voice first, normally before one gets into the verbal depths, the truth is that only a great voice will make you want to come back to the song, irrespective of how deep its meaning is.

The choice of poetry, the uniqueness of the composition and the singer’s manner of expression all combine to increase the beauty of the ghazal. And this is where Begum Akhtar displayed her own style. Her voice brimmed with pathos, the musical compositions and arrangements set the right mood and the words were powerful enough to leave a lasting impact. And it wasn’t only in ghazals that she was the master – her rendition of light classical thumris and dadras (like ‘Ab ke saawan ghar aaja’, ‘Koyaliya mat kar pukaar’ and ‘Hamri atariya’) was exquisite too.

LET’S now specifically look at Begum Akhtar’s choice of poetry. If one examines her repertoire, one notices two things. One is that she has sung the work of most of the top-notch poets extensively. The second is that she used a good mix of classical and 20th century poets.

Leading her list of great poets was the 19th century master Mirza Ghalib. Here, her selection included the gems ‘Dil hi to hai na sang-o-kisht’, ‘Aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak’, ‘Yeh na thi hamari kismat’, ‘Ibn-e-mariyam hua karey koi’, ‘Koi umeed bar nahin aati’ and ‘Daayam pada hua tere dar par nahin hoon mein’.

There was a certain magic in which she presented Ghalib’s shers, one example being from ‘Dil hi to hai’. The matla goes:

Dil hi toh hai na sang-o-kisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyon

Royenge hum hazaar baar, koi hamein sataaye kyon

Then, one of the shers is:

Dair nahin, haram nahin, dar nahin, aastaan nahin

Baithe hain rehguzar pe hum, gair hamein uthaaye kyon

Here, ‘aaye’, ‘sataaye’ and ‘uthaaye’ are the kaafiya and ‘kyon’ is the radeef. And to get a truer understanding of its meanings, ‘sang’ means stone, ‘kisht’ is brick, ‘dair’ is temple, ‘haram’ is mosque, ‘dar’ is gate and ‘aastaan’ is doorstep.

Of the other classical poets, Mir Taqi Mir was represented by ‘Ulti ho gayee sab tadbeerein’ and ‘Dil ki baat kahi nahin jaati’. The former has a famous makta:

‘Meer’ ke deen-o-mazhab ko ab poochte kya ho unne to

Kashka khencha dair mein baitha, kab ka tark Islam kiya

‘Deen-o-mazhab’ means religion or religious beliefs, ‘kashka’ is the Urdu equivalent of ‘tilak’, ‘dair’ is temple and ‘tark’ is renounce. ‘Meer’ is the takhallus.

From the older generation of poets, Begum Akhtar’s rendition of Daagh Dehlvi (‘Uzr aane mein bhi hai’ and ‘Rasm-e-ulfat sikhaa gaya koi’) and Momin Khan Momin (‘Woh jo hum mein tum mein qaraar tha’) are well-known too.

Among the 20th century poets, she excelled at Faiz Ahmed Faiz works like ‘Aaye kuchh abr kuchh sharaab aaye’, ‘Donon jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke’ and ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’. The first ghazal begins:

Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye

Uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye

‘Abr’ is cloud and ‘azaab’ means agony or anguish. One of the popular shers is:

Kar raha tha gham-e-jahaan ka hisaab

Aaj tum yaad behisaab aaye

And the makta is:

‘Faiz’ thi raah sar-basar manzil

Hum jahaan pahunche kaamyaab aaye

‘Sar-basar’ means entirely. In this ghazal, ‘sharaab’, ‘azaab’, ‘behisaab’ and ‘kaamyaab’ are the kaafiya, and ‘aaye’ is the radeef. ‘Faiz’ is the takhallus.

Two 20th century poets that Begum Akhtar sung outstandingly were Shakeel Badayuni and Sudarshan Faakir. While the former wrote ‘Mere humnafas mere hum nawa’, ‘Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, ‘Khush hoon ke mera husn-e-talab kaam toh aaya’ and ‘Door hai manzil raahe mushkil’, the latter penned ‘Kuchh toh duniya ki inaayaat ne dil tod diya’, ‘Ishq mein ghairat-e-jazbaat ne rone na diya’, ‘Ahal-e-ulfat ke hawaalon pe hasee aati hai’ and ‘Apnon ke sitam humse bataaye nahin jaate’.

Let’s take the first one by Shakeel:

Mere humnafas mere humnawa mujhe dost banke dagaa na de

Main hoon dard-e-ishq se jaan-valab mujhe zindagi ki duaa na de

‘Jaan-valab’ means ‘brink of death’. Later in the ghazal, we have the famous couplet:

Mera azm itna baland hai ke paraaye sholon ka darr nahin

Mujhe khauff aatish-e-gul se hai, yeh kahin chaman ko jalaa na de

‘Azm’ is conviction’ and ‘baland’ is strong. ‘’Dagaa’, ‘duaa’ and ‘jalaa’ are the kaafiya and ‘na de’ is the radeef.

Finally, let’s take the example of Faakir’s ‘Kucch toh duniya ki inaayaat’. It begins:

Kuchh toh duniya ki inaayaat ne dil tod diya

Aur kuchh talkhi-e-haalaat ne dil tod diya

Hum toh samjhe the barsaat mein barsegi sharaab

Aayi barsaat toh barsaat ne dil tod diya

‘Inaayaat’ is blessings, and ‘talkhi’ is bitterness. This ghazal has a complex structure, with ‘inaayat’, ‘haalaat’ and ‘barsaat’ being the kaafiya and ‘dil tod diya’ forming the radeef. Unlike other ghazals where the couplets are independent of each other, the first two couplets tend to merge in this one.

WHILE these were some of the poets Begum Akhtar was known for, she has also sung the works of Ibrahim Zauq (‘Laayee hayaat hamein’), Jigar Moradabadi (‘Duniya ke sitam yaad na apni hi wafaa yaad’), Ali Ahmed Jaleeli (‘Ab chalkte hue saagar’) and Taskeen Qureshi (‘Kis se poochein humne kahaan’).

Listening to her ghazals is quite an addiction, and the more one hears them and the deeper one gets into the intricacies, the more enchanting she sounds. Today, on her birth centenary, one can only hope her music is carried forward to the next generation.

Many of them may start off the way I did, listening to her voice simply because someone else was playing it. Or they may begin by experimenting on YouTube, and somehow getting into the basic rules of ghazal appreciation. Though times and listening tastes have changed, one can at least hope this happens.

I personally haven’t been in touch with Abhay Kant after 1986 and am clueless about his current whereabouts. But there’s obviously one thing I am eternally grateful to him for – Thank You for Begum Akhtar. How can one forget those nights when her voice came from the neighbouring window, singing Momin’s immortal lines:

Kabhi hum mein tum mein bhi chaah thi, kabhi humse tumse bhi raah thi

Kabhi hum bhi tum se the aashna, tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho

Remembering the ghazal wave


Rajendra and Nina Mehta

ON April 28, ghazal aficionados were in for some sad news, with singer Nina Mehta passing away. Those who followed the ghazal wave in the late 1970s and early 1980s would have seen her and her husband Rajendra Mehta regularly on Doordarshan, or at one of the numerous concerts that took place then.

Rajendra and Nina Mehta were best known for the nazms ‘Taj Mahal mein aa jaana’, written by Prem Warbartoni, and ‘Ek pyaara sa gaon’, by Sudarshan Faakir. While old-timers still recall them with nostalgia, they had other wonderful numbers like ‘Musafir ke raaste badalte gaye’, ‘Alvida alvida’, ‘Idhar dekho ek baar pyaar kar lein’, ‘Dhal gaya chaand gayee raat’ and ‘Bewafa bawafa nahin hota’.

The Mehtas, who have been performing together since the late 1960s, were best known for their coordination, stage chemistry and choice of simple songs. Rajendra-bhai has been deeply passionate about Urdu poetry, and at shows, would often recite different shers on the same subject before beginning a song. Even musically, the orchestration was simple, with some amazing use of harmonium.

The early 1980s were an entirely different era, actually, for ghazals. Jagjit and Chitra Singh had already become popular in the latter part of the previous decade, and Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Chandan Dass, Penaz Masani and Hariharan made their mark in this genre. Anup Jalota created an impact with ‘Chaand angdaiyan le raha hai’ as much as he did with devotional numbers. Senior artistes like Vitthal Rao and Madhurani impressed cult followers.

The more serious listeners who were familiar with complex Urdu words tuned in to Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum. But the majority wanted simplicity, which singers like Jagjit-Chitra, Rajendra-Nina, Udhas and Aziz provided. By then, audiences had become by and large familiar with the technicalities of the form, and had developed a keen interest in good poetry.

In the 1980s, ghazal singers also started singing in films, thus expanding their popularity. Concerts would be packed, and companies like HMV (now Saregama) and Music India (today Universal) allocated sizeable budgets to talent discovery and promotion. Names like Bhupinder-Mitali, Roopkumar-Sonali Rathod and Ahmed Hussain-Mohammed Hussain became popular.

A joke heard often in industry circles is about how a senior manager from Music India, who wanted to crush the competition (HMV), once made enquiries about which ghazal singers were most popular among audiences. When someone mentioned Begum Akhtar, he demanded that she invited to the office for a meeting, without realising the great singer had passed away some seven or eight years ago.

Sadly, however, the ghazal wave died slowly. When ghazals were huge, the overall condition of Hindi film music was pretty disastrous. But with late 1980s and early 1990s movies like ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, ‘Aashiqui’ and ‘Saajan’ bringing back melody into cinema, the attention shifted away from ghazals.

Even among singers, repetition began creeping in, and the quality of poetry declined too. An increasing dependence on alcohol-related songs added to the woes of the genre, with some singers trying to catch the attention of bar visitors. Moreover, too many people tried to cash in on the genre. It was said that anyone with a shawl and harmonium wanted to become a ghazal singer.

Today, there are a few fairly talented singers like Ashok Khosla, Ghansham Vaswani, Radhika Chopra, Siraj Khan, Jaswinder Singh, Tauseef Akhtar, Mohammed Vakil, Anurag Sharma, Sudeep Banerjee, Somesh Mathur, Runa Rizvi, Khushboo Khanum and the young Pooja Gaitonde. But the audiences are smaller, and the avenues fewer. Only a miracle can bring back a wave that one saw 30-odd years ago.

For Nina Mehta, a prayer meeting was organised in Worli yesterday by Rajendra-bhai and other family members. Besides family and friends, those attending included singers Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, Rajkumar Rizvi and Penaz Masani, santoor player Satish Vyas and radio personality Ameen Sayani.

Sadly, her demise has found no media coverage at all. This writer came to know only because a senior singer had posted about it on his Facebook page, after which an obituary classified was carried in the Times. The indifference to such news has been mentioned in the blog ‘Again, the media vanishes’, published on February 22 this year. This is another unfortunate example.

Fans, of course, will miss Nina-ji for her marvellous songs, her regular smile and for the brilliant coordination she and Rajendra-bhai showed on stage.

The Ghulam Ali experience


THE special thing about Ghulam Ali’s style of concert singing is the way he takes specific words or phrases and repeats them in a variety of ways, altering their range or volume. Take the Adeem Hashmi-penned ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’. Whenever one hears it, one is simply enamoured by the way he keeps repeating the word ‘faasle’, almost making it sound like a different song each time. Likewise with Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Dil mein ek lehar si uthi hai abhi’, where ‘lehar’ gets the same magical treatment.

Both these songs were the high points of the Pakistani maestro’s concert at Mumbai’s Shanmukhananda Hall on Friday night. For over two hours, he charmed the appreciative audience with a set-list that also included Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Neeyat-e-shauq bhar na jaaye kahin’, Dagh Dehlvi’s ‘Tumhare khat mein ik naya salaam kiska tha’, Ibn-e-Insha’s ‘Yeh baatein jhooti baatein hain’, Athar Nafees’ ‘Sochte aur jaagte saanson ka ek dariya hoon mein’ and Masroor Anwar’s ‘Hum ko kiske gham ne maara’, before concluding with shorter versions of Hasrat Mohani’s ‘Chupke chupke raat din’ and Akbar Allahabadi’s ‘Hungama hai kyon barpa’.

While the evening was a surefire trip down nostalgia lane, one couldn’t help but notice how Ghulam Ali’s timbre has changed. He’s 72 now, and like most septuagenarian singers, his voice showed a certain coarseness, especially if one compares it with the sheer brilliance of the texture we all have grown up on. Strangely, it didn’t seem so obvious on the sargams and taans, which have been drilled to perfection through his Patiala gharana training and years of riyaaz. But one clearly noticed it when he was singing the straighter lines, mainly in the middle register.

That’s not to take away from the overall charisma he displayed throughout the concert, interspersing the music with witty remarks, sometimes targeted at errant members of the audience, and sometimes playfully teasing his accompanying musicians.

Musically too, the concert was of the highest quality, with perfect assistance on the tabla, sitar, violin, keyboard and guitar. With part of the proceeds going towards drought relief, it served a noble purpose too.

LIKE many Indian ghazal fans from my generation, I was first exposed to Ghulam Ali’s voice in 1982, when ‘Chupke chupke raat din’ was used in B R Chopra’s film ‘Nikaah’. I simply loved his voice, though it took me another year to hear his other songs.

The ghazal craze was in full swing in India, with Jagjit-Chitra Singh, Pankaj Udhas, Rajendra-Nina Mehta and Talat Aziz doing regular concerts and albums. After getting hold of a Ghulam Ali greatest hits compilation cassette, I was immediately hooked to ‘Hungama’ and Mohsin Naqvi’s ‘Yeh dil yeh paagal dil mera’, also known as ‘Awaargi’.

For over a year, I would listen to that compilation regularly, till the Ghulam Ali fever was broken the following year when I heard an LP of Mehdi Hassan singing Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s ‘Mohabbat karne waale kam na honge’ and Ahmed Faraz’s ‘Ranjish hi sahi’.

At that point, my understanding of the technicalities of music was very basic, and knowledge of Urdu limited. But what I loved about both singers was the sheer beauty and expression of their voices. And though Mehdi-saab has remained a bigger favourite ever since, Ghulam Ali kept coming back in phases.

As a journalist covering the music beat for Mumbai’s Mid Day newspaper, I was lucky to have interacted with the legend thrice. One was during an interview, and one was at a select gathering hosted by Saregama HMV to mark the launch of ‘Visaal’, an album featuring Ghulam Ali and Gulzar. The third was during a private mehfil hosted at the place of an income-tax officer about 10 years ago, where Ghulam Ali sang for three hours, his voice in perfect shape. After each encounter, I would explore more and more of his music.

Many Ghulam Ali songs have been personal favourites at different points in time. Earlier on, it was Nasir Kazmi’s ‘Apni dhun mein rehta hoon’. Then, ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’ came along, followed by ‘Dil mein ek lehar’. Many years later, it was Syed Razid-e-Ramzi’s ‘Paara paara hua pairaahan-e-jaan’. For a brief while, it was Rifat Sultan’s ‘Bahaaron ko chaman yaad aa gaya hai’. Then ‘Hum ko kiske gham ne maara’. Khatir Ghaznavi’s ‘Kaisi chali hai abke hawa’. Qamar Jalalabadi’s ‘Kehte hain mujhse ishq ka afsaana chahiye’. Qateel Shifai’s ‘Kiya hai jise pyaar hamne zindagi ki tarah’. Gulzar’s ‘Mera kya tha tere hisaab mein’. The tradional Punjabi heer. Some songs whose poets I don’t know, like ‘Apni tasveer ko aankhon se lagaata kya hai’ and ‘Jinke honton pe hansi’.

My favourite Ghulam Ali song? There’s one obvious choice, and the poetry is so beautiful that I will put down the entire thing here:

Aye husn-e-beparwah tujhe shabnam kahoon shola kahoon
Phoolon mein bhi shokhi to hai kisko magar tujhsa kahoon

Gesu udhe, mehki fazaa, jaadoo kare aankhen teri
Soya hua manzar kahoon ya jaagta sapna kahoon

Chanda ki tu hai chandni, lehron ki tu hai raagini
Jaan-e-tamanna mein tujhe kya kya kahoon kya na kahoon

It’s definitely one of the most romantic songs I have ever heard. Strangely enough, the poet has always been credited in the cassettes and CDs as ‘unknown’. On the Net, however, some posts attribute it to Bashir Badr, though there’s no guarantee whether that is authentic.

Either way, I was hoping he would sing ‘Aye husn-e-beparwah’ at the Shanmukhananda Hall on Friday night. He had presented it with such mastery at the private mehfil a decade ago, but this time, it was one song I missed. Of course, his rendition of ‘Faasle aise bhi honge’ and ‘Dil mein ek lehar’ were more than good enough compensation.

A fascination for Faiz

HONESTLY, I am not qualified to write about the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Yes, he has been one of the greatest writers of the Urdu language, Pakistan’s most popular poet and someone who’s made a huge mark as a revolutionary, an intellectual and a genius. But an in-depth analysis of his oeuvre would best be left to someone who has followed his work thoroughly and extensively.

Yet, the reason I’m writing this blog is because to me, Faiz has been an obsession. Some of the most beautiful ghazals ever created have been written by him; the only other poet who must have been covered in equal or more detail is Mirza Ghalib. Though the ghazals of many others like Mir Taqi Mir, Momin Khan Momin, Dagh Dehlvi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Allama Iqbal, Shakeel Badayuni, Ahmed Faraaz, Qateel Shifai, Jigar Moradabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Hasrat Mohani,  Sudarshan Faakir, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar have been sung regularly, Ghalib and Faiz perhaps top the list in terms of sheer number.

Besides mentioning some of Faiz’s really wonderful ghazals and nazms, the effort of this piece is to initiate ghazal lovers who haven’t really heard much of Faiz into the beauty of his repertoire. For that, I am ending the blog with my 10 favourite Faiz works.

My first exposure to Faiz was Mehdi Hassan’s ever-so-popular ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’. For years, I loved the song without knowing the poet’s name, and admired it mainly for the singing and tune. Even after realising it was written by Faiz, the meanings of many words escaped me, and it was only much later that I started following the true meaning of the ghazal.

Later too, though I would know the names of Faiz’s songs, it would take me a while to grasp the actual meaning. Very often, the words and metaphors he used were too high-flown for me, but they sounded truly graceful and magnificent. And I loved the songs so much, specially if they were sung by the likes of Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum, Abida Parveen and Nayyara Noor, that I would make an extra effort to follow them more deeply.

Even today, there are quite a few songs which I don’t understand 100 per cent. But they’re among my favourites, because of the way they’ve been treated by the singer. Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d write about some of my favourite Faiz ghazals and nazms, as rendered by some really extraordinary voices. Let’s take them singer by singer, and also mention some other wonderful versions:

Mehdi Hassan and Faiz: The late Mehdisaab was known to have sung a large cross-section of poets, both well-known and lesser-known. As such, only a limited percentage of his repertoire was written by Faiz, of which ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ is undoubtedly the most famous — Talat Aziz does a wonderful live version, and Runa Laila’s version is popular too. But there have been other Mehdi Hassan classics too, like ‘Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye’ (also sung by Begum Akhtar, Ghulam Ali, Runa Laila and Suraiya Khanum), ‘Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ (versions by Noor Jehan and Amir Ali Khan) and ‘Na ganvaao naavak-e-neemkash’ (whose version by Hyderabad-based Vithal Rao is also mesmerising). In each song, Mehdi-saab’s voice has been enchanting, but then, whose ever verse he sang, he had his own unique style.

Iqbal Bano and Faiz: The late Delhi-born, Lahore-settled Iqbal Bano sang numerous ghazals in her rich, heavenly voice, but she was most identified with Faiz, primarily because of two songs — the revolutionary anthem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ and the solitude-filled ‘Dasht-e-tanhai’, both of which are among the greatest ghazals ever rendered. With its ‘Inquilaab zindabad’ crowd chant, the former is also one of the best rendered and most moving live nazms. But while these two songs remain her most popular, Iqbal has also rendered gems like ‘Mere dil mere musafir’, ‘Kab thehrega dard’, ‘Aaye haath uthayen’ and ‘Rang pairahan ka’. Pure magic all over.

Farida Khanum and Faiz: The lay listener will identify Pakistani ‘Mallika-e-ghazal’ Farida most with ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’, written by poet Faiyaz Hashmi. But her rendition of Faiz is no less astounding, though it’s been followed more by the serious connoisseurs. The masterpieces include ‘Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma’, ‘Sab qatl hoke tere’, ‘Yun saja chand’, ‘Is tarah qissa mera’ and the outstanding ‘Donon jahan teri mohabbat mein haarke’, (which also has a divine version by Begum Akhtar).

Begum Akhtar and Faiz: We’ve already mentioned Begum Akhtar’s ‘Donon jahaan teri’ and ‘Aaye kuch abr’, but some of her other marvellous Faiz numbers include ‘Dil mein ab bhoola hua gham’ and ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ (also sung by Ghulam Ali). The great Begum was probably known more for her rendition of Ghalib, Mir, Shakeel Badayuni, Momin and Sudarshan Faakir ghazals, but she was brilliant with Faiz too. One of the most enchanting and pathos-filled voices in history.

Noor Jehan and Faiz: The legendary singer probably sang the most popular of all Faiz songs — ‘Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang’. But old-timers will also recall her rendition of ‘Tum aaye no ha shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ and ‘Aaj ki raat saaz-e-dil-e-par-dard’.

Nayyara Noor and Faiz: Assam-born, Lahore-bred Nayyara Noor has one of the sweetest voices in the ghazal genre. She recorded 12 Faiz songs in her album ‘Nayyara Sings Faiz’, of which the most charming were ‘Tum mere paas raho’ (of which we’ve heard different versions by Mallika Pukhraj and Vidya Shah), ‘Hum ke thehre ajnabi’ (which Shubha Mudgal has often sung live), ‘Aaj bazaar mein’, ‘Chalo phir se muskurayen’ and ‘Utho ab maati se’. Like Iqbal Bano, Nayyara has been identified most with Faiz, though her semi-classical, easy listening style is a nice contrast to Iqbal’s deep and rich classicism.

Abida Parveen and Faiz: Though she’s known more as a Sufiana singer, Abida Parveen has also shown supreme adeptness at the ghazal. Her rendition of Faiz’s poetry is captured on the Times Music album ‘Abida Sings Faiz’, which includes gems like ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’, ‘Gul hui jaati hai’, ‘Yeh jafa-e-gham ka chaara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’.

Zehra Nigah and Faiz: Herself a poet, Zehra Nigah has specialised in reciting Faiz’s nazms in a semi-sung, semi-spoken manner. She chose some of Faiz’s best poems and dazzled audiences with her presentation. Pieces worth checking out are ‘Heart attack’, ‘Ghazal’, ‘Intesab’, ‘Dua’, ‘Daricha’ and ‘Khursheed-e-mehshar’.

(This paragraph was added after I originally wrote the blog as the album was released later) Pankaj Udhas and Faiz: Recently, Pankaj Udhas released the album ‘Dastkhat’, consisting of his renditions of Faiz poetry. Included are gems like ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’, ‘Yun sajaa chaand’, ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’. He says he used the title ‘Dastkhat’ as the choice of poetry reflected Faiz’s signature style of singing.

Other singers and Faiz: Though we’ve covered most of the popular versions of Faiz songs above, and have included singers like Ghulam Ali, Amir Ali Khan and Runa Laila too, a few other singers have sung exceptional versions of Faiz. Commendable among them are Mallika Pukhraj’s ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’ and ‘Yeh kaun sakhi hain’. Pakistani singers Tina Sani and Tahira Sayed have also recorded a fair amount of Faiz. Among the male singers, Shaukat Ali’s ‘Garmi-e-shauq-e-nazara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’ and Amaanat Ali Khan’s ‘Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai’ are recommended.

(To keep readers updated, Talat Aziz also did a show featuring the poetry of Ghalib and Faiz in July 2013.)

Finally, my top 10 Faiz: For a basic initiation into the poet, one can try out the three-CD set ‘Great Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’, released in India by EMI Music. But if you’re looking for 10 songs to begin with, my favourites are: 1. Gulon mein rang bhare — Mehdi Hassan 2. Hum dekhenge — Iqbal Bano 3 Tum mere paas raho — Nayyara Noor 4. Dasht-e-tanhai — Iqbal Bano 5. Mujhse pehli si mohabbat – Noor Jehan 6. Donon jahaan teri – Begum Akhtar 7 Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma – Farida Khanum 8. Hum ke thehre ajnabee – Nayyara Noor 9.Tum aaye ho shab-e-intezaar guzari hai – Amir Ali Khan, and 10 Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye – Mehdi Hassan. And yes, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas and Abida Parveen fans could check out their versions of  ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’.

It may take a while for some of you to get a hang of each and every word. But the truth is that these are some of the most beautiful songs ever written and ever sung. And in all cases, a combination of the Faiz charisma and great singing worked wonders.

Zamaane yaad aaye: Goodbye, Mehdi Hassan-saab

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.

Tag Cloud