‘Mehdi Hassan’s voice conquered love itself’

Bombay Jayashri in tribute to the Ghazal Maestro

“Zindagi mein to sabhi pyaar kiya karte hain … mein to mar kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahoonga
(To love you as I live is a given… But I will love you even when I have moved on …”).

It seems as if Mehdi saab sang this for all of us to cherish his music as we do today, as we will do forever.

As I gather my emotions and pen my thoughts, I begin to realise that nothing I write will ever be enough to express how the world of music loves him and his music. And how it has changed musical expression forever, for generations of music lovers.

But yes, it’s a humble cry from the soul of a lover of music, a cry of eternal gratitude for giving us those moments of magnificence, beauty and charm.

Tu mila hai to……ye ehsaas hua hai mujhko … yeh meri umr mohabbat ke liye thodi hai
(This long life seems too little for love – yes, too little for all the love for His music”).

Whether it is Ranjish hi sahi; Roshan hua; Ab ke bichade; Mohabbat karne vaale kam na honge; Gulon mey rang bhari, the voice, the lyrics, the tune all enmesh to tug at the heart, and when language and country are no longer barriers; when style or form no longer matter, and when the tears roll down and we are no longer aware of it; no longer aware whether they are tears of sadness or joy — that was the music of Mehdi Hassan. That is what it did to you.

The more one listens to his ghazals, the more evergreen it gets.

The word ghazal is derived from ghazala, the gazelle. My guru Pandit Mahavir Jaipurwale explained to me that a ghazal is the cry of the animal when it is in love; the voice should bring out the pain as it’s sung. Ghazals are songs about unrequited love.

Mehdi saab, with his voice, his words, his enunciation, his tunes, had conquered love itself.

His music found spaces between notes — spaces that are almost impossible to fathom — leading us to search and touch those spaces within ourselves.

When the lines between classical, folk and popular blur to create that supreme form which is just pure music, which is what Mehdi saab’s music is — these songs of love make us feel only reverence, respect and awe.

Every word he loved, every note he loved. He brought a new sensitivity to vocal music, to the utterance of the language.

A concert in London

My guru Lalgudi Jayaraman spent hours listening to his music. He said the music spoke to him in a language he could hear, he could feel. The ghazal “ ab ke bichde huye…” inspired him to create a beautiful tillana.

And how did Mehdi saab create his melody? At a concert in London, the recording of which I heard as a college student, this is how he narrated the story:

He was travelling to the radio station in Karachi by taxi, having tuned his sur mandal in bhoop ( mohanam) at his home. When he reached the radio station, one of the strings, the dhaivat ( dha), had loosened a bit. As he strummed the sur mandal the newly arranged string of notes started appealing to him. He decided not to change it, and let it be — ab ke bichde in this new melody was instantly born.

Born in Rajasthan, India, Mehdi saab and his family went through the toughest times times during Partition. Striving to overcome them, he kept the flame of music in him and the love for it ablaze all through; it would be several more years after Partition before he was given an opportunity to sing on Radio Pakistan.

Stories, anecdotes, the lives of great people never stop inspiring us. When the music they create is a reflection of their pain and passion, the music moves us eternally.

The silence in between notes is the space where one finds hidden beauties of music. Mehdi saab, it seems, had found them all. That’s why he touches every listener.

Abke hum toh bichde shayad kabhi khwabon me miley, jis tarah sookhe hue phool kitabon mey miley.”

He will be with us in our dreams, his songs like dried petals of flowers, exuding an eternal charm.

(Bombay Jayashri is a Carnatic vocalist.)

The Hindu – June 14, 2012