KARACHI – Legendary classical singer Mehdi Hassan, who captivated millions of fans across the world, passed away on Wednesday after a long illness.
Mehdi, also known as Shahenshah-e-Ghazal (King of Ghazal Singing), died in a private hospital. He had been suffering from multiple lung, chest and urinary tract conditions.
Mehdi Hassan had been under treatment at hospitals for a while and there had also been reports of shifting him to India. He was admitted at the Aga Khan Hospital for the past couple of weeks after he had developed a chest infection and other related problems. He passed away after he was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Mehdi Hassan was born in a well-known family of musicians at Luna village, India, in 1927. His family migrated to Pakistan after 1947.
He had been awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz by the Pakistani government.
Talking to the media outside the Aga Khan Hospital, Asif Mehdi, a son of Mehdi Hassan, said his father had a number of complications and had been admitted for treatment for a month.
He said keeping in mind the age factor, his father was getting weak and suffering from a number of health problems, including with lungs and chest. Stating the arrangements for the funeral were to be finalised soon, Asif said his brothers would reach Karachi shortly.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani paid glowing tribute to the legendary singer. The president said Mehdi Hassan was an institution in himself and would always remain a beacon for the young artistes to learn from his mastery of singing.
Prime Minister Gilani said, “Mehdi Hassan is an icon, who mesmerised the music lovers not only in Pakistan but also in the Subcontinent for many decades.” Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah have also offered condolences to the bereaved family.
MQM chief Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain said the void created by his departure would never be filled and the nation had lost a great asset. He said Mehdi Hassan was the most towering personality in the field of ghazal singing in the world and he strengthened brotherly relations between the people of Pakistan and India with his unmatched singing.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan, Khyber Pk Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, ANP Sindh President Senator Shahi Syed, Sindh Minister for Social Welfare Begum Nargis ND Khan, Advisor to Chief Minister Haleem Adil Shaikh and people belonging to different walks of life expressed grief over the death of Mehdi Hassan and offered condolences to the bereaved family.
Expressing his sorrow, film star Nadeem Baig said Mehdi Hassan’s demise was a big loss, adding that a voice like his might never be heard again. “I had been humming one of Hassan’s songs in the morning today and it was later that I had heard about his demise,” the renowned actor said.
He added that he was blessed to have had the opportunity to perform on his songs in films.
Nadeem also recalled that the maestro had encouraged him to sing and promised to teach him.
Ghazal singer Tina Sani said Mehdi was a legend even during his lifetime.
“I have no words except for God bless him,” said Sani.
She said the Shahenshah-e-Ghazal had given the world a legacy and he was a ‘passport’ for the people like her when they went abroad to perform.
Shahenshah-e-Ghazal Mehdi Hasan, also known as Khan Sahib, was quite possibly the most prolific ghazal singer the country and the sub-continent ever had. The maestro’s voice was as legendary as it was magical.
He was the recipient of the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by General Ayub Khan, Pride of Performance by General Ziaul Haq in 1985 and the Hilal-e-Imtiaz by General Pervez Musharraf. In 1979, he was awarded the Saigal Award in India and the Ghorka Dakshan Bahu Award by Nepal in 1983. He had collected innumerable accolades and awards over the course of his career, which also includes nine Nigar awards, six of which were won in a row and also the Lifetime Achievement Award from the PTV Karachi in 2001.
Khan Sahib was especially known for his clarity of pronunciation and his absolute command over Urdu lyrics and the finesse, with which he delivered them, was unlike any other. His smooth and rich vocals had cast a very strong and very important influence on the popularity and development of ghazal in the subcontinent.
Mehdi Hasan was equally popular in Pakistan, India and Nepal. The former Indian prime minister AtaI Bihari Vajpayee was among his ardent admirers and had especially invited him over to sing at his residence in 1978.
Once during the course of a performance in the court of Nepalese King, Khan Sahib forgot the lyrics, but the King Shah Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev paid him tribute by prompting the lyrics for him.
Born in Luna, India, in 1927, his family ancestry consisted of proficient classical musicians since fifteen generations hailing from Kalawant. His father Ustad Azeem Khan tutored him on his initial music lessons based on the style intricacies of dhrupad, khayal, thumri and dadra. His father and uncle, Ustad Ismail Khan, were accomplished classical singers and his uncle had also had a profound impact on his musical training.
Mehdi Hassan’s talent wasn’t unnoticed for he had given his first solo performance at the age of five at Mahraja Barodi’s palace and had also been appreciated by the Maharaja of Jaipur.
Mehdi Hasan and his family have seen their fair share of struggles. When 20, Mehdi and his family migrated to Pakistan. The family was hard-pressed financially and Mehdi Hasan took up job as a mechanic in Khushab for livelihood.
It was in 1952, after the family had moved to Karachi, that Mehdi got his first break on Radio Pakistan with debut ghazal was “Gulon mein rang bharay baad e nau bahar chalay”, composed by his elder brother Ghulam Qadir. He had initially sung thumris on radio, which inevitably got the attention of music personalities. Rafiq Anwar and ZA Bukhari played a great role in kick-starting his career by providing him with opportunities to sing on the radio.
“Mujhey tum kabhi bhi bhula na sako ge”, “Ranjish hi sahi”, “Hum chaley iss jahan sey”, “Ko baku phel gaye baat shanasai ki” and others are among his famous songs and ghazals.
Parallel to his thumri renditions, Mehdi Hasan tried his hand at ghazals spurred by his passion for Urdu poetry. During this time, names such as Begum Akhtar, Ustad Barkat Au Khan and Mukhtar Begum were well established in the ghazal arena.
Over the years, the Pakistani film industry had benefitted from innumerable hits during his career as a playback singing through 1960s to late 1980s. Mehdi Hasan was a truly gifted artist. The late Parvez Mehdi and Talat Aziz were his famous students who learnt from the great maestro. Over the time, Mehdi Hasan had made the poetry of Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Qateel Shifai, Ahmed Faraz, Daagh, Parveen Shakir, Mir Taqi Mir, Saleem Kauser, Bahadur Shah Zafar and others come alive with his unique vocals.
Khan Sahib performed all across the globe. But in 1980s, he began to wane his playback singing and performances due to ailing health. General Pervez Musharraf had declared that all the expenses for his treatment would be incurred by the government. He had even been invited to India by Atal Bihar Vajpayee for treatment. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was also willing to pay all medical expenses for the treatment of Ghazal maestro, but in 2004 his sons Asif and Arif claimed that they received no grants save for the amount given by Pervez Musharraf that was stolen soon after. They also said that they were not the beneficiary of the concerts held in their father’s honour to raise funds for his treatment.
The sad demise of Mehdi Hasan brings to close a golden chapter in the music history of the subcontinent.