...Teri dunya mein magar hum na honge
Gulun mein rang bharre, baad-e-naubahar chale/Chale bhi aau ke gulshan ka karobar chale. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the last from the quartet of acknowledged greats of Urdu poetry and the one who had penned the lyrical lines, was once reportedly asked in public by a naïve aficionado to recite that Mehdi Hassan ghazal. Whether the great poet was embarrassed or amused is not the point. That Mehdi Hassan’s golden voice, superb command over his craft embedded in classical singing, its remarkable range and virtuoso delivery impacted the imagination of listeners such was, is, and shall remain till such time Urdu as a language sustains. That is what makes him Shahanshah-e-Ghazal, though he never wrote one, just rendered it like precious few before him and none since.
Blessed with a lineage that traced its musical heritage for previous 16 generations, an early post-partition life of struggle like many in that traumatic period of our history and a most mellifluous voice, Mehdi Hassan dedicated himself to be trained as a ghazal singer with solid classical grounding. His promise made people of Z A Bukhari’s standing offer him commission at Radio Pakistan in the late 1950s and landed him a few songs for Pakistani films. There however was no looking back once he combined with that inimitable music composer Khawaja Khurshid Anwar in Ghunghat in 1962. The enchanting movie was a hit here and an even greater success across the border, and the number Mujh ko awaaz de tu kahan hai turned Mehdi Hassan into a star singer overnight. Since the dulcet quality of his voice suited the persona of most male leads of our industry gallivanting as lovers in the 1960s and for a good part of the 1970s – Mohammad Ali, Waheed Murad and Nadeem – he was one busy singer, churning out hit numbers in scores year after year. And this was besides his quite considerable Punjabi oeuvre.
For an industry that was forever fledgling, though his film numbers had their own value, it is his ghazal singing in unique, classical mould that was always captivating beyond words. That was what made that great diva who has reigned supreme for about three generations, Lata Mangeshkar dub his as “the voice of God”.
Mehdi Hassan fell to multiple organ failures yesterday. But there is scant doubt his legacy and legend would live on – forever.