Ranjish he sahee…
July 14, 2012 1 Comment
The news first flashed across as a Facebook status on a friend’s page and immediately after that on internet news. Mehdi Hassan, the great singer, had passed away after a long period of illness. What descended was a mute sense of numbness which stayed on for the next many hours. It was as if a tiny little part of my heart and soul had departed from this world, along with him.
On a PIA flight to the UK, his death was announced and his melody played. “Ranjish hee sahee… aa phir say mujhay chor kay jaanay kay liye aa”.
Many broke down and cried.
My first memory of Mehdi Hassan was during the 1965 war, when as a very young kid, I remember listening to the milli naghma “khitt’aaey Lahore tere jan nisaroun ko salaam”. As a young kid, I don’t know if I quite grasped the realities of war, but I do remember hearing this song daily on those old box like radios (there was no TV in Karachi till 1967). In fact this was one of the first songs I remember, war or no war. The other memory is of Binaca Geet Mala, but not of a particular song.
And so, that song introduced me to the world of music proper and from there on, my interest in music has taken me on a trip, which has traversed into the depths of Pakistani movie music, then Indian film music, later Western rock music and simultaneously ghazals. Eventually my taste over the years finally stagnated and remained static after the late 80s, but that I believe is the way of things.
Coincidentally, as my music began to stagnate and fixed to that period, this giant of a man, Mehdi Hassan, was struck down by illness and slowly sidelined himself. At the same time new era music bands like Vital Signs and Junoon took over the mantle, and the music baton passed on to a new era and a new way of doing things.
Back to the age of Mehdi Hassan. He and others like him (Nur Jahan, Iqbal bano, Habib Wali Mohammad etc.) were all creating great songs. My memory is of several movies with Mehdi Hasan’s songs in them; of Muhammad Ali and Waheed Murad lip-singing that perfect voice; of black and white movies, low on technology, badly edited but marked by fantastic music that would make up for all and any shortfalls. It is the one pillar, along with our great actors, the golden triangle if you will, that kept the industry alive.
I look back and I see the triangle gone. As have several other icons like Nur Jahan, Ahmed Ruishdi, Masood Rana, Nasim Begum and Maala.
Back then, our world was so much smaller and closer, with no internet, little TV, and globalization kept at bay. Our reality revolved around the few but the real; movies, cricket, hockey, chaat, paan houses and familiar voices speaking and singing from all transistors and radios everywhere we went.
Woven into this world were the heroes and the singers. They carried a status which was much more intricately attached to our world. There were very few of these and they were local. These were the peacocks of the jungle, who performed in a world small, insular and simple, wearing kurta pyjamas and looking a lot like their doting followers. Even where we could not recognize a singer by face, we would by their voice, in a million other voices. These were the few movers and shakers of that age. And because they were few, they became much larger than life for us.
That world is a reminder of a Pakistan which was a happy, passionate and tolerant homeland of all faiths, sects and religions.
I remember seeing Mehdi Hassan on the TV in the 70’s and later at a couple of ghazal evenings. The memory of his artistry and skill is like an exquisite pain, because I know that the likes of him and that age will never return. It is like doors being shut on one’s past. The only option is to let a flow of tears relieve the mourning of the dearly departed, his art form and a life that is no more. We are bidding goodbye to an age which was radically different to the nano technology era.
My last meeting with Mehdi Hassan was at a Pepsi function in 2001 at the Indus TV studios. We knew the man had been very ill sometime before and therefore Pepsi, with its association to music, wanted to honour the man. I remember he arrived late, confined to a wheelchair. Seeing him was a great shock. I leaned forward and shook his hands, and I suspect my utter devastation was only too visible to him and others around me. A music giant of the highest order subjected to such helplessness. I could hardly contain my pain as I kept my hand on his shoulder, while the photographers flashed away.
Eleven years later today is the first time I have written of those terrible few moments. It was too painful to recall. It is too painful today. The memory of a man; the tragedy of a loss; the foundations of a life removed inch by inch from right under one’s feet.
Mehdi Hassan, may you rest in peace.