Pakistani Ghazal king Mehdi Hassan remebered by his village people

On July 18, the villagers of Luna, Rajasthan assembled to pay a rare tribute to the <i>Ghazal</i> king Mehdi Hassan who was born here 91 years ago

Photo courtesy: YouTube
Photo courtesy: YouTube

Prakash Bhandari

Dhoond Ujre Hue Logon Mein Wafa Ke Moti/ Yeh Khazane Tujhe Mumkin Hai Kharabon Mein Mile/ Ab Ke Hum Bichare to Shayad Kabhi Khwabon Mein Milein

(Look for real pearls of loyalty in the broken-hearted people/ it’s possible that you find this treasure in devastated people’s heart/We are parting, may be we will meet in dreams now)

Shehanshah-E-Ghazal, Mehdi Hassan Khan had murmured these lines from his famous ghazal Abke Hum Bichde To Shayad Kabhi Khwabon Main Mile, penned by Ahmad Faraz to his ancestral villagers of Luna in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, where he was born on July 18, 1927. Mehdi Hassan, on a visit to India in 1992 had visited his village and met the villagers. This was his second and last visit to his village.

Apart from Mehdi Hassan, another Pakistani singer Reshma also belonged to Rajasthan and she visited her village in Churu district when she last visited India over a decade ago.

His childhood friend Narayan Singh Shekhawat, has memories of Mehdi Hassan, who with his haunting voice gave the ghazal a new dimension worldwide.

On Mehdi Hassan’s 91st birth anniversary, the villagers of Luna assembled to pay a rare tribute to the son of the soil. This programme was planned by Ayatullah Khan, a theater artist and director’s organisation Rangrez. Ayatullah Khan, grandson of the 1965 war battle hero Capt Ayub Khan, who also became a Union minister after retiring from the army, belongs to a nearby village Nuah that has produced brave soldiers for the Indian army.

Ayatullah Khan, has produced a play on the life of the famous Pakistani writer Sadat Hasan Manto and he has studied the life of Mehdi Hassan and his family.

“I thought the villagers of Luna should celebrate the great singer’s 91st birthday. This way, the younger generation would come to know about the son of their soil who migrated to Pakistan. Not only the villagers but the whole country should know that the ghazal king belonged to this sleepy desert village. This idea was born in my mind and I got in touch with Narayan Singh, his childhood friend, who penned a book on Mehdi Hassan based on his childhood memoirs.” Said Ayatullah Khan.

Mehdi Hasan’s family were traditional musicians and the family has a long history as hereditary musicians from the Kalawant clan. His father Ustad Azeem Khan was a court singer who performed along with his brother Ustad Ismail Khan and were known Dhrupad singers who were patronised by the Nobles of a small principality, Mandawa in Jhunjhunu district.

Later the family shifted to Punjab and Mehdi Hassan as a child lived in the village with his elder brother Pandit Ghulam Qadir and learnt the ragas. Mehdi along with his brother performed for the first time as an eight-year-old in Fazilka.

Men, women and children not only from Luna, but also from nearby villages came in big number at the Rangrez organisation’s programme to celebrate the 91st birth anniversary of the ‘ghazal king’. The children painted Mehdi Hassan’s portraits with ghazals playing in the background

“Not many people know that Mehdi Hassan’s father Ustad Azeem Khan moved to Basti and became the court singer of the Raja of Basti. In 1947, following Partition, a grim climate of arson and killings loomed over the erstwhile Uttar Pradesh and a large number of Muslims started migrating to Pakistan. It was then that the family decided to migrate to Pakistan to save their lives and return when normalcy would be restored. In 1992, when Mehdi Hassan came to Luna, he narrated how the family tried to return to the village but circumstances did not allow them.

“Mehdi was in tears when told me that the family lived in extreme poverty in Karachi as a refugee. Mehdi Hassan worked as a mechanic in a cycle repairing shop and then became a motor mechanic to earn his living. But he continued his passion for singing and after a phase of hardships and struggle, he managed to establish himself as a singer. While other members of the family came back to dispose off their property, Mehdi remained in Karchai and could come to India and his village only in 1989. We had a tearful and emotional meeting in the village”, remembers Narayan Singh Shekhawat.

Narayan Singh has produced a book in Hindi on Mehdi Hasan and the book written in the form of dohas (couplets) peeps at the history of family and about his childhood memories of Mehdi Hasan.

“The family of Mehdi Hasan also excelled in wrestling and were known wrestlers of the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan. The family knew the art of healing patients through music and I remember how Mehdi’s uncle treated a very sick child from a neighbouring village and Mehdi Hassan’s uncle cured the child by singing and playing music before the child. It was a miracle and the child was saved,” says Shekhawat remembering Hassan and his family.

“This curing a patient through singing and playing musical instruments was an art which the family had learnt the hard way. I remember when as a child, Mehdi tried to emulate his elders by trying to cure a patient through rendition and playing music, he was thrashed by his uncle. He told Mehdi never to try this trick again as he was still a learner and he should learn music before trying the art for curing the patients.” Shekhawat added.

Men, women and children of not only Luna village, but also from nearby villages came in big number at the Rangrez organisation’s programme to celebrate the 91st birth anniversary. The children painted Mehdi Hasan portraits with ghazals playing in the background. This was followed by a discourse by Narayan Singh who read his book of dohas (couplets) on Mehdi Hasan.

In 2012, when Mehdi Hasan was hospitalised in Karachi with a serious lung disease and the family was finding it hard to pay for his medical expenses, the Rajasthan government sent him financial aid through the Indian High commission’s consulate office in Karachi.

“I was very touched to know as the Chief Minister that Mehdi Saheb was suffering and the large family did not have enough means. I immediately tried to establish contact with the family in Karachi and I managed to speak to his son and told him that the Rajasthan government is concerned about his health and would like to support the family. Then I arranged to send two lakh rupees to the ailing Mehdi Hassan. This gesture was hailed by the Pakistani media and after that various organisations and individuals came to help the ghazal king with financial aid. But he did not live long.” remembered the then Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

However, the state government is yet to raise a memorial in his village.

“I am very happy to know that the children and the youngsters of not only Luna village, but also the entire region now know that the king of ghazal belonged to this village. This would inspire them to music and maybe another Mehdi Hassan would be born someday”, said Narayan Singh.

This article was edited at 3.16 pm on July 31, 2018, to rectify that Mehdi Hassan was the grandson of Capt Ayub Khan, who also became a Union minister after retiring from the army, and not of Pakistan’s former President General Ayub Khan

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Published: 24 Jul 2018, 4:05 PM