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Waking up in the morning

We were on our walk early today morning when I thought of this rarely played morning raag. Bhatiyar is played at the crack of dawn. There are two raags that are similar to Bhatiyar, Bhankar and Pancham that are rarely played, especially Bhankar.

This composition was so dear to my father, he could listen to this album for hours. The entire album on 3 CDs plays out over nearly 3 1/2 hours. I have heard him play this single ghazal five times in a row one morning, before I left for work. At the end, the experience was totally cathartic and I am sure everyone must’ve looked at him at home with surprise as to why his eyes were clearly moistened. I wasn’t one of them as I was asked the question by multiple nurses and assistants in the hospital and they didn’t quite believe the explanation that it was a song I had heard multiple times playing at home over the home theatre. What can be more pleasing to the soul than the sound of Mehdi Hasan enveloping you in its baritone and pure notes from all sides, entering every nook and cranny of the home and one’s own soul, bathing you with the music. Truly a sublime, healing experience.

The kharaj that Khansaheb manages is truly divine. His singing is so straightforward and simple, without the unnecessary murkiyan and showboating that is so typical of some of his countrymen who have less vocal skills to display and resort to more showmanship to sell their vocal wares. On vocals alone, perhaps they would not have been able to impress enough. Khansaheb simply sticks to his sublime singing, straight from the heart, with his omnipresent harmonium and a tabla. He would have other instruments accompanying him, creating the backup melodies and continuity necessary between the pauses for breath, a sarangi sometimes, a set of keyboards at other times.

The lyrics by Farhat Shehzad are wonderful. They capture the feelings of the early morning, waking up from a deep slumber to find a new world, a changed reality.

खुली जो आँख तो वो था न वो ज़माना था
दहकती आग थी तन्हाई थी फ़साना था

ग़मों ने बाँट लिया है मुझे यूँ आपस में
कि जैसे मैं कोई लूटा हुआ ख़ज़ाना था

जुदा है शाख़ से गुल-रुत से आशियाने से
कली का जुर्म घड़ी भर का मुस्कुराना था

ये क्या कि चन्द ही क़दमों में थक के बैठ गये
तुम्हें तो साथ मेरा दूर तक निभाना था

मुझे जो मेरे लहू में डबो के गुज़रा है
वो कोई ग़ैर नहीं यार एक पुराना था

ख़ुद अपने हाथ से 'शहज़ाद' उसको काट दिया
कि जिस दरख़्त की टहनी पे आशियाना था

Feast on this longer version of the same ghazal with so much more vocal pleasure on display. There just cannot be a single person in the audience who can manage to stay untouched by the immense vocal skills treating, caressing, pleasuring the soul. Even when he clearly deviates from the lyrics in the flow of singing, one ignores that minor transgression and moves on in the flow of his divine singing.

Stay safe folks, stay happy, stay healthy and away from the Wuhan virus… Beat the second surge created by people letting their guard down.

By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

4 replies on “Waking up in the morning”

Mehdi Hassan Khan, born in Luna in the Rajputana Agency of British India or Rajasthan, was actively singing from years 1957 to 1999. He won several
awards; Pride of Performance, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Lifetime Achievement award, etc. He was popularly known as the Khan Sahib King of Ghazal among his fans worldwide & his genre was mainly classical music along with ghazal & playback singing for films.
रंजिश ही सही दिल ही दुखाने के …
is by far one of his most popular ghazals.
Born into a family of traditional musicians, he claimed to be the 16th generation of hereditary musicians hailing from the Kalawant clan of musicians. He had his musical grooming from his father Ustad Azeem Khan & uncle Ustad Ismail Khan who were both traditional Dhrupad singers. He started performing at a young age & the first concert of Dhrupad & Khayal with his elder brother is reported to have been held in the Fazilka Bungla, near the present DC House (1935) of the then Undivided Punjab. His elder brother Pandit Ghulam Qadir was also very encouraging in sharpening his skills. After partition, the 20 year old Hassan & his family migrated to Pakistan carrying little with them by way of material goods. They faced severe financial hardships for long which forced him to work initially in Ahmadpur East, in a bicycle shop, Mughal Cycle House. He later became a car & diesel tractor mechanic but despite the financial hardships he kept up the routine of his singing practice or riyaz on a daily basis.
In 1957, Mehdi Hassan was again given the opportunity to sing for Radio Pakistan primarily as a thumri singer which earned him recognition within the musical fraternity. He had a passion for Urdu poetry & therefore began to experiment by singing ghazals on a part-time basis. He cited radio officers Z A Bukhari & Rafiq Anwar as additional influences into his progression as a ghazal singer & his first film song was for the film Shikar in 1956. This song was written by the poet Yazdani Jalandhari & its music was composed by Asghar Ali M. Husain. In 1964, his ghazal for a film Farangi, “Gulon mein rang bhare, baad-e-naubahar chale” written by the renowned Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz & composed by Rasheed Attre, gave him a major breakthrough into the Pakistani film industry & he never looked back. Even the original ghazal poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz stopped reciting it in his ‘mushairas’ (poetry reciting events) & instead, recommended that the audience ask Mehdi Hassan to sing it for them because the poet jokingly used to say that the ghazal belonged to Mehdi Hassan following its popularity.
After a severe illness in the late 1980s, he stepped down from playback singing & departed from music.
In 1977, Latadidi was so moved by his dulcet vocals during a New Delhi concert that she’s reported to have said, “Aisa lagta hai ke unke gale mein bhagwan boltein hain”. In October 2010, HMV Label released ‘Sarhadein’ in which probably the first & last duet song Tera Milna featuring Mehdi Hassan & Latadidi was released. This song was composed by Mehdi Hassan & written by Farhat Shahzad. Mehdi Hassan recorded it in Pakistan in 2009 & Latadidi later heard the track & recorded her part in India in 2010 & the song was later mixed for a duet. The same duet, “Tera Milna,” was also sung by Mehdi Hassan & Noor Jehan. He is regarded as one of the best singers in the sub-continent. In 2005, when he came to India for ayurvedic treatment he was welcomed by our PM, A B Vajpayee, who also wrote him a personal letter to invite him. This letter was first published in Star Weekend, the weekly colour magazine of the afternoon daily Star, which ceased publication in 2006.
He performed in almost every famous concert hall of recognition as a ghazal singer at the time when masters like Begum Akhtar, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan & Mukhtar Begum were the biggest names of ghazal singing.
The specialty of his singing was his command over Urdu, his Urdu adab, clear pronunciation & fetching of words & along with his melodious voice, good lyrics also played a vital role in his success. Singers like Runa Laila, Jagjit Singh, Abida Perveen, Nayyara Noor & Tina Sani, drew inspiration from him. People who never read Urdu in its own script & perhaps not even in the Roman script, started taking keen interest in Urdu poetry after listening to his ghazals. That speaks of the contribution of Mehdi Hassan & some other singers who brought Urdu poetry to the lips of thousands of non-Urdu or non-Hindi speaking people.
Had it not been for Mehdi Hassan, many readers of Urdu literature would not have enjoyed the richness of the ghazals of lesser known poets such as Farhat Shahzad & Saleem Jilani. With his keen understanding of the nuances of Urdu verse the singer had chosen nothing but the best of the ghazals. His flair for poetry was also reflected in his ability to emphasize & repeat the right words in a couplet that he rendered.
All the ghazals that have been set to music are based on Ragas, which convey the same mood as those expressed by the poets in the verse that he selected for rendition. A case in point is this ghazal, ‘Khuli jo aankh to woh tha na woh zamana tha’, is based on a rarely heard early morning raga, Bhankar.
This also brings us to the fact that Mehdi Hassan had based his ghazals not just on well-known Ragas such as Jhinjhoti, Yaman, Khamaj, Nat Bhairav, Madhuwanti, Bilawal, Madhukauns & Darbari but has also had picked up rare Ragas like Charukeshi & Partirawa, not to speak of Kirwani, which belongs to the Carnatic music of South India. His repertoire of Ragas is as wide as the range of his voice.
Calling him “Shehenshah-e-Ghazal “, would be limiting his contribution to one genre of vocal music for he has sung folk numbers like the Rajasthani Maand & the Punjabi Heer with equal elan. His rendition of classical & semi-classical music is no less superb. In the field of film music his contribution has been second to none. Proof, if proof be needed, are nine best playback singer (male) Nigar Award trophies that he has bagged.
One last word about Mehdi Hassan: in a field where everyone looks for inspiration & initially adopts a successful senior’s style before evolving one’s own, this singer is unique. He didn’t have a ghazal singer as a model to emulate. On the other hand, he has had quite a number of clones.
Also music directors from Pakistani Film fraternity & Radio Pakistan played a big role in his career by using his voice for beautiful compositions. His contribution to the film industry is like a treasure. He was the lead playback singer of Pakistani Film Industry between 1960s & 1980s. His songs still have the same impact in the audience as it had at that time. He also participated in the 50th anniversary of Rajasthan celebrations in India along with the leading artists of Rajasthani origin.

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