It was on June 13, 2012 that Mehdi Hassan Khan, arguably the greatest ghazal singer ever and one of the finest playback vocalists of the subcontinent, died.
He was laid to rest in the city’s Mohammad Shah graveyard near Anda Mor. It’s been seven years since and reports have been pouring in about the sorry state in which his gravesite now stands. It is sad and dispiriting for music lovers all around the world.
Khan Sahib (as he was fondly known in showbiz circles) had become a bit of an icon in the earlier phase of his career. His classically trained voice and his remarkable understanding of not just the meaning but usage of words/lyrics had made him a (musical) force to reckon with in his thirties.
For sure, if literary giants Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the singer par excellence Lata Mangeshkar were admirers of his work, then there must be something special about him. What was it? Well, it was the sumptuous combination of Khan Sahib’s sureeli voice and the uncanny ability to do justice to words that had endeared him to music lovers and men of letters in equal measure.
Mangeshkar’s famous compliment on his singing ability, that his was a divine voice, is a testimony to the rigorous training in music that he received from first his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan, and then from his older brother Pandit Ghulam Qadir and the consuming passion that he had for his art.
And yet, here he is, lying in his grave, like an individual who leaves behind no one, nothing.
Isn’t Mehdi Hassan Khan our cultural hero? Isn’t it the government’s duty, the state’s obligation, to make sure that his final resting place remains in a condition that can prove to the rest of the world that we care about our artists, about our sensitive souls? That doesn’t seem to be the case.
This writer remembers the day when Khan Sahib was lowered into his grave. A couple of hours prior to it, there were hundreds of people outside his Ancholi residence and dozens of media men interviewing his sons, capturing the emotions of his loved ones and trying to describe the general atmosphere to their readers/viewers.
Seven years later, as is often the case with everyone and not just eminent individuals, no one even recalls his accomplishments. But it is our responsibility, the state’s job, to keep reminding us of those who have enriched our lives with their extraordinary talent and trailed a blaze for those who wish to make their presence felt by following in the achievers’ footsteps.
One of the many ghazals that Khan Sahib immortalised with his voice was Mir’s Dekh to dil keh jaan se uth’ta hai. One of its verses is:
Gor kis dil jaley ki hai yeh falak
Shola ik subh yaan se uth’ta hai
(Is the sky a grave of a heartbroken person?
Every morning, a spark rises from it).
Originally published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019