We will never again hear the unparalleled voice of ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan performing live again. His voice died forever as the great singer passed away at a private hospital in Karachi on the morning of June 13 after putting up with a long illness. Hassan had, in fact, not sung in public for quite a few years after suffering a serious stroke. What we are left with then are the recordings on tape and CDs of his singing and the unique style that came with it, adding new life to the form of music he raised to immense heights. What is sad is that during his years of illness, Hassan, according to his family, received very limited financial support from the government of Pakistan or from any other organisation within the country. Some reports say that more donations had come in from India to cover his medical expenses. At one point a few years ago, while performing at his concert in Lahore, the late Indian singer Jagjit Singh had appealed for funds to be provided for the treatment of the ailing artist who had so frequently sung before mass audiences across the border.
Unfortunately, Hassan received less appreciation at home as the years went by, especially after Radio Pakistan and the Pakistan Television removed their focus from more traditional forms of music, throwing them deeper into the shadows. Hassan has received several major official awards, including the coveted Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz awards but despite this, in the end, he died surrounded only by his family and devoted music lovers.
Hassan, born in 1927 in Rajasthan, migrated to Pakistan in 1947 but always had a large loyal following in India. For decades, he kept alive the intricate art of the ghazal in the country adding to it many new dimensions. Today, we must ask ourselves if we will ever be able to produce new singers of the same calibre, given the way we have treated the traditional forms of music and our failure to instill any love for them among a generation that has grown up barely familiar with the works of Mehdi Hassan and others who are able to produce wizardry with words and the music that accompanies them.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2012.