Posts Tagged ‘ Pashto ’

Legendary Ghazal Singing Legend Mehdi Hassan Dies

As Reported by Maimoona Shoaib and Mohammad Ashraf for The Gulf News

He worked in a bicycle shop. He repaired cars. And when he would sing a ghazal, he would mesmerise a continent.

Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan, who suffered from lung, chest and urinary tract ailments for ten years, died of breathing complications at a Karachi hospital on Wednesday at the age of 84.

His famous ghazals (ballads) include “Patta patta boota boota,” “Abke bicchde khwaabon mein mile”, “Zindagi mein sabhi pyar kiya kartein hain,” “Dekh tu dil ki jaan se uthta hai,” and “Ranjish hi Sahi”.

“My father’s funeral will take place Friday in Karachi,” son Arif Mehdi said, adding that the family was yet to finalise the burial location. “We have asked for the permission from the government to bury him at Quaid-e-Azam mazar [near the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan] in Karachi, but we are waiting for approval,” he said.

Born into a family of musicians in Loona village in undivided India (now in the Indian state of Rajasthan) in July 1927, Hassan had a modest beginning, mirroring the situation of the new country he migrated to at age 20 after the partition of India in 1947.

The family sank into penury after moving to Pakistan, and eking out a living was difficult. Young Hassan worked in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic, even as he was initiated into music by father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Esmail Khan, who were dhrupad (Indian classical) musicians.

In his book “Mehdi Hasan: The Man & his Music”, Pakistani author Asif Noorani writes that his humility during this phase stood tall against the fame and greatness he had achieved later.

“He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past,” Noorani writes.

Eventually, Hassan found his real vocation in the ghazal.

Mehdi is said to have given his first performance when he was eight, in sync with tradition where musicians started early and were paced through various levels of public performance before they graduated as accomplished vocalists.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and continued with his rigorous practice, relying on the extreme discipline he lent to his style of constricted-throat singing as opposed to the full-throated version.

He was well into his twenties when he was first noticed as a singer of some merit. The break came when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in Karachi in 1957 — first as a thumri singer and then as a ghazal exponent.

Hassan had to work harder than many of his younger colleagues but his innovative approach earned him fame.

Traditionally, ghazals were sung in a thumri-like manner. They were set to Indian classical ragas such as Khamaj, Piloo and Desh. The classical format stymied the scope of the compositions — preventing it from innovating. However, Hassan pioneered a ghazal “gayaki” (manner of singing) that played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. A composer of rare brilliance, his style combined classical and Rajasthani folk music to create a new realm of ghazals whose magic spread beyond Pakistan to India and the rest of the world.

He was one of the first Pakistani ghazal singers who charmed Indian audiences and won impressive fan followings — former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for a private performance at his residence.

But many more years were to pass after 1957 for Hassan to get his opportunity to sing for films.

As Hassan arrived, the ghazal stage was dominated by greats as Khan Sahib Barkat Ali Khan, Mukhtar Begum and Begum Akhtar. Among Hassan’s contemporaries were Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, with Gulam Ali and Jagjit Singh followed not too far behind.

According to an estimate by Arif, Hassan sang more than 20,000 songs and apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

It’s not uncommon for a singer whose career spanned over 50 years to churn up 20,000 songs. But given the quality and the unfailing discipline which were the hallmarks of Hassan’s songs, it will go down in the history of music as a gigantic superhuman effort. And the way Hassan sustained himself until health issues made it impossible for him to carry on, is a remarkable story that parallels the struggles of his homeland.

After shining on the musical firmament from the 1960s to 1980s, Hassan’s career started fading as frequent illnesses took their toll. The death of his first wife in 1998 followed by an attack of paralysis restricted Hassan to bed and he lost the power of speech. His health deteriorated further over the past 12 years.

His home country honoured Hassan with several awards and honours — from Tamgha-e-Imtiaz to Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz — while India honoured him with the Sehgal Award in 1979. The Nepal government too honoured him with the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children — nine sons and five daughters. His second wife also died before him.

His death brings the curtains down on a journey in music that lasted more than 50 years and crafted a new era of lyricism, melody and poetry in ghazals.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan has had a few stars that transform their industry across all borders. One of them was surely Mehdi Hassan, a supernova so bright that he was considered living legend for the last several decades. His passing has dimmed the night sky over Pakistan and indeed over the entire Indian subcontinent as many in the neighboring country are mourning his loss as of one of their own. RIP Hassan sahib, thank you for all your songs and ghazals, through which you will live on forver.

Poetry Soothes the Pain in Pakistan

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

The outrage was swift after Pakistani security forces shot dead an unarmed young man in the southern city of Karachi, an incident caught on videotape and broadcast widely. Editorial writers demanded justice. Television talking heads decried the brutality of the men in uniform.

And then, a few poets got to work.

“No regard of life! No fear of Allah! Animals in jungle are better than you,” one English-language poem posted on YouTube rails at the culprits in the June incident. Another, in Urdu and circulated on Facebook, mourned victim Sarfraz Shah, who had “told his mom he will return home early.”

Pakistan is a country that reveres poetry, gently weaving it into daily life, and the last decade has provided no shortage of material. The rise and fall of a military ruler, the demands of a foreign superpower, the devastation of Taliban bombs — these themes and more have crept into Pakistani poems.

Some of the resulting verses carry overt messages about specific events. Often, though, the approach is more subtle, and occasionally, it’s tinged with humor.

“Of course, everything which is happening around a poet, it has an effect,” said Shahzad Nayyar, a published poet based in the eastern city of Lahore. “Such … events, which are causing destruction, which are causing loss to man, material and property, they are affecting poets a lot.”

Although Pakistan is just 64 years old, its people’s poetic tradition is centuries old and is intertwined with that of the rest of South Asia, while also influenced by the Persians. Urdu is the most widely used language, but even regional languages, such as Pashto and Sindhi, have notable poetic histories.

Today in Pakistan, one can find poetic verses on the back windows of taxis, on the sides of delivery trucks and atop gravestones. Newspapers regularly publish poetry, while Pakistani politicians, such as the country’s ambassador to the U.S., post verses on their Twitter feeds or use them in speeches.

Poetry recitals — known as “mushairas” — can draw thousands of spectators and last deep into the night, with audiences shouting encouragement to the men and women onstage. Sometimes, mushairas are part of larger gatherings, such as weddings or trade conferences; others are intimate affairs.

The country even has a national holiday dedicated to a poet-philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal’s writings were seen as an inspirational force toward the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland in 1947, though he died in 1938.

Of the 1,000 books published each year in Pakistan, there are some 50 books of poetry, said Saleem Malik, vice chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association. While a handful of poets may earn enough to live on writing alone, at least for a while, most are engaged in other professions.

Many of the poetry books are self-published and distributed for free among friends. Still, that doesn’t account for the poetry that appears in other forums, such as magazines or websites such as Facebook, a popular setting for younger poets who can’t afford to publish their own books.

Perhaps the most popular form of poetry in Pakistan is the ghazal, which is made up of five or more units of two lines each and often sung.

Some of the most well-known Pakistani poets say that despite the material provided by the turmoil of recent years, they are careful about how they word their poems and often prefer to use indirect language and symbolism. This is in part to avoid being labeled a “propagandist.”

“It loses your emotional power when you are direct — it becomes like a slogan,” said Farhat Abbas Shah, a poet especially popular with younger Pakistanis.

Iftikhar Arif — a poet so famed in Pakistan that one section of his many, teeming bookshelves is devoted just to academic tracts written about him — said poets should aspire to write in a universal manner that can be appreciated beyond national borders and withstand the test of time.

There are poems written from other periods of turmoil in Pakistani history that are still relevant today because of this approach. “There is a history, perhaps more honest, more correct, more sincere, written by poets,” Arif said.

The line between direct and indirect is a fine one, however, and over the decades, some of Pakistan’s most popular poets have gone back and forth.

The late Habib Jalib, often described as a “revolutionary” or “the People’s Poet” raged against political tyranny, and even referred specifically to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in his famed collection called “Ten Poems.”

Kishwar Naheed, a spry 71-year-old who is considered one of Pakistan’s pre-eminent feminist poets, is among those who occasionally embraces the direct approaches. In “A Mourning Poem for Bajaur,” Naheed decries the violence gripping Pakistan’s northwest regions bordering Afghanistan:

“Coffins have become so numerous, That the city is shrinking,” the poem begins.

A later verse: “We have the same court-yards, the same threshers. But bullets jump through them, Riddle holes in my fields, and in the bodies of my children.”

Naheed, who has published more than a dozen books of poetry, says every couple of months she receives threats because of her poems.

“They may say, ‘If you continue like this, you may have an accident in your car,'” she said, with a grin. “But I don’t mind having such reaction. If you don’t have a reaction, that means you have no appeal.”

Pakistani poets insist that their community is largely a peace-loving, liberal bunch — though many point out that they may feel just as much ire for U.S. actions toward Pakistan as they do for religious extremists.

Still, militant movements and their sympathizers also use poetry as a tool. After the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in a nighttime raid in May, a group at Punjab University in Lahore advertised a poem and essay contest dedicated to glorifying the al-Qaida chief.

Taliban operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, where the Pashtun ethnic group dominates, often use poems and chants, shared by way of CDs and cell phone recordings, to reach out to a largely illiterate population and persuade ordinary citizens to resist foreign troops.

Much of the poetry of Pakistan is not high art, but rather street-level verses exchanged by text messages, often with anonymous authors. Much of it is laced with the bitter, resigned humor of a people beset by poverty and downtrodden by corrupt elitists.

One popular Punjabi-language poem chastised former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who was eventually ousted in 2008.

“You rush to Washington all the time, and please Bush again and again,” it says. “Beg at his feet all the time, and threaten the oppressed. Why don’t you confront the oppressors?”

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