Falling in love with Mehdi

Mehdi Hassan first revealed himself to me through one of my friends in college. I may have heard him before as a kid at home but my fascination with the Emperor of Ghazals began one lazy late afternoon in my first year in college.

We were through with our daily dose of chai, samosas, cigarettes, girls, sex and politics it seemed. There was a sudden hush at our table in the canteen.

Abhishek believed that the best way to fill such a silence was through songs, especially ghazals. So he began humming a Jagjit Singh number. Soon it turned into a mehfil and slowly those who thought ghazals were boring left leaving only a few of us at the table.

It was then that Abhishek began singing “Ranjish he sahi” — one of Mehdi’s most popular ghazals that even those with passing acquaintance with his ghazals would know.

But lightning struck when he began the next song. “Charagh e toor jalao bada andhera hai…” is one of the master’s rarest of rare gems. I have acutely realised the rarity of this ghazal in the course of the 15 years that have passed since then.

Going back to that evening, I can still see Abhishek singing with his eyes closed, completely immersed in the song. I sat there mesmerised by the lyrics and the haunting melody of the ghazal.

Very few people, even those formally trained in music, dare to sing a classical Mehdi Hassan ghazal and my friend had no training, just a god-gifted voice and an ear for music.

I left the campus that day wondering if Abhishek’s version was so haunting what it would be like to hear the original?

From then on I kept searching for the song in every music shop in every city that I went to. Five years later, of all places, I found an audio cassette at a shop in Chennai. But I could keep it only for a short while because a friend borrowed it and never returned.

It’s been nearly ten years and I’m still looking for it. No it’s not there on YouTube and even Google could produce only three entries, none of them even remotely connected to the song.

Nevertheless my search for this song over the years turned me into the Mehdi fan-atic I am today. Much of the credit goes to Abhishek singing the ghazal that day and a woman I met years later, who was as passionate about the Emperor of Ghazals as I am.

PS: Since I couldn’t find that song, here’s another of my favourites:

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Black Magic Woman!

Normally, 4 am is either the time I go to sleep or I’m too deep in sleep to know its 4am.

It rarely happens that I wake up to realise its 4am. Weird I thought. Why on earth should I wake up now? But I did. All my attempts to snatch back some more hours of sleep failed.

Sat on the bed for a while trying to figure out what can be done to kill time so early in the morning. No books, no TV I told myself. So ventured into the balcony.

Couldn’t remember the last time I breathed in the early morning breeze — in Berlin perhaps quite a few months ago.

Felt like smoking but remembered I don’t keep cigarettes at home anymore. Part of a desperate measure to cut down. The urge to smoke vanished breathing in the fresh air.

Stood there in the balcony for a while looking around (you can’t see much, only balconies and yet more balconies). There was a reddish or a yellowish tinge in the sky peeking out of the point where the roofs of the neighbouring society buildings met the sky.

Came back in after unsuccessfully trying to figure out if it was the first hint of sun rise or just the sodium vapour streetlamps playing tricks with my groggy eyes.

Decided to boot my laptop and post an entry on MF Hussain taking Qatari citizenship.

Logging into the blog a face pops up in my mind — this woman I met at a friend’s place the other day. It was a Holi bash with a small gathering of friends.

We danced and we drank till late afternoon our faces smeared with all kinds of colours. It’s her colour-smeared face that had popped up. I think women look prettier with those Holi colours smeared on their faces and men look like morons!

So this woman — she drank gustily, danced like a dream, chirped like a motormouth and looked hot. In that drunken haze I was completely smitten — hit by a thunderbolt.

Sitting with my laptop on I forgot about Hussain. I type her name into a networking website not really believing myself that at the crack of dawn I was actually sneaking into the profile of a woman I met only for a few hours and in all probability will never meet again.

But I venture into the profile and I’m hit by the “About Me” entry. It’s a Billy Joel song —

“She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes.
And she can ruin your faith with her casual lies.
And she only reveals what she wants you to see.
She hides like a child, but she’s always a woman to me.She can lead you to love, she can take you or leave you.
She can ask for the truth but she’ll never believe.
And she’ll take what you’ll give her as long as it’s free.
Yeah, she steals like a thief, but she’s always a woman to me.Oooh, she takes care of herself.
She can wait if she wants, she’s ahead of her time.
Oooooh, and she never gives out, and she never gives in,
she just changes her mind.

And she’ll promise you more than the Garden of Eden.
And she’ll carelesly cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding.
But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be.
Blame it all on yourself, cause she’s always a woman to me.

Hmmmmmm Mmmmmm Hmmmmm Mmmmmm

Oooh, she takes care of herself.
She can wait if she wants, she’s ahead of her time.
Oooooh, and she never gives out, and she never gives in,
she just changes her mind.

She is frequently kind and she’s suddenly cruel.
But she can do as she pleases, she’s nobody’s fool.
And she can’t be convicted, she’s earned her degree.
And the most she will do is throw shadows at you,
but she’s always a woman to me.

Hmmmmmm Mmmmmm Hmmmmm Mmmmmm

The song reminded me of another woman from another time.