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: