Born in Luna village, Jhunjhunu Rajasthan 1927, Mehdi commanded huge respect and enormous fan following on both sides of the border. He belonged to the 16th generation of Kalawant clan of musicians. He was trained under his father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Ismail Khan, both Dhrupad singers. He started early and gave his first public performance at the tender age of eight at the Maharaja of Baroda’s court. Before becoming a legend, he also worked at a cycle repair shop and as a motor mechanic. His family migrated to Pakistan during partition and he started his career with Radio Pakistan. He shot to fame with Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s ghazal “Gulon mein rang bharey…”
For the next two decades, he rendered many masterpieces creating an envious body of work in the ghazal and film music. He was honored with Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Hilal-e-Imtiaz by the Pakistani government and Gorkha Dakshina Bahu by the Nepali government.
Generations of singers from Hariharan to Shreya Ghoshal have grown on maestro’s work. And it’s not just the singers, for those of us who have cherished his music, we all have our Mehdi moments when the master sang to us as if he was meant to sing only for us. I remember my college days when I wouldn’t get my sleep if I didn’t listen to “Ek sitam aur meri jaan, abhi jaan baki hai…” or “Yeh tera ana, bheegi raaton mein chupke chupke…”
Khan saheb, as he was fondly known in Pakistan, was like a bridge that connected the complexities of classical music, Urdu Poetry, and ghazal style of singing with the heartfelt rendition and silky portrayal of emotions. He was a master not because he set new benchmarks in singing but for the rare talent to dissolve benchmarks and transcend directly into the hearts of his listeners. The smoothness with which his voice would grip attention and start pouring emotions into the soul was legendary. He had the innate capability to bring a soul closer to itself-a feat signature of such rare talents.
Millions will miss him and million more will connect to him in the times to come-for he never came to leave us. He will always be there humming in his silky smooth voice “Achchhi baat kaho…achchhi baat suno…”
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