UAE: Indian author to release book on legendary Pakistani singer Mehdi Hassan Khan

The author did his doctorate on Khan, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential singers of all time from the Indian subcontinent


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Fri 11 Nov 2022, 1:36 PM

Last updated: Fri 11 Nov 2022, 2:07 PM

An Indian researcher spent nine years painstakingly collecting information on the life of Pakistani ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan Khan. Dr Dipesh Kumar Vishnavat, a ghazal singer himself, is releasing his book at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

Dr Vishnavat did his doctorate on Khan, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential singers of all time from the Indian subcontinent.

The information that he gathered for his studies is now being released as a book titled: Ustad Mehdi Hassan, the king of ghazal singing. It covers everything from the singer’s childhood, to his rise to worldwide prominence.

“The first time I heard him, I was astounded,” said Dr Vishnavat who is currently in the UAE for the release of his book. “Since that day, I have not been able to live a day without listening to his voice.”

Referred to as ‘Khan saab’ by those close to him, the singer has been credited with popularising ghazals with his haunting voice and baritone. He passed away in 2012 after a prolonged battle with chronic lung disease.

How it all began

Hailing from the Indian state of Rajasthan, Dr Vishnavat began his research about Mehdi Hassan in 2010. His first step was to approach the family of the singer. “I went to meet Dr Roshan Bharathi, who is the nephew of Khan saab, and told him that I want to do my PhD,” he said. “He agreed and I started my research.”

Over the next nine years, Dr Vishnavat painstakingly put together the history of Khan’s life – starting from his birth in the Rajasthani village of Luna. He was assisted extensively by friend and fellow researcher Lokesh Kumar Dadwadia.

Dr Vishnavat
Dr Vishnavat

For Dr Vishnavat, the most surprising factor was how revered the singer was across India. “When I went to Luna, people were ready to help me in whatever way possible,” he said. “They gave me a car and a driver so that I could travel all around the village. At the end of the day, when I offered the driver payment, he said ‘please don’t embarrass me by offering money. For Khan saab the whole village is always ready to assist’. That is how much people love him.”

Dr Vishnavat hopes to use the proceeds from the book sales to build a tomb of Khan in his hometown of Luna. “I want to pay homage to him and build a site where people who love his songs can come and visit,” he said.

Across borders

Born in Rajasthan in a family of traditional musicians, Khan and his family migrated to Pakistan during India’s 1947 partition where the family suffered severe financial hardships. Despite all odds stacked against him, Khan persevered with his singing.

With a passion for poetry, he started experimenting with ghazal singing and eventually got a break as a playback singer in 1956. Later, as his popularity rose, he is thought to have revolutionized the way ghazals were sung. Noted Indian playback singer, Lata Mangeshkar, is reported to have said after hearing him sing ‘it seems as if God is singing through his voice’.

Despite the animosity between India and Pakistan, Dr Vishnavat said he did not face any issues during his research. “Art and music have no boundaries,” he said. “Not a single person ever asked me why I was doing my PhD on a Pakistani singer. In fact I received a lot of support from both Indians and Pakistanis. I think Khan saab was truly one of those legends who united music lovers across the world.”


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