By Sidrah Roghay
He lived in three-storey house, crying for attention. Big, green and ugly. The window panes broken, empty sockets where electric bulbs should be and paint cracking from the walls. The neighbourhood is old, with sewage pipes leaking at places. Yet, this was a place where celebrities and dignitaries would often visit, the last being film actress Shabnam.
There is heavy police protocol, barriers at the entrance of the neighbourhood and plenty of political activists. Inside a black tent spread over half a kilometer hundreds sit. They are here to pay tribute to the national hero who gave them ‘yeh watan tumhara hai, tum ho pasban uske’ , ‘zindagi main tu sabhi pyar kya kartay hain, main tu mar kar bhi meri jan tumhay chahun ga’ and tunes which generation to come will cherish.
The ghazal maestro, Mehdi Hassan left the world at the age of 85, after a long spell of illness but not without leaving a treasure trove of compositions for his fans. He breathed his last in the Aga Khan University Hospital of what doctors say, a lung infection.
In the neighbourhood he lived at residents called him ‘babuji’. He was known for his humility and simplicity.
“He was a star for the world but for me a companion who would walk with me to the green grocer. Very thoughtful. I have known him since his first hit, ‘gulon main rang bharey’,” says Fayyaz Hussain, a neighbour.
‘My brother lived in as a tenant in his house till eight years back. Then Mehdi sahib took the ground floor, his ill health did not allow him to climb stairs,” says Ishrat Begum who lives next door. “Whenever I met him he would lovingly place his hand on my head.”
“He was one person who would always smile before he talked. Mehdi spread smiles on millions of faces, such people get heaven as their last abode,” said Muhammad Ifraheem, a ghazal singer of the PTV days who was visiting the house.
Neighbours remember the time when an Aga Khan ambulance and nurse would visit him every day during his last stages. “Someone paid for his expenses, not his offspring. He was a shady tree but one can say the branches were weak,” said one neighbour.
A day after he got a visa to travel to India for treatment, he left the world. His expenses during a thirty day visit were to be borne by the government of India.
He left behind 14 children, four sons, three of which lived abroad. He outlived both of his wives. His offspring demand from the government that he be laid to rest in the vicinity of the Quaid’s Mausoleum.
His last memory for many of his fans on television was a wheel-chair bound old man in ill health, posing in front of the camera, with Pakistan flags flying in the background, for a mobile company ad. One wonders what made the poor man agree, and if the man so rich in art died poor.