|Star-crossed Lovers and Mehdi Hassan|
|© 2002 Subroto Mukerji|
Looking back at the last fifty years of my life, it is with some surprise - and even regret - that I see how late it was that I realized the importance of love in the lives of men and women. Smitten though I was by the occasional bout of spring fever in my youth, I recovered fast and stuck my tongue out at the insidious bug that had, temporarily, pole-axed me...
Love is very important in our lives. It unleashes enormous quanta of energy in the form of creativity; it fine-tunes the soul to the vibrations of a higher realm of existence. Nothing makes us happier. The feeling is just too much, if you've ever been there and know what I'm blabbering about. No wonder lovers see the world through rose-coloured lenses! They're in love, and love it is that makes the world go round.
But alas! Love has been over-traded, and constant exposure has desensitized us. Bollywood is a major culprit here. But who can blame them? Producers need to pay off their creditors, just like you and me. Nothing sells like sex - with a goodly amount of love and romance thrown in for good measure. The margins between the two are narrowing as a result of this over-exposure, if I may venture to make a personal observation. However, be that as it may, for artists of all persuasions - whether they're filmmakers, writers, sculptors, or painters - the theme of love has always been a perennial wellspring of inspiration. And survival.
That includes me, I guess. But enticing as are the many nuances of love that can be woven into a story, I find myself - perhaps on account of Saturn's baleful influence - drawn even more powerfully to the theme of star-crossed lovers. If there is pathos, tragedy and heart-rending emotion to be found in life, it is to be found in a tale of love that didn't make it to first base.
Every culture has them, the immortal tales of thwarted lovers who died unfulfilled, stories revolving around a passion that often survives the grave in spite of (and perhaps because of) it remaining unconsummated. From Tristan and Isolde to our very own Heer Ranjha and Laila and Majnu, the theme has always been popular with writers, filmmakers, and with their audience.
The reason's simple: people love a love story with a happy ending. But they love unhappy endings even more. It's the old 'There, but for the grace of God, go I' sentiment. It makes the audience feel luckier than the protagonists, helps them to better appreciate their own humdrum existences, to reconcile themselves to their lackluster lives, bereft of romance. Romance is heady stuff and often unstable, like a nuclear stockpile nearing meltdown. It can be lethal.
Besides, in real life, alas, happy endings are not the rule. And while I tack on below a few words extolling the genius of ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan, I have also requested the editors of Zine5 to upload three stories that came out of me on this ever-popular, and strangely alluring (in a morbid sort of way) theme of jinxed lovers that portray, to my mind, how green was not their valley.
They are: (1) The Last Rainbow (2) A Pillar of the Establishment, and (3) Once Upon a Lifetime. And if you take your medicine like men (read 'women' too as included in that omnibus word for mankind - feminists: are you listening?), I'll revert to a brace of yarns where the outcome ain't all that bad - as a reward!
Unless, that is, you guys want an encore: in which case, I have a couple more tearjerkers tucked up my sleeve! So either way, folks-try and enjoy!
It's much better sitting in the audience, believe me. The real people out there who have known love, only to lose it - they know the score. My words cannot capture even a miniscule amount of their agony. Art can but approximate life; it cannot be a substitute for it.
An ingenuous young thing once remarked that she had heard 'Mehdi Hassan.' I marveled. I do not think one can 'hear' Mehdi Hassan: one has to do more than just listen, for he is silence. He cannot be heard with the ear. He is not a person: he is an open wound, a vast ocean of pain and passion. He is the manifestation of the collective agony of star-crossed lovers from time immemorial. He is a Force, originating in a long-forgotten past when Love herself was born. He is her faithful witness and recorder.
The voice of Mehdi Hassan is not one voice; it is a harrowing compound of the tortured voices of the unfulfilled. It is a primal moan of elemental longing, singing of both agony and triumph. It defies death and fate, full of a scarred optimism about the ultimate victory of Love. It is inimitable, unstoppable in its arrogant sweep. The giant feathers of sound are like the contemptuous brush-strokes of a Titan on the canvas of the cosmos. The rough edges and gaps are invisible when viewed from a cosmic perspective, the only vantage point from which one can get a complete view of the phenomenon, its amazing intricacy and completeness. Earthbound, we reach only a tiny portion of the behemoth's construction, and after groping it with the numbed fingers of a stupefied mind, mistake the part for the whole. The three blind men and the elephant all over again!
Nay, it is only I, a hapless time-traveler eternally trapped between the eons, who can intuit Mehdi Hassan's true nature. In my endless penance from one Eternity to another, serving out, life after life, an ancient sentence of unrequited adoration, I perceive but a single saving grace in my suffering as I ride the moonbeams of tomorrow, keeping me company are the silvery slivers of sound that are also Mehdi Hassan.
"One sees clearly
only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."