Singer Hariharan is known for giving voice to some of the most popular modern classics in Hindi and Tamil music, but the artiste who is now one of the most renowned names in Indian music did not have an easy start. Hariharan got his first big break in 1978 as he sang Jaidev’s Ajeeb Saneha Mujhpar Guzar Gaya, and was quite a success as it fetched him various state awards. Hariharan was one of the forces, along with Jagjit Singh, who made ghazals mainstream in India.
But before he got his big break, the young singer was keen on meeting with the renowned ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan, much like the rest of the world. The Pakistani singer was visiting India for the first time in the 1970s and Hariharan wanted to have an audience with him but he could not just walk up to one of the most popular singers in the world and introduce himself. So Hariharan thought of an innocent lie.
The Tu Hi Re singer, who was a college student at the time, pretended to be a reporter and went to the Mumbai hotel where Mehdi Hassan was staying and told the front desk that he was a reporter from The Indian Express. “When the front desk called upstairs, his son picked up the phone. He must have thought that there is an appointment so I was called up,” Hariharan told News 18 Urdu.
“What could I have done? I had to meet him,” he laughingly recalled. Once inside the suite, Hariharan was worried. “I was worried, what if he gets angry. After a few minutes, he came. I got up and did namaskar by laying down at his feet. He asked me to get up. I told him my name and that I am not a reporter from Indian Express, I am just a big fan. I told him I’m a student of Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. He instantly asked how my guru was, and I was relieved, bach gaya,” he said. “Then he asked me for tea and I said ‘Yeh toh kamaal ho gaya’,” he recalled.
Hariharan did not get a chance to present his singing to Mehdi Hassan during this trip but while on a trip in Canada, one of Hariharan’s friends asked the ghazal singer to listen to Hariharan’s tape and he was mighty impressed with his singing talent. He eventually took Hariharan under his wing and the two would often meet and the Pakistani singer would guide the famed Indian singer.
Mehdi Hassan, who is still regarded as one of the most popular Ghazal singers in the world, eventually ended up becoming Hariharan’s mentor.