Khayyam saahab, you were undoubtedly the gentle giant of the Hindi film music world. Thank you for unforgettable music. But also for so much more. For living the values that we hear in your music – adab, ehtram and zahaanat. Rest in Peace.
With Mohammad Zahur Khayyam’s passing at age 92, an entire musical era passes into the ages. An era of adab, ehtram and zahaanat. An era of melody and poetry.
The heart is heavy…dekhte-dekhte aaya aankhon mein num….
Shaam-e-ghum ki kasam…dil pareshan hai,
Raat veeran hai, dekh jaa kis tarah aaj tanha hain hum…
Shaam-e-ghum ki kasam (Footpath, 1953) Ali Sardar Jafri and Majrooh / Talat
Khayyam brings to mind the sensitivity of a poet, the focus of a sculptor and the quiet zeal of a painter. His compositions make me listen to the words they enhance. The little touches of detail in his music make me visualize him with a little chisel, sculpting away, getting that fold, this bend, just right. His use of instruments remind me of a painter mixing paint to get the perfect tone and shade of color that only his mind visualizes.
Hear the different instruments in this almost decadently rich composition. Poetry, emotion, voices, instruments, specially that sitar! Ufff! Rich, dark chocolate melting in your mouth!
Pyaas kuchh aur bhi bhadka di jhalak dikhla ke
Tujhko parda rukh-e-roshan se hataana hoga…
Itni gustaakh na ho ishq ki awara nazar
Husn ka paas nigahon ko sikhaana hoga…
Pyaas kuchh aur bhi bhadka di (Lala Rukh, 1958) Kaifi Azmi / Talat and Asha
He must have been a perfectionist. A romantic perfectionist. He created many completely-drenched-in-love songs with his better half, Jagjit Kaur, which can only be called masterpieces. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s words fit this romantic couple perfectly.
‘Gar baazi ishq ki baazi hai, jo chaaho lagaa do, darr kaisa?
‘Gar jeet gaye to kya kehna, haare bhi to baazi maat nahi…
Kab yaad mein tera saath nahi, kab haath mein tera haath nahi (Anjuman, 1986, Unreleased) Faiz Ahmed Faiz / Khayyam and Jagjit Kaur
To hear Jagjit Kaur sing under the baton of Khayyam is to hear an unending love story unfold, song after song. You only have to hear Phir wohi saawan aaya, saajan aaye na (Shola aur Shabnam, 1962)…Kaahe ko byaahe bides (Umrao Jaan, 1981)…Dekh lo aaj hum ko jee bhar ke (Bazaar, 1982)…to know this for a fact.
It definitely takes a Sahir to express one-sided love in such a divine way, but it takes a Khayyam to dress these emotions with a molten piano accompanied by a Jagjit Kaur with no recrimination in her voice. Just a love so complete that it awes and humbles at the same time.
Vo dil jo maine maanga tha magar, gairon ne paaya tha
Badi shay hai agar uss ki pashemani mujhe de do
Tum apna ranj-o-ghum apni pareshani mujhe de do (Shagoon, 1964) Sahir / Jagjit Kaur
There is a delicacy of feeling in the music he composed. A nazakat that seems to imply his own zahaanat. Somehow, even the English equivalent “intellect” seems too harsh when applied to the music he composed. Bahaaron mera jeevan bhi sanwaaron, Aur kuchh der ttheher, aur kuchh der na jaa, both from Aakhri Khat (1967), Phir wohi saawan aaya, saajan aaye na from Shola aur Shabnam (1962), the songs of Shagoon (1964), Shankar Hussain (1977), Noorie (1979), Bazaar (1982) and so many other movies carry that same delicate flavor…
Jaise dil ke pardon par, gir rahi ho shabnam-si
Bin kisi ki yaad aaye, dil ke taar hilte hain
Bin kisi ke khankaaye, choodiyan khanakti hain…
Apne aap raaton mein chilmane sarakti hain (Shankar Hussain, 1977) Kaif Bhopali / Lata
And when this nazakat gets the royal treatment, an extra adab added to it, the result can quite literally turn you speechless, making you stop in your tracks. Just like the music seems to stop in this next song. Khayyam had no trouble allowing poetry to make its own wave in his compositions, quite like a river that has no choice but to flow, while his instruments formed the river bed, supporting the flow of water as it carried out its dharam.
Aye dil-e-nadaan…arzoo kya hai (Razia Sultan, 1983) Jan Nisar Akhtar / Lata
The tenderness in his compositions only got heightened in compositions such as Jeet hi lenge baazi hum-tum from Shola aur Shabnam (1962) when Lata joins in to the song being sung so softly by Rafi. He’s tried this before with great success four years before. Asha Bhosle joins this yet-to-be surpassed song of hope written by Sahir, sung so beautifully by Mukesh. The instruments get adorned by Asha’s alaaps and humming in a way that make it a true Song of Dawn, ushering in change with the light of hope, transferring a sad, yet hopeful, message dreaming of societal reform into a love song.
Vo subah kabhi to aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958) Sahir / Mukesh
His ehtraam of poetry can be seen in probably 95% of his compositions. How a sarangi, a flute, a guitar, and soft violins can create the storm they do when you hear Rafi declare
Aarzu jurm, wafa jurm, tamanna hai gunah
Ye vo duniya hai jahaan pyar nahi ho sakta
Kaise bazaar ka dastoor tumhein samjhaun
Bik gaya jo vo khareedar nahi ho sakta…
You may say this has a lot to do with Kaif Azmi’s words and you would be right. But also the respect these words get from Khayyam’s treatment of them.
Jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hain (Shola aur Shabnam, 1967) Kaifi Azmi / Rafi
It is this very respect for words that makes him the obvious composer to handle the thoughts of poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Bashar Nawaz, Mirza Shauk, Shahryar, among others, bringing to the common man a level of poetry that may have stayed in the pages of books. Maybe this very quality made Meena Kumari choose him when she recorded her own writings into I write…I recite, a 1971-album that I remember with goosebumps at the emotions she captured in her inimitable voice. Sadly, I am unable to get a good quality video of the same to share here.
Dikhaayi diye yun ke bekhud kiya (Bazaar, 1981) Mir Taqi Mir / Lata
Choosing appropriate voices to carry these thoughts to the awaam seems to have been no problem for this talented composer, either. He seemed to instinctively know when to use the different voices at his disposal. Nowhere is this skill more apparent than in Umrao Jaan where he ropes in ghazal singer Talat Aziz and Ustad Ghulam Mustafa while almost shocking people by making Asha Bhosle his main singer. She was a great singer without Khayyam, there is no doubt of that; Umrao Jaan added a new feather in her cap – that of being able to carry off the writings of a courtesan without a single extra harkat in her singing. The restraint in her singing made critics sit up in 1981 once again and fans fall, once again, to the magic spell in Asha’s voice.
Justaju jis ki thi us ko to na paaya humne (Umrao Jaan, 1981) Shahryar / Asha
Using singers so that their full potential came to the fore—be it the unusual Kabban Mirza in Razia Sultan, Suman Kalyanpur singing the poignant Bujha diye hain khud apne haathon in Shagoon, 1964), Nitin Mukesh becoming the voice in the hills with Noorie (1979) or Sulakshana Pandit singing Maana teri nazar mein tera pyar hum nahi in Ahista Ahista (1981)—Khayyam used this talent right from the early days of his career when he introduced a solo Bhupinder Singh in a delightful guitar-accordion-and-trumpet western-style song, punctuated by that amazing vibraphone.
Rut jawaan, jawaan, jawaan (Aakhri Khat, 1967) Kaifi Azmi / Bhupinder Singh
I wonder, Khayyam saahab, what would be the appropriate way to pay my respects to you and your body of work?
Could I perhaps serenade you with Majrooh’s words and tell you
Mehfil mein aap aaye, jaise ke chaand aaya…
Kuchh hum bhi aur chamke, kuchh dil bhi jagmagaaya…
(Muhabbat Isko Kehte Hain, 1964/ Mubarak Begum and Suman Kalyanpur)
You are one composer who will probably never need to ask
Kal koi mujh ko yaad kare, kyun koi mujhko yaad kare
Masroof zamaana mere liye kyun waqt apna barbaad kare…
Because whenever, wherever a champayi ujaala and surmayi andhera present themselves, music lovers will think of you.
Parbaton ke pedon par (Shagoon, 1964) Sahir / Rafi and Suman Kalyanpur
When music lovers talk about the golden period of music in Hindi films and even beyond, wherever good music is mentioned, your name is guaranteed.
Karoge yaad to har baat yaad aayegi (Bazaar, 1982) Bashar Nawaaz / Bhupinder Singh
And when proud parents welcome little princesses into their lives, it will be your beautiful blend of sitar and guitar that will announce her arrival.
Mere ghar aayi ek nanhi pari (Kabhi Kabhie, 1976) Sahir / Lata Mangeshkar
Music lovers will wait for another Khayyam, to string words appropriately, elegantly, yet skillfully, so they may hum those decades after they were composed
Hazaar raahein mud ke dekhien (Thodi si Bewafai, 1980) Gulzar / Kishore and Lata
In the meantime, as music lovers yearn for more composers in the Khayyam mould, your compositions will provide succour, support, enchantment and keep tender romance alive. Because
Kab yaad mein tera saath nahi, kab haath mein tera haath nahi
Sad-shukr ke apni raaton me ab hijr ki koi raat nahi…
Ye jaan to aani-jaani hai, iss jaan ki koi baat nahi….
Khayyam saahab, you were, undoubtedly, the gentle giant of the Hindi film music world. Thank you for unforgettable music. But also for so much more. For living the values that we hear in your music – adab, ehtram and zahaanat.
Rest in Peace.
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