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Khayyam: The Gentle Giant

August 20, 2019 | By

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.


Khayyam (Pic: Google Image Search)

Tum chale jaaoge, parchhaiyan reh jaayengi…

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.

More to read

Khayyam: The Poets’ Musician

Khayyam: Making Poetry Come Alive With Melody

Jaane Kya Dhoondti Rehti Hai: Of a World Where Love Is Incinerated

Creative Writing

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Monica Kar has her BA in English Literature from the University of Delhi. She now lives in St. Charles, Missouri, USA, where she wears many hats. While she has worked in Publishing, Retail, Education and Construction in various roles, she has been a free-lance editor since 1987, and is currently part time editor with Learning and Creativity-Silhouette Magazine. In 2015 she started writing about her first passion - Hindi film songs of the Golden Age for an online music group. She welcomes suggestions and critiques on her writing as it makes her learn and grow as a writer.
All Posts of Monica Kar

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6 thoughts on “Khayyam: The Gentle Giant

  • Dr.Pisharoty Chandran

    Monica, you have captured the quintessence of what Khayyam as a person was.
    Your wide selection of his works must have been a vexing task, as it is difficult to decide, which pearl to choose from a bed of pearls.
    But you’ve brought it off exemplarily well.
    Write of top draw quality. Keepsake for a connoisseur. Thanking you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. LnC Silhouette Magazine

      Pisharoty Chandran _()_. I didn’t realize, until I started writing, how much of an impression Khayyam’s music has made on me over the years. This gentle giant will be sorely missed.

  • Silhouette Magazine

    Some comments received on Facebook on this article:

    Latha Rajgopal: Wonderful tribute to one of the melody loving composers the writer ought to be most curious researcher to dig out the sensual compositions of this composer Khayyam Sahab you really made feel Jane kya doondthi rahte ho…Monica is such a Lovely writer just filled the article with rare n unheard melodies to keep the readers feel the music ! Monica Kar, just loved reading this thoroughly!

    Sneh Dhingra: The most soulful tribute from the heart. Khayyam was so devoted to his impeccable creations – they flowed straight to our hearts. Your words hit home. Naman to the great composer.

    Subramaniam Viswanathan: What a lovely tribute, and what a lovely collection of Khayyam Saab’s gems. This deserves total uninterrupted focus to go through again, preferably when the rest of the world around has gone to sleep. Khayyam Saab’s compositions are more relishable, when there is silence around! Thanks Monica Kar for this wonderful essay and Thanks Antara Nanda Mondal for presenting this.

    Heard for the first time, the captivating duet of Khayyam himself with Jagjit Kaur for ‘Anjuman’. Sad, that the film didn’t get released. A huge loss to music lovers if such fine compositions go unheard.

    Vijay Kumar: Wonderful.

    Anantha Alagappan: Lovely tribute ❤️ I have been playing few of them again and again the whole morning . There are some songs which are always in the back of the mind , and when someone puts it in the front , you get completely engrossed in them . A lovely ode to the maestro 🙏

    Khantha Mahadevan: Thank you, Monica, for writing such an elegant essay on Khayyam Saab and his music, bringing forth his art and passion, in regal tones, befitting the exquisite repertoire he has left behind. Greatly enjoyed reading your beautiful expressions matching the dignity and grace of his music. This is a masterful tribute to an great soul who started his career singing the duet “Donon jahan teri mohabbat mein haar ke” with Zohrabai in 1947.

  • Pingback: Carnival of Blogs on Golden Era of Hindi Film Music – August, 2019 – The world is too small? or Is it?


    Khayyam was a great musci director and composer . Unfortunately Monicas blog fails do justice to the work of Khayyam . Either she is not fully aware of his work or shee deliberately excluded his best work from the blog . Argueably his best composition , Kabhi Kabhi mere dil mein khayal ata hai is conspicously absent . So is ” Main Pal do pal ka shai’r hoon ” a master piece of poetry by Sahir and beautiful rendering by Mukesh .
    Missed are songs of another landmark film GAMAN . She has included inconcequential song ” Mere Ghar aayee ek nanhi pari ” but left out two extraordinary compositions from the same film .
    Khayyam has recorded many a gem non film ghazals but there is no mention of that . It is apprent this blog is by a rokkie who is not aware of his full work . Some people who know very little about Khayyam may like this blog . auther can reach me on my email

    1. Monica Kar

      Avinash ji, you have pegged me accurately as a “rookie writer”. I am indeed that. But when Khayyam saahab passed on, I couldn’t help but share whatever it was that I felt about him, with my limited understanding of music. Thank you for your valuable input on my essay. I find it difficult to compress the genius of a Khayyam in a limited-by-word-count essay; but even so, I have quoted “Kal koi mujh ko yaad kare” from Kabhi Kabhie, above.

      It would be so wonderful to know more about this composer who I can only describe as ‘elegant’. I look forward to a much more professionally written essay by you, sharing your vast knowledge of him. 🙂 _()_. Once again, many thanks for your comment._()_

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