Mellifluous journey

Mellifluous journey



For Khayyam, his profession was his passion. Money was incidental. So much so that, three years ago, he donated his entire savings of over Rs 10 crore to the Jagjit Kaur Charitable Trust, named after his singer wife, to budding musicians and technicians. His only son, Pradeep Khayyam, an actor, died seven years ago.

Jagjit Kaur sang for her husband of 54 years in several films, and also helped him in shaping his music. Her best known song remains Tum apne ranj-o-gham from Shagoon (1964), recorded a year before their marriage. Known to the world as the composer of scores as lustrous as Kabhi Kabhie, Umrao Jaan and older triumphs like Phir Subah Hogi, Shola Aur Shabnam, Aakhri Khat and others, Khayyam was born Mohammed Zahoor Khayyam Hashmi in 1927 in in the village of Rahon in Punjab’s Jalandhar district. He simply ran away to Delhi when his parents did not accept his obsession for music.
Khayyam later went to Lahore to learn music under Baba Chishti and finally Pandit Amarnath. The composer came to Mumbai in February 1947 and his guru Pandit Amarnath sent him to his brothers, popular composers Husnlal-Bhagatram,who became his gurus in Mumbai. His first break was as a singer in the Chisti Baba-composed Dono jahaan teri mohabbat, a duet with Zohrabai Ambalewali in Romeo And Juliet the same year.

What’s in a name?

The duo suggested that he call himself Sharmaji and form a music duo with one Rehman as Sharmaji-Varmaji in the 1948 film Heer Ranjha. But soon Rehman migrated to Pakistan and so, when an impressed Ramesh Saigal signed him for Footpath, starring Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari, he suggested that he maintain the name of Khayyam. Khayyam decided to remain choosy all his life, openly crediting his undemanding Sikh wife and son for allowing him the luxury of not joining the rat race.

The Padma Bhushan awardee and winner of honours like the K L Saigal Memorial Award, the Dinanath Mangeshkar Puraskar, the Lata Mangeshkar Award and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award did less than 55 films in a career that lasted for almost 60 years, with his last film being the 2005 Yatra, released in 2007. He also composed over 200 non-film songs and for nine television serials.

“If I am known for something, it is for the standard of music that I compose,” he told me. “I will never leave my tradition. I have always accepted only that work to which I could do justice. In films, I did not look at banners, setups or big names. I want the filmmakers to be deeply involved, and have good lyrics and a free hand. Every song of mine is a creation. I cannot copy, rehash or take any easy way out.” Naturally, the composer was livid when one of his chartbusters, Aaja re aaja re o mere dilbar aaja from Noorie was re-created and crassly used in a non-film video Happily, none of Khayyam’s other compositions were desecrated. And the composer’s exotic compositions included, among many others, Ae dil-e-nadaan from Razia Sultan, Kahin ek masoom nazuk si ladki from Shankar HussainDikhayi diye yun from Bazaar, Na jaane kya hua from Dard, Maana teri nazar mein from Ahista Ahista and Simti hui yeh ghadiyaan from Chambal Ki Kasam.

However, this was in his post-Kabhi Kabhie phase that began in 1976, in which Khayyam composed more than half of his total number of films, thanks to Yash Chopra signing him at lyricist Sahir’s persuasion.


However, it was Khayyam’s earlier compositions that saw him at his individualistic best — like Shaam-e-gham ki kasam (Footpath), Phir na kije meri gustakh nazar (Phir Subah Hogi), Jeet hi lenge baazi and Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hai (Shola Aur Shabnam), Tum apne ranj-o-gham (Shagoon), Baharon mera jeevan bhi sawaaro (Aakhri Khat) and Tu hi sagar hai tu hi kinara (Sankalp).

The man who had seen so much struggle (after the 1967 Aakhri Khat with Chetan Anand, he was out of work for five years) was also a true-blue Indian. His son, at the age of seven, had asked him if he could practice Hinduism, and he was allowed to follow his heart. Khayyam’s music room was adorned with a huge gift from Mumbai’s ISKCON Temple — a large picture of Radha and Krishna. Prayers were also offered at home daily to all faiths, and even copies of the Holy Bible, the Gita, Quran and Granth Sahib were worshipped. And the legend told me, “In the Quran, it has been mentioned that Allah sent 1,24,000 messengers to spread his word, and as there are only a few thousand mentioned in it, the rest must be from different faiths!” As a musician, and as a man, Khayyam was one of a kind.