Sound of conch and azaan rang same lyrical notes for Khayyam

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]N her 80th birthday during a TV interview, Lata Mangeshkar told film writer and poet Javed Akhtar that it was very difficult for her to name one music director as her favourite. She praised yesteryears’ music directors like Salil Choudhary, Madan Mohan, SD Burman, RD Burman and Jaidev …But without any hesitation, she replied that the one song that stayed with her after leaving the recording studio was “Ai dil-e-nadaan…” from Razia Sultan (1983). It was composed by none other than Khayyam.

The legendary composer, who gave music to classic films such as Kabhi Kabhie and Umrao Jaan, passed away in Mumbai on Monday. He was 92.

Born into a deeply religious family in Rahon near Jalandhar on February 18, 1927, Khayyam had to leave his home for pursuing his passion. He got his initial lessons in music from Pandit Husnlal and Pandit Bhagat Ramunder and went on to work as an assistant to music composer Ghulam Ahmed Chisti in Lahore.

But it took several years to his family to accept Mohammad Zahoor Khayyam Hashmi as music composer Khayyam.

Earlier he used to compose songs as Sharma ji. But it was only after film maker Zia Sarhadi and his friends Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sardar Jafri and Chandulal Shahgave insisted that he should use his real name, he became Khayyam when Footpath (1953) was in the making.

In a TV interview, many years ago, responding to former Chief Election Commissioner of India SY Qureshi’s query whether Islam prohibits music and singing despite its therapeutic value, this is what Khayyam had to say: “Yes it is prohibited. I am a staunch Muslim. But our religious scholars don’t tell us which kind of music or melody is forbidden. There is a music that gives genuine happiness to the people. Then there is music that brings people nearer to the evil. This kind of music is forbidden.”

And in the same breath, he told Qureshi, “Have you heard azaan? It has such a melody and attraction! We get to hear the same melody in the sounds of bells, conch shells and flute in Hindu temples. In churches also, prayers are offered through music. In Gurdwaras, Gurbani is sung…its all music.”

He also told Qureshi how his father asked him to bow before Bhagat Singh’s ancestral home when they passed through freedom fighter’s ancestral village. With childlike innocence, he spoke enthusiastically about patriotic songs that he composed for the country in the event of war.

Apne sabhi sukh aik hain, apne sabhi gam aik hain,

Awaaz do hum aik hain, awaaz do hum aik hain !    

Those who had the privilege to visit Khayyam’s home in Juhu tell us that his music room was studded with images, idols and scriptures of all the religions besides the emblems of Islam. Though his wife, noted singer Jagjit Kaur, was a Sikh, the couple chose to give a Hindu name to their only son, Pradeep.

Known for his simplicity in life and work, the maestro all through his illustrious career demonstrated that a great poetry set to soulful music doesn’t age with time. For Bazaar (1982), he composed ghazals of poets who had left this world long ago. Whether it was the song sung by his wife Jagjit Kaur, Dekh lo aaj hum ko jee bhar kay or the poem penned by Bashar Nawaz, Karo ge yaad to har baat yaad aaye gi. Makhdoom’s ghazal, Phir chidi raat baat pholon ki and Meer’s verses, Dekhaai diye yon kay bekhud kiya, his compositions remain hauntingly beautiful as ever.

Nida Fazli writes in his biographical novel how he got introduced to film world. After having read it in a literary magazine, Khayyam composed his iconic poem, “Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta” and used it in Ahista Ahista (1981). Since Fazli was homeless during those days, the payment cheque, he says, kept chasing him for months.

Though Khayyam worked in just 50 plus movies, he remains a towering figure of “golden era” in Hindi film music. Most of the songs, ghazals, mujras, bhajans, naats or even Urdu poetry—that he composed became benchmarks in their own right.

Among other movies, his soul-stirring compositions in movies like Lala Rukh (1958), Shola Aur Shabnam (1961), Shagoon (1964), Aakhri Khat (1966), Trishul (1978), Kaala Patthar (1979), Noorie (1979), Thodi Si Bewafaai (1980) remain an aural treat for music connoisseurs.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s epic poem, Kabhi Kabhi was originally composed by Khayyam for film director Chetan Anand. But when Yash Chopra declared to make a move on the same title, the duo approached Anand. They were told that the lyrics and composition were too old to be used in a new film. Both Sahir and Khayyam proved him wrong eventually.

Remarkably, his magical melodies were not influenced by western music when his contemporaries were heavily borrowing from here and there. His compositions distinctively evoke the scent of the Indian soil.  Admired by many musicians for creating unique intricate tunes that have immaculate silent pauses, Khyaam never allowed music to dominate words in his compositions. And his compositions only enhance the essence of the lyrics.

Take for instance Aap yoon faaslon se guzartay rahe or Apne aap raaton mein or Kahin aik massom nazuk si larki or Tum apna ranjo gamor Hazar raahain murd kay dekhin. These compositions speak for themselves and their creator, who considered creativity as ibaadat (prayer) to the Almighty.

It was during the making of Phir Subah Hogi (1958), a movie that brought Khayyam to the limelight, that he became a natural choice for the filmmakers. They were looking for a composer who had read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

“He has given many all-time great songs but to make him immortal only one was enough: Woh subah kabhi to aayegi,” Javed Akhtar said on Monday, as tributes poured in from PM Narendra Modi to Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan.

He is survived by his wife, Jagjit Kaur, who is admitted in the same hospital where Khayyan breathed his last. Their only son, Pradeep Khayyam, passed away a few years ago. In 2016, Khayyam founded a trust and donated most of his wealth to it. Dedicated to his late son, the trust helps struggling artists and the needy.