The camera pans the sand dunes in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in the night’s whitish-blue light with the silhouette of Hema Malini in diaphanous pink attire in one corner. The soft silken voice of Lata Mangeshkar in her mellifluous tone, singing, “…yeh zameen chup hai..aasama chup hai…” when suddenly, the music goes completely silent.
For four beats, all the instruments and Lata’s voice stop. And then, only with soft tabla beats, her voice returns to croon, “…phir ye dhadhkan si chaasu kya hai…”
You get goosebumps. That is the song from the film Raziya Sultan (1983).
And until today, no one has been able to capture the silence of their emotions as beautifully as this song ‘Aye dil-e-naadan..’.
Recollecting that silence, I was on my way to meet the man who created this magic—composer Mohammed Zahur Hashmi—better known as Khayyam. It was after he had been bestowed with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for creative music in 2007.
The segment of creative music was so apt as Khayyam sahib didn’t create music; he created emotions. And with his passing earlier this month, he took away the beauty of a pause and the power of saying a lot with a melancholic quietness.
If you are not aware of his songs, a simple YouTube search will leave you flabbergasted that most of the songs that you have been humming were composed by him.
Every college boy who is a fan of Hindi film songs and in love, must have experienced the emotions in Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai… (Kabhi Kabhie, 1976), Na jaane kya hua, jo tune choo liya (Dard, 1981), Thehriye hosh mein aa loon toh chale jaayiyega (Mohabbat Isko Kahete Hain, 1965) and many more.
Or if you are down in the dumps, you might relate with, Woh subah kabhi to aayegi…(Phir Subah Hogi, 1958) or Baharon, mera jeevan bhi savaaro… (Aakhri Khat, 1966).
Smiling his usual gentle smile as we settled down for a chat, he observed, “So you have been listening to these songs?”
That was my fan moment. I told him that my mother was also a great fan of Shyam-e-gham ki kasam, aaj ghamgeen hai hum… sung by Talat Mahmood in the 1953 film Foot Path or Tum apna ranjo gham, apni pareshani mujhe de do… sung by his wife, Jagjit Kaur, for the film Shagoon (1964).
Reminiscing over those days, sitting cross-legged in his comfort chair at his residence in Juhu, the legendary composer had said, “Making music then was magic. A team of more than 50 instrumentalists practiced for days, and if there were retakes, the entire song was recorded. Never did we do a cut paste or dubbing job.”
Commenting on the current scenario, the legend said, “Unfortunately, today, the system has changed so much. In a duet song, each singer sings separately, and many times, they don’t even know the other singer! People don’t have the time, nor do they have the patience to imbibe the teharaon (steadiness) of a raag (scale or pattern of notes).”
Remembering their years spent discussing music, films, and poetry, another legendary music composer, Anandji, of the famous Kalyanji-Anandji duo, told me, “Khayyam ji started as a music composer way back in 1948. And to have lasted in this industry for so long (he had last composed music for the film Bazaar-E-Husn in 2014) showed his talent, his patience, and his love for his craft.”
Singer and music composer, Suresh Wadkar, remembers Khayyam ji, telling me, “He was a perfectionist! He made us do retakes of the entire song many times and that too with his big eyes smiling, beguilingly and encouragingly saying, ‘It was a good take. But let’s just do one more take for safety,’ until he was satisfied. In fact, when we heard the finished product, we too felt happy with our work.”
Suresh Wadkar sang few songs for the legendary composer like Jab se dekha hai tumhe aise lagta hai mera from the film Dil… Aakhir Dil Hai (1982).
According to Wadkar, no other composer has composed as many songs in Raag Pahaadi as Khayyam ji. “I would say 80 per cent of his songs were based on that raag. But none of them sounded similar. Keeping the raag intact, he gave a different twist and feel to every song.”
Some of his songs based on this scale are—Parbaton ke pedon par and Tum aapna ranjo gham (Shagoon), Aaja re aaja re mera dilbar aaja (Noorie, 1979), Chhookar raat sulaye (Raziya Sultan), among others.
Anandji recalled that Khayyam was particular about his films. “The story had to suit his music. If a director came to him with the story and he realised that the story would suit us, he would call us and say, ‘Aaja yaar. Tumhari picture hai yeh. (Please come. This film is right for you.)’ My brother Kalyanji would gently chide him and ask if he had a disagreement with the director, and he would laugh in his gentle way. Khayyam was never greedy, nor would he accept a project just because it was offered to him.”
He continues to tell me that the legend never got angry or upset, that he had immense patience to make them sing the sur he wanted. “He was particular about the pronunciations of the words in the lyrics, and would gently smile with those furrows between his eyebrows and urge us to do what he wanted.”
He was awarded the National Award for his music direction for the film Umrao Jaan (1981). In fact, Asha Bhosle too was awarded the National Award for the song Dil cheez kya hai from the same film.
In a telephonic interview after the death of ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan, Khayyam ji told me about the importance of correct pronunciation of words. He had said, “Mehdi Hassan knew every word he sang. He knew which word to emphasise and how much to do it. Aur unki gayeki mein laya-kari bhi bohot acchi thi (He would play with rhythm beautifully while singing.) It made his ghazals come alive. And he also knew who understood his music. Every concert, my wife and I attended, he would always dedicate at least one song to her.”
Recognising his greatness, the Government of Maharashtra accorded him full State Honours at his funeral. Poet lyricist Javed Akhtar aptly summarised the legend of Khayyam in the following words, “In the film industry, after the death of a certain person, we normally say, ‘an era ended today’. But with Khayyam passing away, very truly, an era ended today. He belonged to the era where sur, taal, alfaaz played great importance in music. With him ended this era!”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)