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Tributes pour in from all quarters for Khayyam ‘saab’

Lyricists, singers, poets and more express their admiration for the legendary composer’s body of work

Nasreen Munni Kabir; filmmaker and author

I met Khayyam saab in 1990 when I was making a six-part documentary on Lata Mangeshkar titled “Lata in her own Voice’ for Channel 4 TV, UK and had requested this wonderful composer to let us film his interview. He asked us to his home and gave generously of his time.

When I asked him to talk about Lataji, he said, “Many of the film songs I composed and Lataji sang were big hits. I’m thinking of ‘Bahaaron mera jeevan bhi sanwaro’ from the film Aakhri Khat directed by Chetan Anand. And of course there were many other songs.

Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie was a love story, set in the world of poetry. I did not explain to her in great detail what I wanted, but she kept the tone I had wanted — the song’s heart and soul are heard through her voice. I have no hesitation in saying that Kabhi Kabhie was the first of my films that enjoyed tremendous success — it celebrated a diamond jubilee. Before that I did not have a jubilee hit film. Sahir Sahib wrote such beautiful lyrics, including in Kabhi Kabhie. Children, young people and even the old still sing the title song.

A most unusual composer, Khayyam Sahib’s songs are deeply embedded in us. The very first notes of most of his songs can be immediately recognised — proof of his unique and unforgettable musical style.

Rajshekhar; lyricist

Khayyam saab’s solidity and a sense of sang froid were the most amazing qualities about him. Neither an overwhelming desire to race ahead of others, nor the fear of getting left behind. This composure was his unique equation with his times.

Very reassuring and graceful in his music, he was in some kind of a dialogue with individual moments. Time comes along like an instrument along side the tune. It’s like a character with its entire being, with all its musical and lyrical possibilities. In the lines from Aye dil-e-nadaan in Razia Sultan there is the line “Ye zameem chhup hai, aasman chhup hai” (The earth and the sky are both quiet). There is silence on either side of the sentence. The instrument coming to a halt, words on a pause, it seems like the pulse is dipping, fading away. Then slowly the question emerges… “Phir ye dhadkan si chaarsu kya hai”… (Then how is the heart pacing frantically in all the four directions)… And we catch our breath. The silence in the song still speaks to you. The song may come to a stop but the quietude doesn’t. It stays at the back of your mind like a bookmark.

All this [done] without any sloganeering or claim, with just grace.

In these restless times, in the midst of the cacophony that surrounds us Khayyam is even more of a necessity to make us understand when to have a say and when to keep quiet. At least someone should say “Thehre hue palon mein Zamane bitaye hain” (Ages have been spent in these moments resting on a pause).

Yunus Khan; RJ and music expert

Khayyam saab had been a regular visitor to Vividh Bharati. He had also been a part of some musical programmes I anchored on stage. Last I met him was at a programme on 50 years of Usha Khanna though I didn’t get to talk to him much at that time. I had done several interactions and recordings with him on phone…

No other person could have been as soft as him. He had tehzeeb (culture, refinement) and saleeka (manners). Unki zubaan sunke hi mazaa aa jaata tha (Just hearing him talk was gratifying).

As a professional he never compromised with his principles. His songs may have been small in number. But you could never point a finger at the quality of his work. He never composed for the heck of it. Each of his creations was better than the other.

What was remarkable about the instrumentation in his work was that he used the instruments prudently. With little he created a lot. The melody flowed throughout. He also experimented and researched minutely on each of his songs. Each album had a different style to it.

His non-film albums are not talked about as much as they should be spoken of, such as the Daag Mir Ghalib albums. He did priceless ones with Rafi when Rafi was not quite happy with his film work. He did non-film albums with Mukesh and Asha Bhonsle. In the aftermath of the Sino-Indian war of 1962 the government of India had called for songs to boost the spirit of the soldiers and the nation. Most of us remember Lata Mangeshkar-Kavi Pradeep-CRamachandra’s “Aye mere watan ke logo”. Khayyam saab had created Awaaz do hum Ek hain with Jaan Nisar Akhtar and Rafi.

My personal favourite of his is Tera hijr mera naseeb hai in Razia Sultan.

Muzaffar Ali; filmmaker, poet and artiste

Khayyam saab was a great composer. I was reeling under Shaam-e-Gham when I first met him. Nobody would have worked as long and with as much detail as Khayyam saab, Shahryar and I did on Umrao Jaan. It took us two years to arrive at the lyrics and compositions and to get something different out of it [the soundtrack] with Ashaji. We broke out of the Bollywood tone and tenor to bring alive the Awadh of yesteryears. He used to live next door and Shahryar used to live at my place in Juhu and it was like the daily routine to go to office. The incubation period of the music was the most intense creative phase together that can’t be repeated.

We continued working together after that. In Anjuman Shabana Azmi, Khayyam and his wife Jagjit Kaur, all sang. It was a landmark film that made a relevant point but didn’t reach a wider audience and was musically awesome.

We worked again in Zooni [incomplete]. It was again recorded with Ashaji. The music of Zooni is too good to be released without visuals. Someday, it will happen. It is too beautiful not to be heard.

We became a trio for this kind of musical expression in cinema that was different from the usual. I was told he would be a difficult man but was so pliable. Working with him was the most joyful experience for me.

Varun Grover; lyricist, writer and standup comic

There are very few composers whose ‘best of’ playlist might include 80 per cent of their entire filmography. Khayyam saab was one of them. Go through his works and you can see, in a great testament to free will, he created sublime masterpieces only.

As a kid, at the age when I had never seen deserts or pain as vast as them, his composition for Ae Dil E Nadaan with Jan Nisar Akhtar’s words for Razia Sultan transported me there.

His choice of unconventional voices (Kabban Mirza in Khuda khair kare, Jagjit Kaur in Tum Apna Ranjo-gham, Babban Khan in Achha unhein dekha hai, and even Asha Bhosle in Umrao Jaan, as opposed to the traditional choice Lata ji), ghazal-numa compositions, and insistence on great poetry to accompany his music (Kabhie Kabhie, Umrao Jaan, Bazaar, Shankar Hussein, Noorie etc) pierced the established skies of norms to show us the worlds lying beyond.

Swanand Kirkire; lyricist, singer, writer and actor

Khayyam saab had a deep sense of poetry. He could get the lyricist’s point of view so the melodies never over powered lyrics. Words and emotions flow in the music. Despite being traditional he had a subtle sense of modernity. He made some of the most difficult compositions sound easy.

I love Tum apna ranj-o-gham. It’s the kind of song that stays with you for life. Bazaar and Razia Sultan had some time wonderful music. But my all time favourite is Umrao Jaan. Asha Bhonsle, Khayyam And Shahryar were magic together.

Hussain Haidry; lyricist and poet

My first memory of listening to Khayyam Saab’s music is perhaps also my first memory of knowing that music can be listened to as a hobby, too. My uncle, then a man in his early twenties, used to listen to the cassette of Bazaar on loop on his Walkman. The first song I got to listen on headphones (reward for good behaviour?) was Phir Chhidi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki. I did not understand the poetry in it. But the smooth lilt in the composition of the opening lines remained etched in my memory for years to come. It was a recall of the Walkman moment every time I heard it somewhere.

Until I got to twenties myself, I had seen Khayyam Saab several times as a judge on SaReGaMa. I had realized he was a living legend: the man behind many songs that had begun to be referred to as “classics”. The list of songs that I heard just once to remember the melody forever was illustrious: Ae Dil-e-NaadaaN, Hazaar RaaheiN, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar, Ye Kya Jagah Hai DostoN, Dikhaai Diye YuN, Zindagi Jab Bhi, Mohabbat Bade Kaam Ki Cheez Hai, Kabhi-Kabhi Mere Dil Mein. These weren’t just “hit” songs. I’d seen my grandparents stop the surfing of channels, listen to these songs with reverence — and I would listen alongside.

Another thing that struck me over the years, was a very sound understanding of Urdu Poetry in almost all of his songs. The range of stellar poets he’d worked with — Jaa’ Nisaar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Shahryaar — may have been enviable for composers of his times. I remember seeing a documentary where Khayyam Saab was interviewed and he showed a diary gifted to him by Shakeel Badayuni. It contained Shakeel Badayuni’s last few unpublished poems and ghazals. What a treasure to have!

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