Maestro Khayyam lived and breathed like all of us mortals at sea level, but his soul somehow was always connected with the mountains. Why would he otherwise compose most of his songs based on Raaga Pahadi? Despite almost all mainstream Bollywood composers using that Raaga for their compositions sometime or the other, why would only one composer’s name become the Raaga’s “trademark”?
Raaga Pahadiis a popular raga based on folk music. As its name suggests, it originates from the mountainous region of the Himalayas and has also been associated with Kashmiri folk melody. It is a simple light raaga and resembles more like a ‘dhun’, and yet, a purified and dignified treatment elevates it to the rightful, lofty and esteemed stature of an exquisite raaga — beautiful, intense, elegant and delicate. Its aesthetic spirit is radically distinctive. Yet, it is not considered a major raaga in the sense of Darbari, Yaman, Bhairvi, Kedar and others.
Khayyam’s fascination for this raaga accompanied him during his entire 50+ years of his professional career and his delicate and soulful music must have invariably touched the souls of anyone who had a ear for music. The maestro’s style had the touch of ghazal, but was rooted in Indian classical music. The compositions were soulful, melodious and emotional, the songs rich in poetry and purpose and the overall style noticeably different from the popular brand of music in those days, which used to be either semi-classical, ghazal or light and peppy.
Beyond his obsession with Raaga Pahadi, what distinguished Khayyam’s music was the superior quality of poetry in all his songs. For him, the purpose of music was to make the lyrics come alive. He had the sagacity to keep his tunes simple, instruments at a minimal and through his style, carved out his own special niche in the music industry dominated by stalwarts like S D Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, Naushad, O P Nayyar, and later R D Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji.
During his extensive professional career, Khayyam worked with no less than 80 lyricists, notably with Sahir Ludhianvi, Janisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Shehryar and in later years with Nida Fazli, Gulzar and perhaps most extensively with Naqsh Lyallpuri. He recorded more songs in the voice of Asha Bhosle than with Lata Mangeshkar, though his wife Jagjeet Kaur was not far behind. With male singers, he worked with many, but Mohammad Rafi and Talat Mahmood lent their voices far more than Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor and Kishore Kumar, with others.
In a recent Tweet, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar stated that Khayyam has many great songs to his name, but just the Sahir Ludhianvi-penned “Woh subah kabhi to aayegi” from Phir Subah Hogi would be “enough to make him immortal.”
Inspired by that tribute, I sat down with Khayyam’s sterling anthology compiled passionately by Vishwas Berurkar and Bishwanath Chatterjee and while cherry-picking from 600+ songs was not easy, I still attempted to shake them down to extract my own Pahadi-charged favorite list.
- Shaam-e-gham ki qasam – Majrooh/Ali Sardar jafri
- Woh subha kabhi to aayegi – Sahir Ludhianvi
- Phir na kijiye neri gustakh nihgahi ka gila – Sahir Ludhianvi
- Hai kali kali ke lab par tere husn ka – Kaifi Azmi
- Pyas kuch aur bhi bhadka ki jhalak dikhla ke – Kaifi Azmi
- Jaane kya dhoondati rehti hain ye ankhen – Kaifi Azm
- Jeet hi lenge baazi hum tum, khel adhura – Kaifi Azmi
- Parbaton ke pedon par, shaam ka basera hai- Sahir Ludhianvi
- Tum apna ranj-o-gham, apni pareshani – Sahir Ludhianvi
- Kuch ajnabo se aap hein, kuch ajnabo se hum- SahirLudhianvi
- Baharon mera jivan bhi sanvaro – Kaifi Azmi
- Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai – Sahir Ludhianvi
- Chori chori koi aye – Lata – Khayyam : Janisar Akhtar
- Aa ja re, aa je re o mere dilbar aaja Film: Janisar Akhtar
- Aasman pe hai Khudaayr zameen pe hum – Sahir Ludhianvi
- Tehriye hosh mein aa loon to – Majrooh Sultanpuri
- Mere ghar ayee ek nannhi pari –Sahir Ludhianvi
- Na jaane kya hua – Naqsh Lyallpuri
- Aye dil-e-naadan – Janisar Akhtar
- Hazar raahein mud ke dekhien – Gulzar
- Barse phuaar barse phuaar – Gulzar
- Ye Mulaqaat ik bahana hai – Naqsh Lyallpuri
- Jalta hai badan – Kaifi Azmi
- Tujh se hoti bhi to kiya – Shehryar
- Kab yaad mein tera sath nahi – Faiz Ahmed Faiz
- Dikhai diye yoon ke bekhud kiya – Mir Taqi Mir
- Dil cheez kya hai – Shehryar
- In ankhon ki masti ke – Shehryar
- Justuju jiski thi usko to na paya – Shehryar
- Ye kya jageh hai dosto – Shehryar
“If there was no Khayyam saheb, there would be no Rekha,” declared Umrao Jaan’s alluring leading lady at an award function some years ago. “You gave me an identity,” an indebted Rekha said to Khayyam on stage, amidst loud cheering.
Muzaffar Ali’s much-celebrated literary realism and painting of the Awadhi culture with Umrao Jaanremains one of Khayyam’s most towering achievements. Set to tune over Shaheryar’s soulful poetry, Umrao Jaanfeatures the unbeatable team of Rekha and Asha Bhosle. Rekha’s elegant kathak-inspired mujras, have reigned supreme in the imagination of millions of movie-goers. No doubt that with Umrao Jaan, Khayyam introduced a fascinating new aspect of Asha Bhosle, in the form of ghazals (adding new octaves and a unique velvety texture to her voice).
Understandably, when Khayyam had taken on the mammoth task of providing the musical score for Umrao Jaan, he had no idea that one day the film’s music would stand on the same platform as Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah. Bollywood’s history will testify that what Mughal-e-Azam was to Madhubala and Pakeeza to Meena Kumari, it would be Umrao Jaan for Rekha.
Only 50 odd films across musical career spanning five decades is a reflection of Khayyam’s preference of quality over quantity. Great composers came and went, but Khayyam stood his ground and stayed on so much longer. The monumental work that he has left behind qualifies him to stand at par with other master composers like SD Burman, Madan Mohan, Shankar-Jaikishan, OP Nayyar, Anil Biswas, C Ramchandra, Roshan, Salil Chowdhery and others.
As a person, Khayyam was a fascinating person and expressions complimented his words well, a person who conducted himself with grace and style. His body language, gestures and expressions, always complemented his words. No person in Bollywood was openly more secular than him. A Muslim marrying a Sikh Jageet Kaur was one of the earliest secular marriages of Bollywood in the 1950s, which they cemented by giving their only son a Hindu name – Pradeep.
They say whatever one speaks does not dissipate, but travels into space, towards infinity. At some point of time, we may be able to pick up the airwaves and retrieve those sounds. I hope technology makes it happen in our lifetime. For now, though, we are fortunate to be left with the legacy of immortal melodies created by composers such as Khayyam, surely the last of the maestros from the golden age. We have no way to thank him enough, except pray for his soul perched on some mountain top up there, composing a melody in his favorite Raaga Pahadi.
Jo badakash thay puranay vo uthte jate hein
Kaheen say aab e baqai e dawaam laa saaqi