Khayyam: A Humble Maestro Who Inspired Rafi, Lata & Countless More
Legendary music composer Mohammed Zahur 'Khayyam' Hashmi passed away at the age of 92 in a Mumbai hospital on Monday, 19 August. Khayyam was a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Bhushan.
For Khayyam, born 18th February 1927, music was nothing less than worship. He might have only 50 films to his credit, but the impact that Khayyam’s music had on his listeners is immeasurable.
The composer, lyricist and writer started his music career in Ludhiana in 1943 at the age of 17. Legend goes that Raj Kapoor first made Khayyam tune a tanpura to gauge his dexterity, and after listening impassively to five compositions, came back with a stream of compliments along with the request that all five be taken in Phir Subah Hogi (1958).
Khayyam never kept a team of assistants and always credited his success to his beloved wife Jagjit Kaur, applauding her as his greatest strength and inspiration. At one point, he had even contemplated composing under the ‘Khayyam Jagjit Kaur’ label, to express his gratitude for her invaluable creative inputs, but she vetoed his decision.
Even Mohammad Rafi was a devout disciple of Khayyam’s. Apart from following all his stringent conditions, he never took a telephone call or a message during their practice sessions. Begum Akhtar publicly acknowledged that she had never sung better than what Khayyam managed to get out of her. His composition of Meena Kumari’s poetry I Write, I Recite gave the legendary actress a new dimension in the collective consciousness. Khayyam was especially fond of Lata Mangeshkar and treated her like a little sister.
In 1981, he composed music for Umrao Jaan, ranked among the all time best Bollywood films and considered the jewel in the crown of Khayyam's compositions, for which he bagged the National Award, and also a Filmfare Award, besides a string of other honours.
The credit for Asha Bhosle’s phenomenal singing in Umrao Jaan goes to Khayyam’s ingenuity of making her adopt a slightly lower scale. Initially, Asha refused to sing but gave in when Khayyam insisted that he’d submit to her demand, but only after she’d heard the new tonal quality of her vocals. Later, astonished by her own ‘new’ voice, Asha not only apologised but also complimented Khayyam for ‘improving her singing’.
Even as recently as 2017 Khayyam only thought of paving the way for future musicians. On his 90th birthday, the maestro announced the formation of a charity trust named ‘Khayyam Jagjeet Kaur Charitable Trust’, through which he pledged to donate his entire wealth (valued at around Rs 10 Crore) to help struggling artists and technicians in the Hindi film industry.
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