The word 'Khayyam' is the plural of Turkish singular word 'Khema' (tent). Though it may sound rather unexciting, it also has a delicate meaning in Arabic: A beloved tip-toeing to meet her clandestine lover in the wee hours of the morning...
Verily, late Khayyam's music tip-toed into the crevices of soul. Have you listened to the soulfully lilting numbers, “Thehriye, hosh mein aa loon toh chale jaiyega”, “Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hain yeh aankhen mujh mein,” “Baharo mera jeevan bhi sanwaro”, to name but a few? These magnificent numbers were composed by Mohammed Zahur Khayyam Hashmi, better known as 'Khayyam'. He once said, 'Ek naghme ko bhala aur kya chahiye? Faqat, ek dil ko choo lene wali dhun, sahi alfaaz ka intikhaab aur ek behatareen aawaaz' (What else does a number need? Just, a beautiful composition, choice of apt words and a wondrous voice).
His unforgettable compositions amply vindicated his definition of a nice song. Khayyam was a minimalist in the sense that he didn't believe in the assortment of musical instruments. He once told me, “Saaz ke shor mein dab jaati hai aawaaz/ Parinda-e-naghme ko chahiye buland parvaaz” (The voice is lost in the cacophony of instruments/ The bird of a song wants to soar high in the sky). When he composed the music for Kaifi's immortal number, 'Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hain yeh aankhen mujh mein' (Shola aur Shabnam, 1961), he used only four instruments to bring out the vocal pathos of Rafi and Dharmendra on the screen.
Among all the past composers in the classical mould, Khayyam was distinct in the context of long preludes. Just listen to his evergreen number, 'Baharo mera jeevan bhi sanwaro' (Aakhri Khat, 1966, Lyricist: Kaifi Azmi, Singer: Lata Mangeshkar). Based on raag Pahadi, the second longest prelude (1 minute 13 seconds) in Indian film music has the rarest combination of Ustad Rais Khan on a Sitar, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma on a Santoor and Hariprasad Chaurasia on a flute. The song still sounds eerily beautiful. It was Khayyam's faith in the untrained voice of his spouse Jagjeet Kaur that he made her sing one of the loveliest numbers: Tum apna ranj-o-gham, apni pareshani mujhe de do (Film: Shagoon, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi, 1964).
Though he composed music for just 54 films, it's not the number but the musical timbre he's known for. Khayyam had a good voice, but he knew his limitations. Yet, he had to sing a couple of non-filmi songs in deference to Kaifi Azmi's insistence. Those numbers are on the worn-out LPs at Film Archives, Poona. No one has any idea that Khayyam could sing as well. But if you listen to those numbers, you may feel that the man could have sung for movies as well. Though people remember him for Umrao Jaan's scores, he himself thought that his best was Aakhri Khat (Rajesh Khanna's first released film in 1966). All the songs of this movie were hauntingly beautiful. Recall, 'Aur kuch der thehar', 'Rut jawaan-jawaan raat meherbaan' (Bhupendra Singh's first solo) and Lata's immortal, 'Baharo mera jeevan bhi sanwaro...'
The connoisseurs will remember him for that incredibly beautiful nazm, 'Kahin ek masoom nazuk-si ladki' (Shankar Hussain, Lyricist: Kamal Amrohi, 1977) or 'Simti hui yeh ghadiyan phir se na bikhar jaaye' (Chambal ki Kasam, Rafi/Lata, Sahir Ludhianvi). Khayyam never believed in quantity. His stress was always on quality and that's the reason, he could compose such soul-gladdening numbers that still enthral the hearts and minds of the cognoscenti.
(The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, cultures, religions and civilisations. He teaches linguistics, psycho-linguistics and philology at world’s premier varsities and contributes to world’s leading publications and portals in various languages.)