Born in the Punjab of British India, Khayyam received training in classical Indian music under Pandit Amarnath, and assisted Baba Chishti, before moving to Mumbai to make his debut with Heer Ranjha in 1948.
The most an artist can hope for is that their legacy transcends epochs. But, timelessness is an honour history bestows only a few, such is the rarity of artistic genius that imbues art with the ability to evoke awe and admiration even generations after its debut. Mohammed Zahur Hashmi, popularly known, in the Hindi music industry, as Khayyam, or Khayyam sa’ab, in deference to his calibre as a music composer, belonged to that elite breed assured of immortality. Khayyam died Monday, aged 92, in Mumbai, battling serious illnesses over a mericfully short period. If the lyrics gave Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein from Kabhie Kabhie (1976), and In aankhon ki masti from Umrao Jaan (1981)—both albums won him Filmfare Awards for Best Music—the exalted standing of poetry, the music that Khayyam set these songs to makes them immortal. Khayyam’s four-decade-long career birthed compositions that can only be described as sublime. Born in the Punjab of British India, Khayyam received training in classical Indian music under Pandit Amarnath, and assisted Baba Chishti, before moving to Mumbai to make his debut with Heer Ranjha in 1948.
The Padma Bhushan recipient worked with some of the biggest names in Hindi music—his first big break, in 1950, came from a song sung by Mohammed Rafi; he regularly set Sahir Ludhianvi’s words to music; it was Khayyam’s songs that established Asha Bhonsle, more famous till then for her fast-paced numbers, as a serious singer; and Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, and Lata Mangeshkar regularly gave voice to his compositions. The magic of Khayyam’s melodies came, in large part, from their uniqueness, highlighted by his use of classical Indian sounds—at a time when his contemporaries were experimenting with Western ones—to weave intensity into words. That genius perhaps will be impossible to replicate.