A Story of Coincidence and Magic: Songs by Jan Nisar Akhtar and Khayyam

Both writer and poet Jan Nisar Akhtar and musician Khayyam were born on the same date, February 18, and incidentally died on the same date, August 19.

Jan Nisar Akhtar (February 18, 1914–August 19, 1976).
Khayyam (February 18, 1927–August 19, 2019).

Mohammed Zahur Khayyam Hashmi, better known as Khayyam. Photo: CC BY 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

कब तेरे हुस्न से इनकार किया है मैने
ज़िंदगी तुझसे बहुत प्यार किया है मैने

Destiny or chance sometimes can really make you wonder. Chance meetings can lead to collaborations that can weave magic that touches human lives unlike anything else. One such form of magic that is the result of pure artistic collaboration is music and, more specifically, film songs.

It has a rare hold on the public and, especially, in the context of modern India, it is known to not only impact the zeitgeist, but also be relevant for a long time as a symbol or marker of its times.

Jan Nisar Akhtar and Khayyam’s has been one such magical collaboration.

अशआर मिरे यूं तो ज़माने के लिए हैं
कुछ शेर फ़क़त उनको सुनाने के लिए हैं

Destiny brought them to Mumbai from two different corners and around the same time. Akhtar, the poet, arrived in Mumbai in 1949 from Central India (Gwalior), while Khayyam, the melody maker, had just landed in Mumbai a few months earlier in 1948 from Lahore.

Although the two were unrelated, unconnected, and represented two different forms, they had a few things in common when it came to artistic sensibilities.

गुनगुनाती रहीं मेरी तनहाइयाँ
दूर बजती रहीं कितनी शहनाइयाँ
ज़िंदगी ज़िंदगी को बुलाती रही

Both Akhtar and Khayyam had a strong focus on poetic and melodic expressions, had a similar element of romanticism, and had the commitment to create art that was closer to the lives of the common man and to social causes, like this non-film anthem they had created:

महाराष्ट्र की खाक से, दिल्ली की अर्ज़-ए-पाक से
बंगाल से गुजरात से, कश्मीर के बागात से.
नेफ़ा से राजस्थान से, पुर्ख़ां के हिंदुस्तान से
आवाज़ दो, आवाज़ दो हम एक हैं, हम एक हैं

The creative collaboration of the duo started with a non-film song with Mukesh in 1950 and continued for the next 25 years, up to Razia Sultan in the 80s [released a few years after the demise of Akhtar]. In their journey together, the duo may not have been so prolific or may not have garnered commercial success, but most of their creations have left an eternal impact on their listeners. Like Kabban Mirza announces in this film:

जाने यह कौन मेरी रूह को छूकर ग़ुज़रा
एक क़यामत हुई बेदार, ख़ुदा ख़ैर करे

Both the artists were inclined towards rootedness, giving traditional and classical treatment to their individual works. They also used their experimental approach in the modern times. Just like the master and the craftsmen work together to make an exceptional piece of art, the two have created innumerable cinematic masterpieces.

The masterstroke of a pause for a silence in the melodious ‘Aye-Dil-E-Nadan‘ (‘ऐ दिल-ए-नादान’) showcases their nonpareil understanding of the medium.

ये ज़मीं चुप है, आसमां चुप है
फिर ये धड़कन सी, चार सू क्या है

The duo had an eye and heart for nature, and the way they brought the elements of nature together with human emotions is way beyond description. One just needs to close their eyes, then listen, and simply cherish the beauty of the notes and the words..

क़तरा- क़तरा पिघलता रहा आस्माँ
रूह की वादियों में न जाने कहाँ
इक नदी… इक नदी दिलरुबा गीत गाती रही

Jan Nisar and Khayyam were excellent artists in isolation, too. Both were masters of their respective pursuits. But when destiny brought them together, they created magic. Magic that was timeless.

तुम महकती जवाँ चाँदनी हो चलती फिरती कोई रोशनी हो
रंग भी रूप भी रागिनी भी जो भी सोचूँ तुम्हें तुम वही हो

This song from the film titled Pyase Dil, sung by Mukesh, is an example of how films might get forgotten but the songs, they live on forever.

And here’s one final part of the two legends’ lives and times.

आप यूँ फ़ासलों से गुज़रते रहे
दिल से कदमों की आवाज़ आती रही
आहटों से अंधेरे चमकते रहे
रात आती रही रात जाती रही

We are sure that the collaboration is continuing in the other world enthralling different set of audiences as we continue to cherish the work they have left behind for us.

Raajaysh Chetwal is an independent filmmaker.