One of the beauties of life is the unforeseen ways it often comes full circle. Talat Aziz, then a shy youngster still living in Hyderabad, was serendipitously invited to sing for a private mehfil In Bandra where the legendary Suraiyya arrived with a close friend Jagjit Kaur and her husband. That evening Talat came into his own and so mesmerised the gathering that an impressed Suraiyya walked up to Kaur's husband and urged him to give a break to the young man. It was a promise that Khayyam never forgot but he made Talat wait for almost three years before he summoned him to a recording studio - because he wanted to give him a song that he felt was special. And it truly was. To this day, Talat acknowledges that despite singing a number of wildly popular ghazals and songs in the last 33 years, Zindagi jab bhi teri bazm mein from Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan remains the defining moment of his career. Yesterday it was Talat's turn to invite Khayyam to a recording studio in Andheri where he brought in the legendary composers 88th birthday.
He's not been keeping well, but he made the trek for his protégé. It turns out that the radio show anchored by Talat called Caravan-e-Ghazal was the first detailed interview of Khayyam's life and times. Hours almost melted away as the incredibly modest Khayyam reminisced his five decade in the industry, never once taking credit for the compositions that gave stalwart singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mehmood and Mukesh the chance to immortalise themselves in the Hindi music industry. Whether it's the lilting melodies of Kabhi Kabhi, the haunting tunes of Bazaar or the unforgettable songs of Razia Sultan, what made Khayyam stand out was the soulfulness of his music. So insistent was he about only composing for good poetry, that he was known to personally call up so-called rival composers like Kalyanji-Anandji to give away projects that didn't inspire him. "He was a perfectionist. I can vouch that he was perhaps the only composer who could ask Lataji for a retake - and she would oblige," said Talat.
Incidentally, Talat's big break would have come two years before Umrao Jaan but the film for which he recorded a duet with Lata never saw the light of day. "In Hollywood, the whole industry would have come together to honour a composer of his calibre and stature. But this is Bollywood..."