“Khayyam Saab was like my father and he loved me like a son. I feel the loss deeply. I was at his bedside all through his illness. I actually watched him go and I witnessed a golden era come to an end. Khayyam Saab was a perfectionist. I remember the ghazal Nagma-e-Jaan Saaz-e-Dil that I recorded with him for Gautam Ghose’s Yatra where he made me give 20 takes after which he was satisfied. But my most memorable song with Khayyam Saab was Phir chhidi raat baat phoolon ki in the film Bazaar in 1982. I was young and for the first time was going to be singing with the one and only Lata Mangeshkar. The recording was at Bombay Lab and the recording engineer was Sharmaji.
A very imposing and senior person with a stern look who reputedly was so senior that I heard he could ask Lataji also to do a retake. Anyway, as you know we recorded live with the full orchestra outside in the main hall. The singers’ booth was quite spacious, but you could not see the recording room through the glass. Khayyam Saheb made me rehearse for almost two weeks for this song at his residence. I was nervous as I would be singing live in the studio with Lata ji and a whole 60 piece orchestra and if I made one mistake then everyone would have to do a re-take. And they used to record on 35 mm film-reels because the audio part of the film could take the broad sound. Lataji came and we stood in the singer’s room ready for the take.
I blurted out, “I am very nervous.”
Lataji very sweetly said to me, “Why? You are such a good singer”.
And without realizing what I was doing I asked her, “How do you know that? You haven’t heard me sing”. And I almost bit my tongue realising that was not expected of a raw kid. She smiled sweetly and said, “I heard you on the TV show Aarohi and you sing nicely”.
She was being supportive to a rank-newcomer and that was her greatness. She also cautioned me that Khayyam Saheb is a perfectionist and famous for his “one more safety-take” so I better be prepared for it.
The recording started and after a number of takes Khayyam Saab’s voice came over the headphone “Wah Lata ji kya mast hai! Wah!”.
Lataji just smiled sweetly and softly said under her breath.
“Now he will come and ask for a safety take”.
And lo and behold Khayyam Saheb on cue opened the door of the singers’ room and walked in praising her, “Wah Wah! Kya baat hai Lataji kya baat hai. Lekin please ek aur safety take”.
I didn’t know what to say when Lataji looked at me with that knowing look which said,“See, what did I tell you”.
This ghazal has become so iconic that even singers like Mehdi Hasan Saab, my Guru said I had sung well. This appreciation from such personalities was and is a great compliment although I still feel that I sound raw in that recording but it was the combined genius of Khayyam and the Nightingale of India which helped me sound okay.”