Jaidev – Loneliness of Unsung Music

A few months ago, one day I was sitting in A.R. Rahman’s Chennai Recording studio. I was there to record an advertisement song for which I had written the lyrics. Its music director is a prominent film music director in Kannada films today. He appeared to be interested in vintage Hindi film songs. We were discussing great Hindi film songs of the by-gone era. We were enjoying ourselves singing the golden oldies turn by turn. And then suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of an argument about the composer of a particular song.

The Kannada music director was absolutely certain that S.D. Burman was the composer of the mesmerizing song ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhodkar’. But I knew that S.D. Burman had nothing at all to do with that song. Our music director paid no heed to what I was saying and swore that he breathed and lived by Hindi film songs. Konkan was his place of birth and he had lived in Bombay for a long time. He questioned me how I could know anything at all about vintage Hindi film music, because I am hailing from a hamlet in Kerala which had not had even a hint of Hindi!

The intensity of argument brought A.R. Rahman’s assistants, opening the thick doors of recording studio and peering out. Till then, the director of the advertisement film was a silent witness to all the arguments flying back and forth. He now butted in and asked me as to who, according to me, was the composer of the song. In fact, and not merely according to me, the song ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar’ is from the film Hum Dono released in 1963. All the songs in the film were immortal melodies and super hits of all time. They were all composed by Jaidev. But our music director had not even heard the name Jaidev. ‘Who is he?’ he asked in a less polite language.

An unpardonable ignorance in a person who is in the field of music. But I could guess the reasoning behind this kind of a wrong crediting. Hum Dono was a Dev Anand film. It was produced by his company Navketan. S.D. Burman was the composer at the court of Navketan. Besides, S.D. Burman was the composer of all the important films of Navketan before and after Hum Dono. The instrumental arrangement of the songs had a familiarity with the orchestration which bear S.D. Burman’s name. Quite a few people have wrongly attributed many of Jaidev’s songs to S.D. Burman and Madan Mohan. It is an irony of life that these kinds of wrong attribution of Jaidev’s songs are more popular than Jaidev himself ever was.

As I have already said, the commonality attributed to Jaidev’s numbers and scores of S.D. Burman and Madan Mohan are both valid and natural. Jaidev was the one who arranged the music and conducted the orchestration for a huge number of S.D. Burman songs and many of Madan Mohan’s songs as well. He had rendered these services as music arranger and conductor to many composers like Khemchand Prakash, Ustad Akbar Ali Khan, Shankar Jaikishen and others.

People who speak of the Golden Age of Hindi film music mostly speak of commercially successful names like Naushad, Shankar Jaikishen, S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal. But there are many composers who established their identities through the uniqueness of their compositions alone. They may not have composed music for a very large number of films. Many of their films might not have succeeded at the box office.

Jaidev had composed music for less than thirty films. The number of songs to his credit may not be more than hundred and fifty. But Jaidev is a name imprinted on the hearts of lovers of vintage Hindi film songs as the genius who gave such fabulous numbers as ‘Kabhi Khud Pe Kabhi Haalaat Pe’, ‘Allah Tero Naam’ and ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar’. ‘Kabhi Khud Pe Kabhi Haalaat Pe’ is among the best ghazal numbers sung by Mohammad Rafi. There are many who rate the Raag Gara number sung by Lata Mangeshkar for Jaidev ‘Allah Tero Naam’ as the best prayer song to have emerged from Indian films. In a recent televised event, Jaidev’s ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar’ was rated both as their favourites and the best Hindi film song ever by today’s stars Shankar Mahadevan and Farhan Akthar.

It is possible that an average listener may identify Jaidev as the only music composer from Hindi films to have won the National award thrice. But the lamentable fact is that this composer of incomparable songs, winner of many state awards and winner of ‘Sur Singar Samsad’ award for Lifetime Achievement in Music remains so unknown to common man that we keep hearing the question, “Jaidev? Who is he?” even from people who love his music!

It was Jaidev who introduced ghazal singer Hariharan to film music in the film Gaman (1979) with the song ‘Ajeeb Saaneha’. This is not merely one of Hariharan’s best songs it has become one of the finest ghazals in Hindi film music. It won the U.P. state award and a nomination for National award for Hariharan. In the film Kinare Kinare, Jaidev brought together four leading singers Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mehmood, Manna Dey and Mukesh to sing a song to be picturised on one character played by Dev Anand. It was an event nobody had tried till then.

Jaidev gave Yesudas some of his best Hindi songs that suited the unique pathos that Yesudas carried in his singing style. He even made him sing for Amitabh Bachhan in Aalaap released in 1977. ‘Zindagi Ko Sawarna Hoga’ and ‘Chand Akela’ with a light classical touch and the sad lullaby ‘Koi Gata Main So Jata’ in this film, were Yesudas’ very important Hindi film songs. Another fine ghazal singer Bhupinder shot to fame with a fabulous Jaidev song from his film Gharonda. Who can forget the depth of feeling that the song ‘Ek Akela Is Shahar Mein’ carried with such conviction? Jaidev’s Gaman also saw the introduction of another important singer, Suresh Wadkar to Hindi films with the classical based ‘Seene Mein Jalan’.

Jaidev had a great infatuation for poems. He set ‘Madhushala’ to scintillating music and popularized it. It was Jnanpith award-winning book of poems written by Harivansh Rai Bachhan, father of Amitabh Bachhan. Manna Dey sang all the songs of this album of poems. Jaidev had also set to music poems of many poets like Maithilisharan Gupta, Nirala and Mahadevi Varma.

Jaidev Verma began as child actor, then continued as a singer, blossomed as a good player of Sarod and finally emerged as a composer in a life that meandered through paths not many ventured, in an entirely lonely journey. Hailing from Punjab, Jaidev was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1918. His father was a low-ranked employee in the Railways there. Jaidev showed great interest in music from a very young age. He played his mouth organ with arresting skill. His parents were more interested in ensuring his formal education. The Kenya of those days had limited facilities for education. Therefore, Jaidev was sent to India for schooling. He traveled alone by ship on months-long journey to India playing his mouth organ all the time. His lonely music journey had started.

After spending a few years at his father’s home in Lahore, Jaidev shifted to his maternal uncle’s home in Ludhiana. His child-less maternal uncle looked after him well. Seeing the boy’s interest in music he sent him to regular classical music classes. Jaidev got to hear and learn from many great exponents of classical and light music at Ludhiana’s famous Harvallabh Mela.

At the age of 14 Jaidev saw a movie for the first time. The film was Alibaba Aur Chhalis Chhor. That experience took such a hold of him that he started seeing many films. A great urge to become an actor possessed him. He ran away from home to Bombay to act in films. But it was not easy for the young boy to find proper chance to act. In those years many boys were running away to Bombay to act in films. It was a time when the film industry had just started to sprout. Opportunities were few and far in between. Jaidev did not have any money with him. He started living off the streets of Bombay as a street boy. Luckily, his father who had just come to India searched for and found him in Bombay. He took him back to Punjab and admitted him to a school.

Love of music kept motivating him. He got a few opportunities of singing in local Radio stations. But, even as these chances came by him, he was struck by an acute bout of Asthma. With that his dreams of making it as a singer got dissolved. Now the desire to act came back to haunt him once more. He again ran away to the city of dreams, Bombay. He joined Wadia Movietone as a stunt actor. Imagine the wisp of a teen-aged boy afflicted by asthma as a stunt-man! He played the role of Narada in the film Vaman Avatar released in 1934. He spent a few years in Bombay doing bit roles in films for a living. Dire penury and asthma drove him back to Ludhiana.

He returned to Bombay at the age of 19 but this time he sought opportunities in music. Realizing that he lacked knowledge in saleable skills in music, he joined and quickly learnt the mores of Hindustani classical music from Jawarkar Brothers of Kirana Gharana. Later he went to Almora in Uttar Pradesh to join an organisation called Sangeet Kendra being run by Pandit Uday Shankar and Ustad Akbar Ali Khan. Trust Jaidev’s luck, the Sangeet Kendra closed within a few days of his arrival! He packed his bags and went to Lucknow with Ustad Akbar Ali Khan to learn playing the Sarod. To Ustad Akbar Ali Khan’s wonder, his young disciple was able to master the difficult instrument Sarod within a year.

Lack of opportunities for his creative ambitions, penury and asthma combined to push him to abandon music. He was assailed by depressing thoughts. “Why I alone am targeted by all grieves?” was the question that kept nagging him. He immersed himself in religion and started frequenting the cottages of sages who offered ‘salvation’ from all problems. But this phase did not last. Realizing that all these people offering instant salvations were frauds, he went back to Ludhiana and spent his days in depressed silence. Jaidev had casually sent an invitation to Ustad Akbar Ali Khan to attend his elder brother’s wedding. But the Ustad turned up unexpectedly for the wedding. On seeing Jaidev’s state of depression, he took him back to Lucknow.

That was how Jaidev came to perform as Sarod artiste accompanying Ustad Akbar Ali Khan on his concerts. He shifted his residence first to Jodhpur in Rajasthan and then to Bombay. In Bombay he became the accredited music artiste of All India Radio and started singing and playing Sarod for All India Radio. Later, he became an assistant to composer Khemchand Prakash who was at the height of his fame with the success of his films like Tansen and Mahal. Khemchand Prakash was the composer of the super-hit song ‘Aayega Aanewala’ in Mahal which was Lata Mangeshkar’s first super-hit song.

This was the time when Jaidev met and got introduced to young composers like Roshan (Grand father of Hrithik Roshan, the lead artiste of Hindi films nowadays) and Madan Mohan. This is a great example of the saying ‘genius finds genius’. Roshan invited Jaidev to sing in his very first film. Once, when Roshan and Jaidev were going together to a film company, they saw Madan Mohan. Roshan was reported to have told Jaidev, “I am going to introduce you to a brilliant young composer”. On introduction, Madan Mohan and Jaidev needed no time at all to become best of friends.

Roshan, Madan Mohan and Jaidev had many similarities. They were rare music geniuses. They were unfailingly great human beings too. Their unquenchable thirst ran to music, languages, literature and wine. None of them were given the importance or prominence that they richly deserved. But they lived their entire lives as friends and supporters. Theirs was a rare friendship in the ‘man eats man’ world of cinema.

In 1951-52, Ustad Akbar Ali Khan became a film music composer by scoring music for Navketan films Aandhian and Hamsafar. He asked Jaidev to be his assistant for the films. But the music was not a commercial success. The films flopped. With that Ustad Akbar Ali Khan packed his bags and left film music for ever but Jaidev was retained by Navketan films as an assistant music director on monthly salary basis.

Navketan invited S.D. Burman to compose music for their next film Taxi Driver. S.D. Burman recognized not only Jaidev’s music arrangement but also his enviable command on Hindi and Urdu. It was a time when S.D. Burman, basically a Bengali, was struggling to come to terms with Hindi and Urdu. From that time Jaidev continued as S.D. Burman’s assistant for most of his films.

In 1955, Jaidev scored music for his first film. It was a small budget film Joru ka Bhai in which Dev Anand’s brother Vijay Anand was in lead. The song ‘Subah ka Intezaar Kaun Kare’ in this film is considered a classic today. The film was a big flop. Then came other small budget films like Samundari Daku and Anjali which had good songs but failed at the box office. The film Anjali is remembered even today for the great number ‘Kis Kis Ko Deepak Pyaar Kare’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

Jaidev earned a reputation of a composer who did not compromise on the quality of song to earn an instant applause. His songs always maintained a high standard of excellence. It may be said that the extraordinary attention to details that he brought to arranging and recording intricate compositions kept him away from achieving mass popularity. Many producers considered him a very great composer but they thought him fit only for small budget films. Such are the contradictions and ironies of filmdom!

But in 1961, Navketan finally gave him a big film Hum Dono starring the then super star Dev Anand. All the six songs of the film turned out to be huge hits. Film also went to become a super hit. Even the light-hearted celebratory number ‘Main Zindagi Ka Sath Nibhatha Chala Gaya’ had well-chiseled music arrangement. I have not heard another film song that has used the rare Germen music instrument Glockenspiel with such extra-ordinary effect. Hum Dono was the greatest success in Jaidev’s film music career. But that alone was the height of his life is the saddest part.

What happened to Jaidev after Hum Dono is the kind of heart-wrenching cruelty that film industry keeps inflicting on its best talents. After the mega success of Hum Dono songs Jaidev was the natural choice of Navketan for their next film Guide starring Dev Anand. Jaidev composed and recorded two brilliant songs and all persons in Navketan management were extremely happy with the songs. But all of a sudden, mysteriously enough Jaidev was thrown out of Guide!

It is said that Dev Anand pressurized Jaidev to work as S.D. Burman’s assistant in Guide. It was a cruel event where a sensitive creative genius like Jaidev was suppressed by the heartless mighty. Jaidev was never again invited by Navketan to compose songs. Dev Anand used both the Jaidev songs in his film Guide. It is said that those two songs were ‘Din Dhal Jaaye’ and ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ sung by Mohammad Rafi. ‘Din Dhal Jaaye’ was composed in Jaidev's favourite Raag Bilawal and ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ in another favourite Raag of him, Gara. Being cast out of Guide was a very big setback in Jaidev’s film music career. He never really recovered from the shock. Jaidev used to frequently narrate such incidents to his friends, wracked by inconsolable grief.

Film world has its own inviolable rules. It needs people who can achieve mass popularity by shortest possible route. Its impatience with geniuses is well known. Geniuses like Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Vasant Desai and Jaidev failed in this race to huge popularity. They did not have the talent to market themselves. What complicated the matter was group politics that acted as a barrier to fresh music entering the industry. True geniuses who blazed their own path overcoming all barriers in our film industry are very few.

Sunil Dutt was a Jaidev fan. When he made his dream Reshma Aur Shera into a film in 1971 he chose Jaidev as its composer. But Jaidev’s beautiful songs which brought out the sweetness of Rajasthani folk music sank with the film. Jaidev had the magical touch that could so beautifully blend the Hindustani classical with India’s rich folk music. Reshma Aur Shera won him the National Award. And later he won two more National awards for the films Gaman and Ankahi. But none of these won him the commercial success that would have assuaged his wounds.

Commercial success eluded him. But his films like Aalaap, Kinare Kinare, Gaman and Gharonda are remembered even today because of his songs crafted with intricate notes of music which stand out without having to shout. Jaidev was able to create classic gems of songs in these films in the company of hitherto unknown voices. Jaidev waited for thirty years, more or less, for the attention of and recognition from big producers and the general public. But he was mercilessly ignored. Like his friend Madan Mohan, Jaidev too wanted to drown his sorrows in liquor. But his continued ill health precluded even that last resort to comfort!

When Madan Mohan died, Jaidev wrote: “I am tempted to believe that Madan Mohan drank heavily because he wanted to commit suicide. He was tortured by the way our film industry functioned and the unjust manner in which one or two music directors snatched away all opportunities. These music directors were themselves aware that Madan Mohan was far and away much greater than them.” This was an obituary that would have fitted Jaidev as well.

In the cold December of 1986, when Jaidev ascended the stage to receive the award for Lifetime Achievement bestowed by Sur Singar Samsad, he appeared very dispirited and disenchanted by life. A few days later, he passed away at the age of 68. If he was ignored in his life, after death, he was totally forgotten. Be that as it may but we will never be able talk of Hindi film music at a higher level of sensitivity by ignoring Jaidev’s songs.

Jaidev never married. Therefore, other than his immortal songs, there was none to carry forward his legacy. He lived in a shabby one room rented house. He drank water from a mud pot and slept on the floor. When he died the only asset he could call his own was his harmonium.