May-Jun 2012: First Person 'Beloved Rebel: O P Nayyar'

dr subhash nargolkar

His first song that captivated my mind and heart was Man more gaa jhoom ke, rut hai bahar ki. I heard it in 1955, as a schoolboy, riding pillion with a friend to a cricket match in Madras. I tried to reproduce it on my Comet Harmonica but failed miserably with the flats.

Later, I went to school in Bombay, where we lived at the Grant Road–Charni Road junction. On evening walks by the theatres I’d look at the huge billboards… Howrah Bridge, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Naya Daur, Jaali Note. My uncle’s cook confided that he had seen ‘Shaydee’ (CID) 25 times for Shakila and the music! I wasn’t permitted then to watch movies; I listened to film music on Radio Ceylon. Gradually, I became aware – music director OP Nayyar, heart-throb of millions by virtue of his music and handsome personality, was making a bold run on the outside to finish a winner! A friend showed me a wonderful full colour photograph of OP at the piano.

Meanwhile, I tried his songs now on a bulbul-tarang, purchased from a Punjabi at Sandhurst Road for the princely sum of Rs. 12 (financed by my parents). I did see 12 o’clock and was greatly entertained by Guru Dutt shaving to Main kho gaya!
His music continued to influence my adolescence. I remember cycling several miles to Junnar to see Kalpana in a tent and then back – well past two in the morning – only for OP’s music. Between 1959 and 1962, I heard not only his popular songs but also some rare, masterly compositions including my personal favourites Meri neendon mein tum (Naya Andaaz) and Poochho na hame hum unke liye (Mitti Mein Sona). On a visit to Panchgani my aunt showed me Phagun. I was deeply impressed by OP’s score. Piya piya na lage mera jiya and Sun jaa pukar were haunting; I discovered the flowing melody of Main soya, Asha-Rafi’s rendering and the restrained flute accompaniment much later.

In 1962 we came to Pune. College opened new vistas. Along with medicine, my preoccupation with music, and film music in particular, grew by leaps and bounds. My uncles had marvellous collections as well as an insight into films and music. With friends I saw Kashmir Ki Kali, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Sawan ki Ghata, Kismat; I spoke up for old film hits when they raved about the new, and for Shamshad-Geeta-Asha when admiration was fever-pitched for Lata. But I wouldn’t have survived medical studies without OP! I interned at Kolhapur, where a hire-purchased Bush transistor provided musical sustenance. I remember from amongst many others Chal akela chal akela (Sambandh) which mirrored my general resolve in life at the time!

Settled into practice in Pune, my thirst for knowledge of medicine, people, music, took me to more than 53 countries. In 1981, I was at the Taj, Bombay, for a conference. In the Crystal Room, I politely disagreed on some issue with the august panel. To my dismay, my own seniors didn’t support me. I was young and headstrong; I excused myself and left in a huff.

Outside Sea Lounge, my attention was attracted by a person dressed in white, sitting alone. He appeared frail but alert. A long ago image of a dashing young composer at a piano flashed before my eyes and I exclaimed, “OP Nayyar!” upon which my friend commented, “Your imagination was always wild!”

But OP Nayyar it was and he said, “Please join me.”

We had a four hour long first meeting. “What have you done to your hand?” he wanted to know. I had fractured it and it hadn’t set after three surgeries; I was worried I would have to forsake surgery and sell sweets for a living. He prescribed homeopathic medicines for me and autographed my plaster.

He spoke of loneliness, after having enjoyed all the trappings of success. Even after critically reviewing his life, he had no regrets. He believed compassion to be the greatest virtue, but insisted one had to hold to one’s principles. He cautioned me gravely against women, with whom I was primarily concerned, being a gynaecologist! I was disarmed by this spontaneity towards a veritable stranger, so much his junior. When I spoke of his songs and what I liked about them, he remarked, “Bade gaur se sunte ho!”

He was a face-reader. He had already surmised my turmoil at the conference and the arm injury. I told him about my counter-current research on forceps deliveries and the related tribulations. He strengthened my resolve so admirably that I ultimately completed ‘Hay’s Forceps – An Atlas Monograph’ and included in the acknowledgements ‘O P Nayyar – the famous and loved rebel of Indian film music’.

The euphoria of that first meeting with OP Saab lasted several years. When I lost my younger brother suddenly and could not come to terms with my grief, I wrote to OP Saab. I treasure the reply he sent, full of quotations from the Bible and the Gita. His letter not only soothed me but rekindled all my old feeling for him. I finally renewed contact with him when he was in Pune for a concert, and from then on, we celebrated his birthdays at our house and had yearly concerts, until his sad demise. He was very fond of my wife and children. He roomed at a well-wisher’s place in Thane, having walked out on his family and home in Churchgate with only his beloved baaja. It was my pleasure to accept his invitations and warm hospitality over the years.

A few years ago I was in Lahore for a conference and was thrilled to be in OP Saab’s hometown. I visited all the old haunts he had described to me... the college he didn’t attend, the Mall Road fancy restaurants with live bands where he spent his college fees, even ‘Hira Mandi’... and finally his home in Sadar Bazar. OP’s father had been a government officer in Lahore. The young OP would bunk college and sit in restaurants all day; his father had cursed him saying he would end up a good-for-nothing playing baaja in Hira Mandi! The family migrated to Amritsar during Partition. Later, when OP went with his Impala to Amritsar his father introduced him proudly everywhere.

We had delightful conversations. OP was witty, very well read, forthright, romantic, with a taste for excellence in all aspects of life and Punjabi to the core.
“Who were the three most beautiful women you came across OP Saab?”
Of course Madhubala was on the list. She was very fond of him and often discounted her own fee for a film if he could be contracted to do the music. When K Asif announced Mughal-e-Azam, OP was called too and narrates in his inimitable style, “I knew it would go to Naushad, even though Asif was a very generous person” – OP’s fees were hardly meagre – “and Madhu was there... anyway, I went to Asif’s house. He asked me, music banaoge? Just then, the curtain moved and a girl came out with sherbet... kya thi yaar!! I said, I will consider, just so that I could keep going there!” Thus, K Asif’s daughter got on the list too. The third was Jaikishen’s wife Pallavi.

“Which is your favourite instrument?” he asked me and to my instant reply of Sarangi he said, “Kya baat hai!” He used the best artists, lyricists, arrangers, assistants. Nobody can play sitar like Rais Khan he would say, or harmonium like Babu Singh or sarangi like Ram Narain. He would tell his artists to come by taxi, and not risk damaging their instruments on the Western Express. He would pay them generously.

I asked him why he turned down my offer to take him to visit Lahore again, but he said the nostalgia would kill him. He spoke with genuine regret of Geeta Dutt with whom he made so many unforgettable songs before Asha started singing for him. The OP-Asha partnership broke in its turn, but only after the utterly sublime Chain se hum ko kabhi (Pran jaaye par vachan na jaaye).

Of course I asked him why he didn’t use Lata Mangeshkar, hoping to unearth the real reason. But he said, “Punjabi hoon, mere ko baland awaaz chahiye! Lata’s voice was sweet but thread-like for my compositions. That’s all!”

At his 75th birthday celebration concert a fan suggested he compose again, and for Lata. OP was quick to retort, “Nayyar the musician is dead. Aur jo hum juani mein ikattha kaam nahi kiye, ab mein kya compose karoonga aur woh kya gayegi?”
OP’s songs continue to enchant. Repeated listening always uncovers something I’d missed earlier or understand better now; something that was always there.

This account includes, with permission, some material adapted from an article by the author in a biography of OP Nayyar by Vishwas Nerurkar.


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