A Chartered Accountant by profession, Siraj Khan is currently the Director of Internal Audit and Compliance for Pathfinder International in Boston MA. This organization is a global NGO which works to improve the reproductive health of men, women and adolescents in nearly 30 countries in the developing world.
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, Khan has worked in multinationals in different parts of the world, earlier in his career path. He has visited every country in the Middle East and has worked in several including Bahrain, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
In the early nineties, he migrated with his wife Yasmin and three children to the Boston area and has been very active in the Pakistani American community. He has also served on the Board of the Pakistan Association of Greater Boston as its President and currently serves as an advisor. He has a great interest in Urdu poetry, travel and world music.
He considers his association with the legendary music director of India, O.P.Nayyar, as a very integral part of his life and reveres Nayyar Saheb as a spiritual master with whom he almost has an other worldly connection. "What Siraj does not know about my music is not worth knowing" said O.P.Nayyar once while talking to his friends, fans and the media. Nayyar has given Khan the exclusive rights to write his official biography. The work was about 60% complete in his lifetime and Khan has to reposition himself following the death of the maestro on January 28, 2007.
Khan talked to Lokvani about his work at Pathfinder and his close association with Nayyar Saheb.
Could you tell us a little about Pathfinder and your work with this organization?
Pathfinder International is a global non-profit organization that has for almost 50 years served to improve the reproductive health of men, women and adolescents. We focus on HIV/AIDs and we have worked in practically in all areas of the world.
I work as the Director of Internal Audit and Compliance with global responsibility. But I am often called upon to perform a multitude of sensitive tasks. I recall two such assignments in Pakistan and Yemen. More recently I was called upon to set up operations in Papua New Guinea, one of the remotest areas of the world and I accomplished this successfully.
The work I do with Pathfinder is extremely gratifying for we are really creating impact on world health. I was recently on an internal audit visit to our India country office where I also visited a commercial sex-worker community in Pune. Girls as young as eight were being inducted into the trade. I was able to talk to some of the workers and get some girls to NGOs supported by Pathfinder where they could receive education and rehabilitation. I feel gratified knowing that I am a small part of this work.
While work has taken you all over the world you consider your association with Nayyar Sab as the most precious part of your life. How did you get to know O.P Nayyar?
I consider my association with Nayyar Saheb to be almost timeless. I trace back the impact OPN had on me to my growing up and, unknowingly of course, shaping my personality, when I would study listening to his songs to pass all my examinations. I was one of the youngest chartered accountants to qualify in Pakistan and I always felt that it was his music that provided me the spiritual uplifting whenever I needed it.
As a child I had no idea about composers or music directors, but as time progressed I realized that all the songs I had a passionate liking for, were the compositions of O.P Nayyar.
When this hit me, I started studying his music closely. I used to purchase every 78, 45 rpm and LP records of his melodies that I could get hold of from my pocket money. His music became a great passion for me and now runs in my veins. It is almost like oxygen.
After a searching for many years, I managed to locate his address and wrote several letters to him but never received a response. However, in June 1995, when I was living and working in Dubai, I heard about a O.P NAYYAR NITE where he was supposed to be present. I decided that this was my opportunity to meet the man.
So during the 30 minute interval, I talked to some hotel staff and was able to locate his room. When I knocked to my utmost surprise he came to the door himself, in the process of having a quick drink. I could not believe that I was actually meeting my idol. He greeted me and when I spoke a little about his music, there was a connection. He invited me to have breakfast with him the next day. I was there bright and early. Once we started talking breakfast became lunch, lunch became dinner and we just continued our conversation until he got a call from someone and realized that he had missed his flight! I managed to get him a later flight and dropped him to the airport myself. That was our first real personal contact and from then on the story took a different turn.
How did you get the authorization to write his biography?
Nayyar Saheb must have also felt some vibrations. Once he called me from India at about 2:00 am in the morning. He apologized profusely to my wife and said that he just felt he needed to talk to me but lost track of the time difference between Boson and Mumbai. We talked for nearly two hours. Last year at his 80th birthday party, I called him at a time when many friends had gathered to wish the great man and he said “You will not believe this but I was talking about you to my near and dear ones here and I told them what Siraj does not know about my music is not worth knowing”. Somehow, he really felt that I really understood him both – as a composer as well as a person. We had many long telephone conversations and he had told me so much in those casual conversations. We even sang songs together, pretty crazy stuff. The concept of a biography was a natural outcome. We decided to title it OP NAYYAR - WHEN RHYTHM WAS KING.
What was his composition process?
He had no formal training in music and he could not read music. Tunes just came to him. He is quoted as saying that his compositions would be ready sometimes in minutes but he would tell the producers to come after fifteen days so that the producer feels he is getting his money’s worth. Once he composed 7 or 8 songs in a couple of hours. All his songs carry his unique stamp and signature and are easily recognizable by their unmistakable rhythm, orchestration and voice modulation, usually sung by Geeta Dutt, Shamsahd, Asha and Rafi. He is the only Indian composer who did not record a single song in Lata’s voice and yet received the highest royalties from HMV.
He was so confident of his compositions that he always used less famous singers and artists and trained them. At one time he was the most paid composer in the film industry and he would never compromise on his terms. He loved luxuries and was one of the two people in Bollywood at that time to own a Cadillac
One of the most important reasons for his success was due to the fact that he was a Urdu poet. He understood lyrics and was very sensitive to that. He wrote the mukhada for that timeless classic “Kabhi Aar, Kabhi Paar, Laagaa teer_e_nazar sayyaan Ghayal kiyaa re, toone mora jigar”. In fact, he could not read Hindi at all. His communication was only in Urdu, English and sometimes spoken Punjabi.
He is the only composer on record where the producers would sign him up first and the hero and heroine later. The billboards would show his name on the top and the cast below. Such were the days.
What makes his compositions so unique?
I think most important aspect of his music is that it is very peppy. His is music in motion. Even his sad songs have a beat and movement to them. He used to say “Zindagi Dariya Ki Tarah Beh Rahi Hai.” Thus nothing in life remains static, be it be good times or bad. His music always had a message and romance.
Is there a film where he had more of role than being a composer?
OPN always operated on his own terms and made his own rules. The most famous case is that of Kashmir Ki Kali. Shakti Samantha came to OPN and said that he had a concept for a film, where he would have eight songs of different moods to be composed by him and wrap a story around them. OPN not only agreed but guaranteed every song to be a hit. This is something no composer has done before or after Nayyar. The only condition was that he would have the ultimate say when it came to the picturization of the song sequences. Shammi Kapoor was to share the lead with a complete newcomer Sharmila Tagore. It was his nature to groom young talent and mould it. Asha Bhosle was his most famous protégé. Kashmir Ki Kali become a classic and Sharmila Tagore a heroine to remember. The rest as they say is history.
Could you elaborate on his relationship with Asha Bhosle?
The Asha-OP relationship is part of Bollywood’s lore. She was the love of his life. It is a fact that she owes her success to his great talent and the way he molded her, whether she accepts it now or not. Together they were magic. It is surprising to think now that their romance was so strong that in those days they moved around fearlessly in the same city where their respective families also resided. He felt that when they broke up in August 1972, the composer in him died. The swan song was Chein se humko kabhi
At the end of his life he seems to have been rather alone. What his journey like in the end?
After his breakup with Asha he always felt very guilty of the way he had hurt his own wife and children. A Swami told him that one way to make up was to give up all his material wealth. So one day he just left his house and walked away. Unfortunately his wife and children never forgave him. He was living for some time in the house of a friend who did not even have a telephone. To use the telephone he would come to a booth that was run by a young girl called Raju. She had no idea who he was. He asked her to help him find a paying guest accommodation. She offered a room in her parents’ house. Later when she and her parents found out his identity they just allowed him to stay with taking a penny. She really took care of him like she did her own father up to the last day. He called her his adopted daughter. She has still not recovered from the grief of his death. I spent two days with her in Mumbai early March this year.
Were there any dreams he had that he had that you hope to fulfill?
There were two. He really wished for India and Pakistan to be at peace. He was originally from Lahore and had moved to India after partition. He wanted me to pick a Pakistani publisher for his biography so that it would be symbolic of the fact that music has no political boundaries.
He was also very passionate about supporting struggling up and coming musicians. His songs are the ones that are constantly getting remixed and re-released. All the income from that he would like to go to set up a trust to support such musicians. I also am trying to fundraise to support that cause.
On June 16 we have an event where we will be paying tribute to OP Nayyar’s timeless music. Sudha Rao, Raghu Saranathan and Salman Dar, who are fabulous local singers, will be taking us down the memory lane and I will provide the background history of many of those songs, as each has a story. I hope it is the beginning of many such events to remember OP Nayyar – both the man and his music.
Thanks so much for you time
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Siraj Khan and O.P.Nayyar