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He was a composer’s composer, says Robin Varma about his uncle, Jaidev – Birth anniversary special

On Jaidev's birth anniversary today, his only sister's son Ravinder aka Robin Varma shares some early memories of the legendary music composer.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The immortal bhajan ‘Allah Tero Naam' from Hum Dono (1961), the contemplative ‘Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya’ and the soulful ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar’ from the same Dev Anand-starrer, the melancholic ‘Ek Akela Iss Shehar Mein’ from Gharaonda (1977) and the playful ‘Do Deewane Shehar Mein’ from the Bhimsain film, the hurt ‘Dekh Li Teri Khudaai’ from Kinare Kinare (1963) and the moving ‘Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi' from Muzaffar Ali's Gaman (1978) have one thing in common, besides being classics of Hindi film music. They are all masterful compositions by the legendary Jaidev.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, on 3 August 1918 into a family of four brothers and one sister, Jaidev was musically inclined from an early age. His family moved to Ludhiana in Punjab on their return to India, but mesmerized by the movies, young Jaidev came away to Bombay to become an actor.

After acting in a few films made by Wadia Movietone, Jaidev went back to his musical training and studied under the famed composer and sarod player Ustad Allauddin Khan. In 1944, he continued his training under Khansaheb’s son, sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and went on to assist him with his film compositions, beginning with the Navketan films Aandhiyan (1952) and Humsafar (1953).

The association with the Anand brothers Chetan and Dev continued and Jaidev eventually got his break as an independent music director with Chetan Anand’s Joru Ka Bhai (1955). While the film did not fare well at the box office, the songs stood out.

Jaidev’s big moment came with the Dev Anand-starrer Hum Dono, the songs of which have become immortal. After that, there was no stopping the maestro who went on to win three National awards for his compositions.

Reminiscing about the man and his talent, Jaidev’s nephew, Ravinder aka Robin Varma, who now lives in London, England, recounted some anecdotes in an exclusive conversation with The composer was very close to his sister’s family and Varma spent a considerable amount of time as a young man with his uncle.

Jaidev's nephew Ravinder aka Robin Varma. Photo: Courtesy of Robin Varma

“He was a wonderful human being, very humble," he remembered. "He had a great sense of humour and liked playing practical jokes.”

Jaidev lived in Lily Court building near Churchgate, next to the now-shuttered Eros cinema, in South Bombay and that is where famous writers and singers would congregate.

“He used to stay in one room which was sub-let to him," the nephew recalled. "He had a bed, a TV, a locker and a tape recorder, and that was where the singers and songwriters and musicians would come.

"The songwriter would write a few lines and Jaidev uncle would play some notes on his harmonium and you would see a song being doled out in amazing time.

“He used to often stand by the window in his room. One day I said to him, ‘What are you doing?' He said he was thinking and that [spot by the window] was about the only place where he could compose music. He lived there for 50 years and had to move out in 1986.”

Looing out of the window of his room at Lily Court, Churchgate, in January 1980. Photo: Courtesy of Robin Varma

Jaidev worked with some of the leading singers of the time, like Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Runa Laila and Bhupinder. ”Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle used to tie a rakhi to him, he was like a brother to them,” said Varma, remembering the bond the singing sisters shared with his uncle.

The composer never married and lived alone. According to Varma, in the 1940s, when Jaidev was still learning music, he had met a girl with whom he fell in love and went to ask her father for her hand in marriage. The man asked Jaidev what he did for a living. Jaidev replied that he was studying music. "His pay was about the equivalent of £5 a week in those days," Robin Varma recounted.

The girl's father said Jaidev would not be able to look after his daughter on such a meagre income. "Uncle was very upset and said that if I can’t marry her, then I won’t get married, I’ll dedicate myself to music.” And that is what happened, with his music living on long after Jaidev passed in the ages on 6 January 1987.

“His music would inspire you," Varma said. "He was completely against pirating another composer’s music and putting it on one's name. That really upset him. And this comes out in his music. You could always tell a Jaidev composition. It was from the heart, and his knowledge of poetry was beautiful. I have heard people say many times that he was a composer’s composer.”

Jaidev’s sister’s family moved to the United Kingdom and the composer made his first trip to England in 1967. “One of the things he brought with him at the time was a big box," Varma recalled. The box was opened by customs at the airport to reveal a tiger skin inside!

The story goes that when Jaidev composed the music for the Nepali film Maitighar (1966), it became very popular. Following the film’s success, the king of Nepal invited him to Kathmandu and asked him to name his fee for his compositions. “Jaidev uncle said, ‘I don’t want any money. It’s a great honour to compose the music for the film.’

"The king insisted he had to give him something. Mamaji was not materialistic at all. They were sitting in the king’s palace and he said, ‘If you want to give me something, there is a tiger skin on the floor of the palace, that would be nice.’ And so he was presented with the skin, which Jaidev brought with him to the UK and is still with his nephew.

Jaidev won the National award for Best Music Direction in 1972 for Reshma Aur Shera (1971), in 1979 for Gaman (1978) and again in 1985 for Ankahee (1984). Gaman was Muzaffar Ali’s directorial debut starring Farooq Shaikh and Smita Patil, with some soulful numbers. Songs like 'Seene Mein Jalan', sung by Suresh Wadkar; 'Ajeeb Saneha Mujhpar Guzar Gaya', sung by Hariharan and 'Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi' by Chhaya Ganguli stand out for their melody and poetry.

Speaking about 'Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi', Varma said, “It’s such a haunting melody... you hear it once, you hear it twice and you want to hear it over and over again. It’s such a beautiful composition.”

Ganguli won the National Film award for Best Female Playback Singer for the song. On a lighter note, Varma said, “My mum used to watch talent shows on Zee TV all the time and say, ‘Whenever any contestant sings one of Jaidev uncle’s songs, they win’!”

Jaidev’s compositions flew across continents and resonated with people across cultures and languages. Varma’s wife is from Trinidad in the West Indies and in 1975, when he was travelling to see her family, they found themselves parked next to a temple there. “They were playing ‘Allah Tero Naam’ and I thought, I’ve come all the way to Trinidad and his [Jaidev’s] music is here as well... all over the world!”

Varma has no favourite composition of his uncle, emphasizing on the uniqueness of his melodies, “They are all favourites, they really are," he said. "There isn’t one song where I thought and said, ‘What’s that?' He wasn’t in the business to copy people’s music, his music was original. He would say, ‘When you listen to good music, you are transported to a different plane.’ And that’s so true of music and that’s what he did through his music. There was always something new in his compositions like 'Allah Tero Naam'. Once you have heard it, you will never forget it.

“My grandfather used to read palms," Robin Varma continued, "and when he read Jaidev uncle’s palm, he said, ‘You know, you are not going to be wealthy, but your name is going to live forever’."

Indeed, Jaidev remains immortal through his compositions.