On January 26, 1952, Hanwant Singh, the 28-year-old Maharaja of the erstwhile princely state of Jodhpur, and his wife, the former actress Zubeida (now christened Vidya Rani), got into his Beechcraft Bonanza, a light six-seater plane, for a celebratory ride. The Maharaja, an avid flyer, had been campaigning assiduously for weeks ahead of independent India’s first democratic election, and he believed he was headed for a landslide win. However, the joyride turned into a tragedy as the plane crashed, killing its occupants.

At the time of his death, the Maharaja had apparently been working on plans to open a college of the arts in Jodhpur. Working closely with the Maharaja on this project was Ali Akbar Khan, the sarod maestro who had been appointed court musician a few years before independence. With the sudden death of his benefactor, Khan moved to Bombay. Accompanying him was one of his disciples, a young man named Jaidev Verma.

Music composer Jaidev.

This was not the first time that Jaidev was coming to Bombay. Born in East Africa, where his father worked as an official in the railways, Jaidev moved with his family to Ludhiana in 1927. Here, he began learning vocal music. The story goes that after watching Ali Baba at a theatre in Lahore in 1932 Jaidev fell in love with the movies. A few years later, he somehow managed to make his way to Bombay where he landed up a small part in JBH Wadia’s mythological drama Vaman Avatar (1934). After working in a handful of films, including a couple of the Fearless Nadia swashbucklers, Jaidev headed back to Ludhiana, where he continued his musical training and also took up a job as a music teacher in a school.

The death of Jaidev’s father seems to have been a catalyst in his leaving Ludhiana and moving to Almora to try and learn under the great Allauddin Khan, who was then teaching at Uday Shankar’s India Cultural Centre. The centre was dedicated to teaching dance but Jaidev seems to have stayed on. In 1944, with the centre about to close down, Jaidev got a letter of introduction addressed to Allauddin Khan’s son, Ali Akbar Khan. The sarodist, then working with All India Radio, Lucknow, took the young man under his wing.

The opening credits of Aandhiyaan (1952).

In Bombay, Ali Akbar Khan was approached by Chetan Anand to compose for a couple of films produced under the family banner Navketan. Aandhiyan (1952) and Humsafar (1953) starred Dev Anand, but both films failed to click at the box office. Ali Akbar Khan decided to move on, but Jaidev stayed back in Bombay and began assisting SD Burman.

Jaidev’s first break as a music director also came with Chetan Anand. Joru Ka Bhai (1955), which starred Balraj Sahni, too didn’t fare well at the box office, but gave ample opportunity to the young music director to showcase his skills. The stand out song was the delectable Subah Ka Intezaar.

Subah Ka Intezar from Joru Ka Ghulam, 1956.

After Joru Ka Bhai came Samundari Daku (1956) and Chetan Anand’s Anjali (1957). Both films had some fine songs, but it was in 1961 with Hum Dono that Jaidev really caught everyone’s attention. The stupendous success of Hum Dono was followed up with the classy Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), the tragic love story of a dacoit and a courtesan.

Raat Bhi Hai from Mujhe Jeene Do (1963).

With Hum Dono and Mujhe Jeene Do, Jaidev seemed to have entered the big league. But things didn’t quite pan out that way. Hum Dono turned out to be the last film Jaidev did with Navketan as the production house opted for SD Burman for their next film Guide.

Meanwhile, during the making of Mujhe Jeene Do, Jaidev had a falling out with Sahir Ludhianvi. The formidable poet was often heard asking, “What good is the music director without the lyricist?” When Jaidev came to know about this, he was not amused. In his biography of Sahir, Akshay Manwani quotes the lyricist Naqsh Lyallpuri:

To make his point, Jaidev even recommended doing a film with Sahir where he would compose three songs to Sahir’s words and that Sahir would write the lyrics to three of his compositions…[actor-producer of Mujhe Jeene Do] Sunil Dutt even tried to patch things between the two. A few months went by in this process. But Jaidev recorded a couple of folk songs for the film. When Sahir got to know this, all hopes of a patch-up between the two were ruined.

— Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, Akshay Manwani (HarperCollins India).

Jaidev would have been hurt by Sahir’s comments. Not least because his style was to use minimal instrumentation, thereby allowing the poetry to be foregrounded. He was a poet’s composer. The falling out with Sahir was indeed unfortunate, but Jaidev went on to work with many other accomplished lyricists and poets, even outside of films. Most loved among his many non-film albums would be the musical rendering of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s legendary poem Madhushala by the singer Manna Dey.

In 1971, Jaidev was reunited with Sunil Dutt for the latter’s film Reshma Aur Shera. The haunting songs of the film, not least Lata Mangeshkar’s Tu Chanda Main Chandni, fetched Jaidev a National Award. In the same year, he composed for another film that was set in Rajasthan. KA Abbbas’s Do Boond Paani, starring Simi Garewal was a drama on the theme of water scarcity. It is unfortunate that a song like Jaa Ri Pawaniya remains largely unknown.

Jaa Ri Pawaniya from Do Boond Paani (1971).

KA Abbas, according to Jaidev, was the “worst paymaster, who had no knowledge of music but who needlessly interfered in the composing work”. But the composer did do another film with him. One of the high points of Faslah (1974) is the quirky Zindagi Cigarette Ka Dhuaan.

Zindagi Cigarette Ka Dhuaan from Faslah (1974).

Faslah was another in a series of low-budget films that came Jaidev’s way after Reshma aur Shera. Again, none of the films fared well at the box office and have been forgotten. So much so that no prints of Prem Parbat (1973) – which has two great Lata Mangeshkar songs – are thought to have survived.

The period between 1977 and ’79 saw Jaidev doing some of his best work, with films such as Alaap (1977), Gharaonda (1977) and Tumhare Liye (1978). Bhimsain, who directed Gharaonda, later made Dooriyaan (1979). The film, starring Uttam Kumar and Sharmila Tagore, had two languid and memorable Anuradha Paudwal-Bhupinder Singh duets.

Zindagi Mein Jab Tumhare Gham Nahin The from Dooriyan (1979).

Also in this period came Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (1978), which fetched the music director his second National Award. The story of a migrant taxi driver in Bombay, the songs Seene Mein Jalan and Ajeeb Saneha perfectly capture the theme of alienation in the big city. But the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi, brilliantly rendered by another newcomer, Chhaya Ganguly.

Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi from Gaman (1978).

After Gaman, Jaidev was signed up by Muzaffar Ali for the director’s next project, an ambitious film on the courtesan Umrao Jaan Ada which would star Rekha. But yet again, fate intervened. Something happened – many theories abound – but the end result was that Jaidev was out of the film and Khayyam was signed on.

What followed was again a series of smaller films, none making a dent at the box office. Among them was the hugely underrated Ankahee directed by Amol Palekar. This absorbing film, which included two bhajans by Bhimsen Joshi, won Jaidev his third National Award.

Thumak Thumak from Ankahee (1985).

Sometime in the mid-1980s, the noted music critic Mohan Nadkarni paid Jaidev a visit. The composer, who had never married, lived in a one-room apartment near the Churchgate railway station. “It was let out to him by a kindly admirer, without any obligation, years ago,” wrote Nadkarni. “It had the typical look of a bachelor’s room, with newspapers, magazines, books and cassettes kept untidily below his bed and the mini-fridge… Laughing, he informed me that he was under threat of imminent eviction from his landlady and her relations. That was because his old landlord friend had since passed away, and his successors chose to take a different view of his sub-tenancy.”

Not long after Nadkarni’s visit, Jaidev did get evicted from this house. As well-wishers scrambled to get a place for him to stay in, news came in that the Madhya Pradesh government had conferred upon the composer the prestigious Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar.

By this time, Jaidev’s health had started deteriorating. On the morning of January 3, 1987, he was rushed to Breach Candy hospital after he reportedly started vomitting blood. Three days later, he breathed his last.

The words “tragic”, “unsung”, “unlucky” and “jinxed” immediately come to mind when one considers the life and career of Jaidev Verma. In their stead, one might want to recall a few lines from a song he had composed for an obscure 1967 film called Hamare Gham Se Mat Khelo.

Gar yeh zameen nahin, who mera aasmaan toh hai
Yeh kya hai kum ke koi mera meherbaan toh hai
Manzil mile milena mile, mujhe is kag ham nahin
Manzil ki justuju mein mera karvaan toh hai.