Mohammad Rafi, the man… the music…
By Aparna Sridhar
I have wanted to write about this for ages. There is a video of Mohammed Rafi singing O Duniya Ke Rakhwale that I have watched countless number of times and still am not tired of it. In fact I have watched several videos of Rafi singing live, and continue to watch, being a die-hard fan of Rafi. It was a live show on Doordarshan with a complete live orchestra, with Naushad conducting it. It was the most wonderful and enriching 15 minutes of my life. We all know what a lovely, emotion-packed and moving song O Duniya Ke Rakhwale is. And to watch Rafi sing it live is a great experience.
This kind of selfless singing is rare to find. A reflection of the kind of man he was. The part where he finishes singing Ab to Neer Bahaa Le and opens his eyes slightly, his face reflecting the abjectness portrayed in the words is heart-wrenching. When he sings Aag bani saavan ki barkha, Phool bane angaare, Naagan ban gayee raath suhaani, Pathar ban gaye thaare,Sub toot chuke he sahaare, Oh…jeevan apnaa vaapas lele, his face shows such pain and involvement and humility as to visibly move the listener to tears. This is such profound singing. In fact, even if the video were muted for a while, one would be moved just watching Rafi. Such is his involvement in his music. He took it as a religion. Respectful, passionately devoted, serious and full of love and selflessness. During the singing of these lovely lines Oh..kismath pootti aasna tootti, Paav mein pad gaye chaale, Oh dhuniya ke rakhwale it is as if he himself is feeling all the emotions that the words are protraying. It is a visual treat to watch Rafi sing, and watching him sing, one feels small and insignficant. He exudes the feeling that he is, after all, a mere catalyst, a medium for this beautiful song to be passed on to us to be absorbed and enjoyed. The humility is so evident.
This video has always struck a chord in me. Somehow, watching it has always brought to my mind of how similar Chandan is in his approach and portrayal of a song to Rafi. No, I am not saying Chandan is Rafi’s equal or that he sings just the way Rafi used to. I know for a fact that Chandan would neither agree to, nor like, such a comparison, as he happens to hold Rafi in the highest regard, unparalleled, upon a pedestal. I am talking about the way Chandan gets involved in a song completely, delivers it with deep emotion and feeling and forgets himself, so much so, that he becomes the music, and gives himself up to the song instead of infusing his personality, his creativity, into it. There is no place for creativity in such songs, or rather, in songs sung by great singers like Rafi and set to tune by composers like Naushad. They have created priceless gems that can only find their parallel in a creation of nature. Can one inject creativity into a mountain or a tree to make it more beautiful? It is as if there is no self involved here. I can say this with conviction because I have watched him sing and heard him hundreds of times. The song becomes him. And he becomes the song. This is how a singer must treat his singing. Selfless, involved and passionate, removed from himself. I see the same passion in Chandan’s singing. The same pathos, sincerity, innocence and faith and not least, the whole-heartedness that Rafi had and poured into his singing, I find in Chandan’s renderings. When he takes up a song, it is as if he has met a kindred spirit and embraces that song wholeheartedly and joyously and lovingly. Just the way Rafi sang his songs. How does Chandan do it? I know that he does not do this consciously. It is just there in him, an inherent trait. When he sings, it is as if Rafi is in him and he is in Rafi. An involuntary personality change that brings about sheer magic musically.
This is not some exercise in eulogy that I am writing. I am just trying to say what my and perhaps many other discerning listeners’ perception is about Chandan. His mastery over diction, be it Hindi or Urdu. The way he takes pains to ensure that each Urdu word is pronounced perfectly, a feat that might be perceived as difficult for a person not from the North. In fact, there is a general presumption that people from the South do not have proper diction. Even if they do, the idea is so firmly set in some close-minded people’s minds that even when the diction is perfect, they feel an unwarranted urge to hunt out mistakes! The efforts he takes to pronounce the lyrics correctly are commendable. In fact, various times, at shows and mehfils, people have taken Chandan to be from the North! One of the reasons could be his name which suggests a North Indian flavour and the other very valid reason is that his singing in Hindi and Urdu is so natural, despite these two languages not being his mother-tongue. This is why his singing is a success. He is well-known, successful and a very good singer. But what I mean by success here is different. Success here would mean being able to sing a song that one loves perfectly, as near to the original as possible and derive satisfaction from it and from the fact that the people listening also feel happy with such a rendition.
Criticism is something that will always accompany greatness. For every good, there is an evil. Constructive criticism is welcome. But where the listener transfers his personal likes and dislikes on to the performance of an artist and brands it unfit or below standard or finds some fault or other, if only to belittle the artist then such criticism is to be ignored. Rafi must have had his fair share of ill-wishers and critics denouncing his way of singing, his voice, his diction or something or the other. But did that stop him from singing his way to success and glory? Such petty matters would never have shaken him from his path of musical perfection. He never lost his focus on music. I have seen Chandan deal with such ill-wishers and critics in the same way. He simply ignores them. Gracefully accepts constructive criticism. And does not reply to intentional insults. Which is the mark of a truly good singer. This is such a Rafi-like trait and so difficult to achieve unless there is genuine love for one’s art. Have I seen Chandan up close while singing? The answer is no. I have seen him sing on stage and have heard his recordings. So where do I see such poignancy, grief and pathos, passion and sincerity, perfection and artistry in him? I see all these, nay, hear all these, in his voice. In the way he sings. In the way he understands the song and the singer.
I know there are many many singers out there who sing just as well, just as sincerely, and just as beautifully. But I am an ardent Rafi follower and have been for years and years. And I know none better than Chandan to sing a Rafi song.