Spiritual Rendezvous with Rafi Sahab on his Birthday
By: J.K. Bhagchandani
It always was my profound desire to visit places in Mumbai associated with Rafi sahab (his residence, his grave, Mohd. Rafi Chowk in Bandra etc.). In-spite of couple of visits to Mumbai in last few years, this desire never got fulfilled until recently on his birthday on 24th Dec. 2016 when I was on a visit to Mumbai for about 7-8 days and made it a point to spare this auspicious day to fulfill my wish. As I had thought it be, the day turned be a one of the greatest for me. It was like a pilgrimage.
In the morning, first I attended the ceremony where 16th Road in Bandra (West) was renamed as “Padmashree Mohd. Rafi Marg”. There I was joined by my wonderful facebook friends (Ms. Vijaya Ramaswamy, her husband Mr. Ramaswamy, their son Vignesh, Ms. Geeta Chanda and Ms. Namita Ghag; all die-hard Mohd. Rafi fans).
Renaming 16th Road, Bandra as Padmashree Mohammed Rafi Marg: Curtain raising done by Rafi saab’s Daughter
Almost simultaneously there was a function at Mohd. Rafi Chowk near Bandra Railway Station where a memorial was inaugurated in the name of Rafi saab. Though both these functions were initially planned with one hour time difference for the people to attend both but as the Road renaming ceremony got delayed a bit, it led to overlapping of timings and we missed the main part of memorial inauguration ceremony at Mohd. Rafi Chowk, but we visited the place nonetheless. Many people were still there. This Hill Road-SV Road junction was revamped and adorned with a plaque (shaped into a golden ball), reflecting the artiste’s timeless ‘golden voice’. At this memorial site one man sang “Oh Duniya ke rakhwale…”. It was absolutely brilliant and heart touching. He was singing like a man possessed. Throughout the song he was crying. People were awestruck- many with tears in their eyes.
At the Rafi Memorial site near Bandra Station
Apart from singer S.P Balasubramaniam, Rafi saab’s family members and a large number of Rafi fans; other dignitaries who graced the occasions include Member of Parliament Shahnawaz Hussain, MLA Ashish Shelar, city Deputy Mayor Alka Kerkar, Deputy Municipal Commissioner Vasant Prabhu, Assistant Commissioner Sharad Ugade, Radio Jockey Anmol.
After that we went to Rafi Mansion. It is a 4-5 storied building which earlier (when Rafi saab was alive) was actually a bungalow where Rafi saab lived. After his death it was converted to its present state. Ground floor of the building is a mosque. On first floor is the residence of Rafi saab’s daughter and son-in-law (Parvez bhai). There were 20-25 people there. Parvez Bhai took all of us to his home (on first floor) and acted as an excellent host. People had brought birthday cakes, which were cut by Rafi saab’s daughter and grand-children. Sweets were also distributed. Some Rafi saab devotees who had good voices sang his timeless gems to pay their tributes. Climbing a Few more steps from First floor, there is a Room. This was the room where Rafi saab’s belongings like his harmonium, his chair, table, carrom board, Padma Shree, filmfare awards, ‘singer of the millennium’ award (and all other awards) etc. were kept. It also contained collection of records of Rafi saab’s songs (LPs, EPs etc.). I could feel some internal vibrations in me, stimulating me; as if purifying my soul. Nostalgia is too small a word to describe that. That carom board…that harmonium…that chair…Oh…Rafi saab….you were there.. you will always remain us.
Here let me admit that initially there was an element of disappointment in me on reaching Rafi Mansion. It was because the physical condition of the place was not what I had thought it to be. A place inhabited by perhaps the best among the human race needed to be the best. But quite quickly I overcame this disappointment (especially after reaching that Rafi saab’s room where his holy belongings were kept). I realized that the simplicity of the place is the reflection of Rafi saab’s persona. A flashy, shining place might have taken away the essence of the sacredness, the spiritual vibration-emitting environ of the place. Rafi saab himself never craved for that poshness, that glamour, so his place should reflect that thought process only. Rafi saab’s legacy is epitomized by simplicity, humanity and care which is desolate to ego, avarice and arrogance. It was great to find that baton of legacy being passed on to Rafi saab’s children. Like Rafi sahab, his daughters and son-in-laws are down to earth and very simple souls.
As many people were waiting outside the room (in the stairs) to visit that place (because the room was small and they had requested to come in group of 7-8 persons at a time), we came out. Still we spent good 10-15 minutes there; experiencing saintliness, the divinity of Rafi saab.
Just outside the building we also saw Rafi saab’s first car (Fiat). It was nostalgic to imagine that this very car was once driven by Rafi saab on the surrounding (and other) roads. How lucky the neighbors would have been, may be some of them still continue to live there only.
With Parvez Bhai (Rafi Saab’s son-in-law) at the Road Renaming Venue
Then around 2.00 PM, we reached Rangsharda auditorium at Bandra for a Rafi show. It was not a concert. It was not some singers singing Rafi saab’s songs. It was a kind of talk show. Some celebrities occupied stage and shared their thoughts, their experiences about Rafi sahab. The celebrities were Biswajeet, Jeetendra, singer S.P Balasubramanyam, composer Madan Mohan’s sons, lyricist Shakeel Badayuni’s son, Milind (of Anand Milind duo- they are sons of MD Chitragupta), composer Ravi’s daughter etc. All spoke very eloquently about Rafi sahab. Jeetendra said that he took loan (उधार) of Rafi saab’s voice to construct his acting career. That loan he could never re-pay. His style, body language, selection of words etc. depicted that he was speaking from the core of his heart. Biswajeet also spoke well and recalled fond memories associated with Rafi saab. And then he echoed the sentiments of millions of Rafi fans: demanding ‘Bharat Ratna’ for Rafi saab. Milind (of Anand Milind musical duo) recalled Rafi saab’s impeccable punctuality during his visits to their father’s recordings and rehearsal sessions.
Milind told that once, when Rafi saab was to arrive at their home for a rehearsal at 9.00 AM, he and his brother (Anand) were asked to spy and find out how Rafi saab could manage to adhere to such second-by-second punctuality. So both the brothers came out of their home good 15-20 minutes prior to the appointed time and positioned themselves in such a way that they could watch the happenings around and yet not be seen. Around 8.45 or 8.50 AM Rafi saab’s car came and instead of stopping in front of Chitragupta’s house, it stopped some distance ahead. Rafi saab sat quietly, listening to Radio Ceylon from his car music system. Just when it was about 2 minutes to 9.00 AM, his car would pull back to Chitrgupta’s house and precisely when it was 15-20 seconds to 9.00 AM, Rafi saab would press the door-bell. Wow!! Apart from achieving voice perfection, Rafi saab was perfect even when it came to punctuality. Music Director Ravi’s daughter and Shakeel saab’s son remembered their “Rafi Uncle” with profound love and respect.
Sanjeev and Samir Kohli (sons of music maestro Madan Mohan) narrated how, on a day when Rafi saab was to record a song for their father, they would fake stomach pain in the morning (to ensure that they are able to bunk the school). By the time it was 10.30 AM or so they would declare the stomach pain being cured, thus allowing them to attend the recording. Sanjeev Kohli recalled how Rafi saab had hugged him and cried when his father had prematurely passed away. He recalled an incident when after the death of his father he started his new career with Polydor Records Company and he wanted to meet Rafi saab in connection with his new career. He was bit hesitant and apprehensive as considerable time has passed since they met last (at his father’s demise). And secondly unlike previous meetings it was in connection with his new career path. He came to know that Rafi saab is recording a song at a studio. He reached there and waited outside in the hope of chance encounter with Rafi saab upon his finishing the recording. However it was R.D. Burman who came out. Seeing him, he approached him and requested him to somehow arrange a meeting with Rafi saab. R.D. Burman went in and came back with Rafi saab, who not only greeted him with same enthusiasm and love as earlier but also helped him in his professional assignment for which he had come.
But the best speech came from S.P Balasubramanyam. It was simply awesome. Someone has uploaded that speech on youtube :
Some highlights of that speech:
- When Rafi saab sang it was not some human being singing, it was God himself singing.
- Whenever I listened to Rafi saab… be it a romantic song.. or a sad song… I would cry.. tears start rolling… it was because in life we often get entangled in our worldly activities (like this money to be invested there, this appointment, that task, this payment to be made etc. etc.) the voice of Rafi saab takes you to spirituality, away from those worldly things… brings to fore your emotions… be it happy one or sad. It is a kind of ‘spiritual detoxification’. The voice brings you face to face to yourself, your hidden emotions. So tears are the natural outcome for such divine experience.
- Listen to the word jhooma (झूमा) or just the letter मा in the song “Deewana hua baadal.. ye dekh ke dil jhooma”… Is it humanly possible to fill so much romanticism, so much feeling packed into just one word or one letter? It had to be God himself singing.
- Listen to the word “haai” in the song “Din dhal jaaye haai…..” the nuance of the entire song can be felt just by listening to this one word….
- With due apologies to all the actors of his time I will say that 90% of those actors could not do justice to his singing. (At this point Jeetendra intervened to say that with Rafi saab’s voice support, he could enhance his performance).
- I am not merely a Rafi fan, I am member of Rafi family… all fans are like a Rafi family.. and coming to Mumbai to attend all the functions was same as going to a temple to meet God..
- Whenever I speak about Rafi saab… I just go on and on without bothering about the time slot allotted to me.
And so on so forth….
SPB’s speech was time and again interjected by loud applause. I could see many people crying. Even while writing this and recalling his words, tears are coming out from my eyes.
In between the speeches, Sonu Nigam (who was little late in arriving) had quietly arrived with his father and sat among the audience (in front row). Organizers escorted him and his father to stage after SPB’s speech. He was crying; had to be calmed down with a glass of water. Such was the impact of SPB’s speech. Sonu Nigam spoke briefly and pointedly about his idol and role model…. He said that after listening to SPB’s narratives… he is left speechless.. On public demand his father a sang “Main ye soch kar uske dar se utha tha…”. The high point of Sonu Nigam’s speech was when he made a point that even after years and years of listening to Rafi saab, he still discovers many songs… discovers many new twists and turns of his voice in many songs. One example he gave was ”Hazaaron rang badlega zamana….”. He said that only 2-3 days back he was discussing with his father the unbelievable voice modulation that Rafi saab had provided in song. There is so much still to be discovered in his songs. Sonu Nigam acknowledged that there has not been one song that he has sung without bringing Rafi saab in his imagination, in his thought process- as to how he would have sung that song.
All the programs since morning till early evening were covered by RJ Anmol of Radio Nasha. He said he will run special edition on Radio to cover all the events.
By 4.00 PM or so the program ended… I returned to my Guest House…. The day had a huge calming effect on me… a spiritual cleansing accomplished….