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Remembering Rafi

An article written by Mr. Rajiv Vijayakar for screenindia. (

He was truly matchless and incomparable, and those steeped in music says so. On his 25th death anniversary on July 31st,Screen speaks to 25 luminaries who had either the pleasure (and honour as they would agree) of working with Mohammed Rafi or being influenced by him.

Rafi Sahab's voice was his greatest blessing


“He was a wonderful human being, and so were my experiences with him in the many songs we sang together, beginning with Aandhi’s `Salaam kijiye…’. I recall his dropping me all the way home after a recording that was very near his house because my car had broken down. He had once watched me backstage at a show at which both of us were performing. After I had belted out 12 songs at a stretch, he complimented me on my singing, but advised me to take breaks after every 3-4 songs in a very caring, fatherly way. My dad and I had the highest regards for each other and would talk on the ‘phone frequently. He refused to take more than a token one rupee as payment for singing two songs in dad’s film Chalti Ka Naam Zindagi. In 1972, when the media was highlighting the rivalry between dad and him, we were in London for a show and he invited us over to his home there and served us an exotic homemade meal. It was a great evening with both Rafisaab and dad also singing and recalling their days when my father would sing in the chorus of a Rafi song! Dad and Rafisaab were so similar in their simplicity and genuineness as human beings.”


“His God-fearing nature was so obvious in every song he sang – and Mohammed Rafi could sing and justify every kind of song. He was extremely versatile and very fast at pick-up. Of so many famous songs he sang for us my personal favourite is ‘Yahaan main ajnabi hoon..’ from Jab Jab Phool Khile.”


“Mohammed Rafisaab remains my biggest source of motivation and inspiration. I recorded three songs with him for Poonam and one for a untitled film of Premnathsaab that never took off. ‘Laagi lag jaaye…’ from the former film was the last song that he recorded live – the recording was on 25th July. After that he did a song for L-P, but the track had been kept ready and it wasn’t a live ‘take’. I shall never forget what he told me: `Kamal ke phool ki tarah taharte rehna!’ He was simply the calmest, most serene and kindest human being I knew. He would insist on rehearsals but often refuse to accept money. Rafisaab was a very ‘giving’ person. He gave me vital tips on how to teach singers your song. I adore him, for he was music himself!”


“I recorded ‘live’ with him for my first film Shirdi Ka Sai Baba. The year was 1975 and the song was ‘Sai Baba bolo…’ He was truly a man of God, simple, devoted to his work, and devoid of any vices. He taught me so much on that single occasion, like what should be my posture in front of the microphone, and how I should throw my voice into it. He would tell Manoj (Kumar)ji, who was the lyricist as well as the man behind the film, “Dekho, Punjab se ek aur sher aaya hai!” I attended so many recordings just to observe him at work. I have always emulated his distinct way of enunciating each and every word with the clarity of a polished pearl. Earlier, singing his songs on shows was like a part of my training!

“There was no dividing line between his singing and his persona, and that’s what makes an artiste immortal. We needed him to be around for many years. Today, singers who follow his style – Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam – are at the top, proof that Rafi would have still been a topper if he was alive!”


“Bada hi bhola insaan tha Rafi, aur badaa hi mehnati gaayak! He has sung so many songs of mine, but to me ‘Deewane hai deewanon ko na ghar chahiye…’ (Zanjeer) will always remain extra special. I remember that Rafisaab ke roze the. Because of the fasting and the restrictions, he was a shade irritable. One ‘take’ of the song had been okayed by the music directors, but co-singer Lataji wanted a retake for some reason. Uncharacteristically, he refused, and said, “Main jaa raha hoon.” I followed him out of the studio and told him, “Paaji, do you know who is going to enact this song on screen? It’s me.” He turned round and asked why I had not told him so before. He came back and gave not one but two takes, and sang in such a way that it would suit my persona!”


“All singers have a style, but Rafisaab could change completely even for the same composer, like Burman Dada’s ‘Sar jo tera chakraaye…’(Pyaasa) and ‘Hum bekhudi mein tumko…’(Teen Deviyan). We met for the first time when we were both strugglers, way back in 1947. We always got along famously, and that’s why we sang more duets than any other team of singers, all the way till his last song in Aas Paas.

“Rafi was very close to my brother Hridaynath, and in the late‘40s would visit my house during Ganpati Utsav and once he even sang in my house. But otherwise there was hardly any socializing between us. Even when we did not sing together for three long years, the differences between us were only on the matter of royalties, and Rafisaab had been provoked by vested interests that did not want us to sing together. Jaikishan finally engineered a patch-up between us.

“Rafisaab’s voice was of course his greatest blessing. High-pitched or soft,there was a certain namrataa in it. The inimitable harkatein and taan were all a natural part of his talent.”


“I began to learn music at 13 at Rafisaab’s recommendation. He himself coached me for a while, and I was his only student. Maine gandaa bandhwaaya hai. I was his fan from as far back as I can remember, and would sing, talk and even dress like him. So he told me, `How far can you go if you copy me?’ He insisted on my learning classical music to become an original. He also told me that fitness and a morning walk were a must for a singer, and we would meet at six a.m. and take walks together during the early years when we lived close to each other.”


“Rafi was the complete singer who could sing everything. Among the frontline singers, only he and I would be called to sing every kind of song. And I did not grudge that he always remained ahead of me because he was a far better singer than I was.”


“Rafi and I were one. So since he passed away, only 50% of me has remained! Rafi actually came to Mumbai with a letter from my father in Lucknow! At that point I had no song for him but asked him if he would sing in my chorus. He was paid Rs 10 for that! Very soon, he proved that he was unmatched as singer. He would always help the needy, but would ensure that the money was handed over by his man Zaheer. I asked him once why he did this, and he replied, “Main denewala kaun hoon? Denewala to Allah hai!” I would always warn him against his fondness for pure ghee and milk, and even convinced him to join Bandra Gymkhana because he had gained weight. Dilip (Kumar)saab, Rajendra Kumar and Jeevan would also join us. My last song with him was for Sanjay Khan’s unreleased Habba Khatoon, and Rafisaab was so moved by the composition that he refused payment for it. “


“Every mega-talent is blessed by God, and it is up to the artiste to preserve and develop it further. Rafisaab did that. His voice reflected his spiritual, pure nature. That golden voice was like the breeze that ripples during a puja or the holy atmosphere that pervades the namaaz. He sang few but great songs written by me, like ‘Tu jis tarah se meri zindagi mein shaamil hai…’ (Aap To Aise Na The). I remember he wept and said that artistes lived to sing such beautiful songs.”


“I was in awe of the man, and all the Mukesh-es, including my dad, my brother and I have always been huge fans of Rafisaab. To me personally, Rafisaab was the best thing that ever happened to Indian music, and in fact when Papa was alive I would sing his and Kishore-Uncle’s songs in Papa’s shows. Though Rafisaab was completely versatile, I always thought there was a strange pathos in his voice. And he must have been a great actor to make us feel that every hero he sang for was actually singing himself! Having met Rafisaab so often, I am still entranced by how such a shy, private person in real life would turn into a Shammi Kapoor, a Mehmood or a Jeetendra in front of the mike!

“He was among the first to reach my side when Papa passed away, and I remember his exceptionally kindness each time we recorded songs together. Those who became so big, I firmly believe, are born with everything correct, but few have the heart of gold that Rafisaab had. Oh, I could go on and on about Rafisaab!”


“The biggest blunder of my entire career was in removing this farishta from my music rooms for two years in the ’60s because Rafisaab reported late for a recording of mine! Two years later, he met me and affectionately asked me why I was not working with him. I had missed him tremendously, so I relented and he was back with me. He would love my peppy songs, and would hope for yet another whenever he arrived after singing a melodramatic litany with someone else!”


“I have nothing but praise for Mohammed Rafi as a singer and as a man. He has sung the out-and-out majority of Sonik-Omi songs right from our first film Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya till his death. I could tell you enough anecdotes about him to make a book. If ever there was a perfect human being in this world, it was Rafi. In his last days, most of the active music directors were non-Punjabis and whenever he came for our recording he would say, “Aisa lagtaa hai ke main apne ghar aaya hoon” because he too was from Punjab. How sublime was that experience where we would sing out and teach the song, and he would learn it! His fondness for punctuality and self-discipline was amazing: one day we had a rehearsal at nine in the morning, and so at 8.15 I decided to go down and have a paan. To my amazement, he was strolling in my compound! His secretary had to go somewhere so he had dropped him early, and Rafisaab did not want to disturb us before time! Tomorrow there just might be another singer as great as him, par aisa insaan phir se nahin aayega!’


“What can I say about a man jo tareef se bahut hi oopar hai, and had countless golden qualities? I am only able to feel my deep regard for him, not to express it. Rafisaab aisi sargam thi jisse koi bhi raag ban saktaa tha. He could sing in any range or octave. If today’s composers are to flower, the Almighty should create nine Rafis more! Can we find even a single song of his that is badly rendered? Of course, he had a major role in our career, and yet I would single out one song to show his greatness as a human being – Kalyanji-Anandji’s ‘Sukh ke sab saathi…’ (Gopi). How much apnapan is there in the rendition of this bhajan though Rafisaab belonged to a different mazhab!”


“I really miss him. People complain that present-day music is not up to the mark, but then where are the singers who could, like Rafisaab did, enhance a song four-fold? You can listen to Rafisaab throughout the day and get tremendous peace of mind. I remember he never took a song back on tape to learn it, but remembered it completely by heart, even if the recording was a week later, as happened with ‘Chal kahin door nikal jaaye…’ (Doosara Aadmi). He would just write out the words on a piece of paper and would be perfect in all the small detailing on the day of the recording. When I went for rehearsals to his house, he would lift the harmonium himself from its place and refuse to let me or anyone else do it for him. When you entered his house, it was like entering a temple. To my surprise, my hand would automatically touch the marble of his gate and then go to my head!”


“Rafi sang more for me than any other male singer did, and all our songs together were super-hits, whether it was ‘Iss bhari duniya mein…’, ‘Chaudhvin ka chand…’, ‘Sau baar janam lenge…’ or those two cult songs without which no marriage ceremony is complete even today – ‘Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hai…’(Aadmi Sadak Ka) or ‘Babul ki duaen leti jaa…’ (Neel Kamal). At every Idd he would send mutton and sevaiyan to my house. Some years later he came to know that I was a strict vegetarian! He asked me why I have never told him this and I said that I did not want to turn back the cherished tokens of his love for me, and that I would pass the mutton over to my musicians! He would embrace me every time he loved one of my songs.”


“I began my career on January 14th,1971 and it was Rafisaab who sang my first film song for N.N.Sippy’s Silsila Hai Pyar Ka, which never took off . From my first release Kaanch Aur Heera, it was his song ‘Nazar aati nahin manzil…’ that is still remembered. He never made me feel that I was new, and he put in the same dedication into my song that he would for, say, Naushadsaab’s song. Even today, the void that he has left is not filled. Time flies and it is shocking to realize that shahad ki duniya se juda hue 25 saal ho gaye hain. I would like to repeat the sher I had written to express my feelings when he passed away:

Peshaani pe shams ankh mein taaron ki ziya thi, Woh kaise bujha jis ko zamane ki dua thi Nakhush hai Khuda apne farishton se, Nahin to dharti ke farishte ki zaroorat kya thi.”


“Rafisaab’s persona is best encapsulated by Majroohsaab’s mukhda in the Rafi song ‘Waadiyan mera daman, raaste meri baahen, jaao mere siva, tum kahaan jaaoge.’ This craze for Rafi and his songs will never end . On my stage tours, I get requests to sing some of his rarest songs even in far-flung corners of the world. 25 years later, each and every Rafi song sounds as fresh as if it was recorded just 25 seconds earlier! I got to sing in two films in which he too had sung – Baghawat and Farz Ki Jung, because of which I feel blessed.

“I had three meetings with him, one at a show in Ahmedabad where I just could not help weeping at his feet at the sheer ecstasy of meeting him in person, for as a stage singer I would always sing his songs. The second meeting was at his recording: I just made his sketch that I handed over to him, and he was very appreciative.

And the third and tragic last ‘meeting’ was when, among a crowd of thousands, I got the momentary honour of lowering his body into the grave! I could touch that body when millions of others could not! And I thought,

Bataa ae zindagi yeh raaz kya hai, Yeh jeene ka naya andaz kya hai
Khamoshi maut hai agar aadmi ki, Rafi ki har taraf awaaz kya hai.


“A matchless singer, he was an even greater human being. He would call me ‘Kaka’, and I had the privilege of singing so many hits with him in films like Chacha Bhatija, Suhaag, Parvarish, Dada, Humse Badhkar Kaun and others. There was a qawwali that we recorded in which I felt that I could simply not match the high note he was taking, but he coaxed me and I did it! Since my father was working for a film company, I had the privilege of attending his recordings from my school days.”

“I remember the recording of “Hum premee prem karnaa jaane…” from Parvarish where he was amused that Laxmikant-Pyarelal had made me sing for his hero Shammi Kapoor and he sang for Vinod Khanna! He said, “They have made you sing for an old man and me for the young one!”


“It is the gravest mistake to say that Mohammed Rafi was good only for my kind of songs – he sang every kind of song wonderfully. I mean, look at his Johnny Walker songs – Rafisaab never drank, Johnny Walkersaab never had a drop of alcohol, and yet together they were so outstandingly convincing in a drunken song. I think that Shama Parwana was my first film with beautiful music – by Husnlal-Bhagatram – and that’s where Rafisaab first sang for me. But the Shammi-Rafi style as it is known was first established with O.P.Nayyarsaab’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha. As a hero I was so involved with my songs, from concept to tunes to lyrics, that I would make it a point to attend all my recordings and offer the suggestions for the audio part of the visuals that I would enact. But whenever I could not, it was uncanny how Rafi would know exactly what I would want by way of nuances! I asked him how he knew exactly what I would want, and he would say, “Maine socha ke tum kaise karoge!”

“He was a very conscientious worker, a simple soul who meant well for everybody. It is strange that though he was an outgoing guy he was also shy. Probably singing all the uninhibited songs was his only way of being able to break through his shy nature! Outside our professional association we barely interacted, since our social lives were completely different.

“Strangely, I also feel that it was Naushadsaab who truly give his voice a body and basic colour to start with, that everyone later used and moulded to their needs. I missed a chance to work with that combination in Shabab , because though I was signed, they dropped me for a more saleable hero!”


“I think that it is pointless to even think of comparing any other singer, however great individually, to Rafisaab. My whole approach to him as an inspiration and guru is to match that dedication, infuse the same kind of range that he had, and consciously work at not being his clone, since I had grown up on Rafisaab and had the same kind of vocal tenor. Dig through the ocean that is Rafi and you find an unparalleled treasure of happy and sad songs, high-pitched songs and low crooning, and obviously every genre of song from bhajans, ghazals, qawwalis, Western rock numbers, lullabies, children’s songs – the works! He had a soft voice, but what a punch it had when needed!”


“Apart from being his fan and sharing playback credit in some films, I had the privilege of singing with him in Anpadh, and believe me, it was sheer joy. The song was a qawwali by Ashaji, Rafisaab and me and frankly, I was more than a little nervous. He put me at ease completely. I think that no other singer could bring out the sweetness and masti of every word, incredibly fit his voice to every hero and yet be in such perfect sur that every note was well-rounded and a complete experience in itself.”


“I admire all our great singers, but to me Rafisaab is the ultimate. I could not believe my luck when Rajesh Roshanji gave me my first break with a song in which I sang live with my idol -I felt blessed, especially after Rafisaab told me not to be nervous as he too had felt the same way at his first few recordings! Even today I try to emulate his great qualities, like his soothing voice that was as pure and as unadulterated as crystal-clear water. Yes, I am proud to say that I come from the Mohammed Rafi school.”


“His humility was amazing. I remember that at the recording of one of my Asha-Rafi duets in my first film Dil Deke Dekho, I was not fully satisfied with one part of the song, but was hesitant about telling him. He sensed that and told me, “Usha, tumne humse nahin seekha. Hamein tumse gaana seekhna hai.” He warmly embraced me after recording ‘Tu is tarah se…’ (my last song with him which was for Aap To Aise Na The) and said that I had made a lovely composition. And he sang “Hum aur tum aur yeh sama…”, again from Dil Deke Dekho, which was my first-ever recording.”


“He was so simple, so pious and free of vices that he would not even have a supari, and a singer of no ordinary calibre. He would be especially caring and helpful with young artistes, which I remember right from our first recording for Kinare Kinare when I was a rank newcomer. I still remember that for our song ‘Sainath tere hazaaron haath…’(Shirdi Ke Sai Baba), I was faltering over a dozen times at my cue, but though his feet were swollen and it was painful to stand, he smilingly told me not to worry and keep trying, even though I suggested that my line should be done by the chorus. When one take was finally okay, he was even game for another, which was the norm then as a technical precaution.”

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9 Blog Comments to “Remembering Rafi”

  1. ravi says:

    maine iss site par sabhi logon ke opinion padhe jis me se ek us sonunigam ka tha .. haa wahi sonu jo apne aap ko rafi sahab se compare karta hai wahi sonu jise apne ooper guman hai …. gaana nahi aata phir bhi . mera manna hai ki rafi sahab se judi kisi bhi jeez se iss sonu ko invite ya iska opinion to mangna chahiye kyonki abhi lata ji , anwar sahab, shabbir kumar, mohd. aziz, amit kumar , nitin mukesh aur kaafi old singers jinda hai . rafi sahab se judi kisi bhi cheez mein iss sonu nigam ko nahi jodna chahiye yahi baat mein mohd. waalon sebhi kehna chahta hoon . bhala wo aaj ka bachchakya muqabala karega rafi sahab ka . ek baat mein media se bhi kehna chahta hoon ki kabhi bhi rafi sahab ke birthday par ya deat annivarsary par sirf sonu jaise chote singers ka interview lekar media samjhti hai ki bas ho gaya . anwar sahab , shabbir kumar , mohd. aziz, in mein se to kisi ke aaj tak media nahi gayi aise phankaaro ko kyon bhool jaate hain wo jo singers aaj bhi rafi sahab ki chavi ko nihar rahe hai aise singer ko kyon bhool jaate hai jo sirf rafi ke gaano ko hi bakhoobi nibhaate hai balki onhoone to rafi sahab se mil bhi chuke hai..

  2. pmc thangal says:

    thank u rajiveji for having presented this nice article. ofcourse this article help me much to correct my mis understanding .i have a false notion that singers like nitin mukesh, amit kumar, mahendra kapoor, kishore and even lataji were not in good terms with rafi saab.but when i go through this article and the revealings from the heart of hearts of these singers about rafi sab ,i fully confess that i was really hither to forming a false thought in my mind. i really wonder why the readers or music lovers be not taken much a care to this long article.

  3. Sudhir Menon says:

    Mohammad Rafi Saab the Voice of India.. Truely mermerisng…. No wrods of expression..His voice and style of singing is umatched…. We as a rafian definitely Miss him… The Magical Voice…

  4. satish says:

    Mohammad rafi saab…the great……vocalist par excellence and a great human being….I feel so insignificant….when i listen to him……What a man…Incredible….

    Sir, aapko shath shath pranaam…


  5. sandesh madhukar shinde says:

    rafisaab is god for me

  6. bhumesh chander says:

    Listening to Mohammad Rafi or reading about him simply gives great pleasure.

  7. Kuldip D Gandhi says:

    Gr8 Article. Nice to read.

  8. Baljit Matharu says:

    I have been listening to Rafi songs since i was 10. I have no interest in modern hindi music. Even now, my drive to work is always with his numerous rymthmic tracks. It is great start to each day, totally stress free. Rafi songs is what makes the world go round.

  9. H.V.GURU MURTHY says:

    Beautiful article. man Khush Ho Gaya.

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