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Voice of a million souls

By Afsana Ahmed

Every evening normally when all other kids reluctantly sat by the study table, a seven-year-old kid chose to be different. Enchanted by the soothing music of the Ektara which wafted in the air, and ignoring the regular reprimands of his parents, the young boy religiously followed a fakir to the latter’s abode – a huge tree. Observation by the fakir led to a friendship which gradually stimulated the dormant interest of the boy. He picked up the rudiments of music from the fakir as he already had a God-gifted voice. Rafi’s first inspiration was the fakir’s voice. Years later, the quiet boy grew up to create an irreplaceable mark in the history of music. When late singer Mohammad Rafi decided to become a singer, his father, a village landlord, was dead against the idea, but with the guidance of his elder brother and his own conviction Rafi scaled the heights of stardom after a long struggle.

Voice of a million souls

There have been umpteen things written about his works and achievements. However, there are certain unsaid and unspoken memories of the late singer, which son Md Shahid Rafi treasures of his father. Shahid fondly recalls that he was in awe of his famous father. Though he was friendly to a certain extent, the late singer commanded immense respect.

Inspite of his hectic schedule, he always gave us quality time. He was very quiet and possessed a sedate personality. On weekends, he took all of us to our Lonawala bungalow. We enjoyed being together and cherished our relationship. When he was just nine years old, he stared singing in mehfils in his hometown Lahore. Once there was a show in Lahore where the late singer K.L. Saigal was singing. Crowds thronged the place and unfortunately the electricity went off and Saigal saab refused to deliver without the musical bands. That’s when dad was asked by the organisers to enthral the crowds. He performed and was spotted by music director Shyam Sunder, who had come with Saigal saab.

The lure of the film industry brought daddy to Mumbai where he started by singing in a Punjabi film whose music director was Shyam Sunder. Later, he got a few offers from Hindi films like Gaon Ki Gori and Pehle Aap, but nothing worked for him. Dad even sang in chorus for Naushad uncle. It was sheer luck, which got dad in Naushad uncle’s good books and he got two major breakthroughs as Baiju Bawra and Aan. Naushad favoured Rafi over Talat Mehmood. One day Talat saab infuriated Naushad saab by smoking in front of him. The Forties didn’t give him opportunity except Naushad saab’s Jugnu. It took the entire Fifties to establish himself and gradually his supremacy over his contemporaries.

Success never disturbed him. The more he became popular, the more down to earth and accessible he became. He always used to say, “main mohtaaj nahin banna chahta”. He pointed upwards and said, “sab khuda ki den hai.” Commercially dad reached his zenith in the Sixties. His contemporaries, the late Kishore Kumar and Mukesh, were pre-occupied with their acting careers. He became the regular voice of Rajendra Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor and other top actors. Dad was very close to Naushad, but that didn’t stop him from giving his best to other music directors. Pointing out good songs from Dad’s collection will be a tuff job. Every rendition has its own individual style hummed by all and sundry.

Dad’s loveable nature got him many friends in the industry, though he was in the peak of his career. I don’t want to go in details about daddy’s temporary squabble with Lata Mangeshkar, over issues of royalty payment, not that it caused any slump in his career. Everyone knew dad was right, which gave him confidence to deal with the low phases of life. Daddy was never a film buff, but after Deewar, he became a fan of Amitabh Bachchan. I remember when he first got to sing with Amitabh Bachchan, “Chal chal mere bhai, tere haath jodta hoon”, he was overwhelmed. He came home and like a kid, full of verve and excitement, narrated the entire incident. He was very happy to sing with Amitabh Bachchan.

However, in the Seventies, post-Aradhana Kishore Kumar regained his position which became difficult for dad, but he never showed it. Dad never consumed liquor but he accurately rendered the evergreen Choo lene do nazuk hoton ko, in his controlled but slurring voice. Though he made a comeback in 1977 with Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin and Amar Akbar Anthony, daddy was happy with whatever he acquired. Though dad never wanted to become a music director, he however, gave music for a non-filmi album, in someone else’s name. It was a major hit with the public, but no one knew that the music was by dad. He never had any personal favourites but Oh duniya ke rakhwalon and Suhaani Raat dhal gayee, were the songs he used to sing in public places and shows.

Dad was a very private person He never let out his depressions and frustrations at home. He was always like a calm sea. Dad, when he was still a struggler in Mumbai, married mom when she was just thirteen and was in her Seventh class. Today, mom tells me how she embarrassed and confused she was when she was asked to put mehendi on her hands, when one day she walked in from school. That very day she was married off to daddy. His death left us numbed and shattered. A heart attack, while recording for a Bengali film, snuffed out the genius in 1980. In the morning after the recording, he complained of a minor pain in his chest. Mom was running a high temperature, but mom instinctively sensed something was strong and called all of us. By then his hands had turned blue. With his insistence, he was taken in his own car to the National Hospital. By then we got to know that he had an heart attack. The hospital didn’t have a pace-maker, so he was shifted to the Bombay Hospital, which was very closeby. During this shifting, he suffered three major attacks and after sometime he died.

Dad never wanted us to join this industry, so he sent all seven of us to London. He always wanted us to become big businessmen and we have fulfilled his dream. He always said that if we wanted to become singers, we should be able to excel him in his own field, and right from the beginning he knew that none of us had the potential to excel him.

Moreover, he was aware of the dirty politics in the industry. Hence this reluctancy in grooming us as singers. Sad but true, close friends, who frequented Rafi Mansion during dad’s heydays, deserted us. However, it does not make any difference to us.

Till date, not a single day passes without Mohammad Rafi songs wafting in the air, be it in the local paan shop, in the cab or in the radio. The genius has passed away but his sonorous voice still lingers on and on.

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2 Blog Comments to “Voice of a million souls”

  1. mohanflora says:

    He is the quitessential Saint-Singer of all times. He practised what he said and vice-versa. Someone has written about him thus:
    The most popular playback singer ever, Rafi’s melodious voice has enchanted, enamoured and lifted the moods of millions everday for the last five decades. From 1946 to 1980 Rafi Sahab reigned over the Bombay film industry. Across the vast landscape of this country, wherever you go you will surely hear Rafi’s voice from radios at the streetside shops and homes. It is generally believed that there can never be a second Rafi. A great singer and a great human being, Rafi Sahab helped innumerable needy persons. There used to be a queue outside his house and he handed over the envelopes containing Rs 100 or Rs 200 without asking anybody’s name. He was born in 1924 in Punjab and passed away in 1980.

    When he passed away, Gulzar wrote:

    Ba-yaad-e-Haji Mohammad Rafee’a

    Kahta hai koi
    Dil gaya, Dilbar chala gaya
    Sahil hai pukarta
    Samandar chala gaya
    Jo baat sach hai kahta nahin koi
    Ki is dunia se mauseequi ka payambar chala gaya

  2. Bonifacius says:

    Great article. I am just sad I dont know how to reply properly, though, since I want to show my appreciation like many other.

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