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A Journey through Rafi Jee’s Hometown

By: Sohail Butt. He is a ‘Rafi Bhagat’ of long standing and can be contacted at:

I am pleased to attach a copy of my article that I wrote in 2007 following my visit to Rafi Saheb’s house in Lahore and met his real brother Mohd Saddique and his nephew Mohd Ashfaq (Late Mohd Ibrahim’s son). I am also attaching some photos of a musical function in Lahore where Mohd Saddique sahab sang his late brother’s songs. The written article and photos can be related to each other.

Mohd Rafi with Hameed

Mohd Rafi with Hameed

Lahore ( founded by  prince Loh, son of Ram Chandra  in 1000BC)  has been described by  many during its long history   in so many different ways that it is extremely difficult to sum it all up in a word, sentence or even a book. However there are few sayings in Punjabi that I have heard and will like to quote them if I were to describe the city:

(1) ‘ Lohrre , Lohrre Aiye”  ( Lahore is Lahore).

(2)  “ Jinay Lohrre Nahin Waykhay, oh, nay kuj nahin waykhay” (If you have not seen   Lahore , you have not seen anything).

(3)   Nahin Reesan Shahar Lahore Deeyan ( The city of Lahore is incomparable and unmatchable).

The  Lahore of pre partition India was the richest nursery of talent in almost all fields of knowledge and performing art. Dev Anand in his recently launched book “Romancing with life “ says that Lahore was the most ‘fashionable’ city of undivided India. People used to take lot of pride in associating themselves with the city and in particular its educational institutions. Lahore being at center stage of culture & arts of North India and with a rich history  was best described as the place where people by birth or grooming or both  found the city’s multicultural and multi-ethnic environment extremely conducive for establishing their roots and enhancing their potential to the fullest.  There are many examples of such people related to all walks and trade of life in both India and Pakistan who attained legendary status in life.

Narrowing down the ‘Lahoris’  to the Indian Film industry who have been associated in one way or the other with this great city, I  remember quite a few names out of a long list:  Mohammad Rafi,  Nur Jehan, Chopra brothers –( BR & Yash  Raj), Pancholis,  Dev Anand,   Kamini Kaushal,  Surender Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Pran, A.R. Kardar, Geeta Bali, Shamshad Begum, Surriya, Zohra Sehgal,  Manorma, A.R. Kardar, Rajendra  Kumar, Kabir Bedi,  Manoj  Kumar etc and  Music Directors (Khayyam , O.P. Nayyar &  Feroze Nizami),  Ustad Barrey Ghulam Ali and many notable classical singers and musicians of various ‘Gharanas’  too had their roots in the city .

Mohammad Rafi,  the subject of this article was one such great contribution of Lahore to India and the rest of the world. There is hardly any living moment   on this earth when Rafi  Sahab’s voice is not being splashed through the airwaves and heard by some one, somewhere on this globe.  Mohammad  Rafi  sings every moment of ‘ to-day ‘and in all probability will continue doing so  for every ‘to-morrow’ to come.

Being a die hard fan of Rafi Sahab, I had always wanted to meet  him in person, but alas that wish remained unfulfilled due to his sudden passing away  on 31st July 1980.  However God almighty had planned a different route to partly fulfill my apparently ‘lost wish’ that seemingly looked impossible to be fulfilled otherwise. The almighty chose two different phases of satiating my desire.

First,  I was very lucky to have met Abdul Hameed (Rafi Sahab’s God brother, mentor and guru) through a common friend ‘Zaifee Hussain’ ( the die-hardest Rafi fan I have ever known) and then remained in the regular company of late Hameed Sahab in Toronto Canada for about two years till he  passed away in July 2001.

Abdul Hameed was the person who accompanied Rafi Sahab on his first journey from Lahore to Mumbai in early 1940’s  and played a key and defining role in first getting him trained in Lahore under various music directors ( Waheed  Khan , Chhotay Ghulam Ali  & Feroze Nizami), convincing Rafi Sahab’s parents to let him go to Mumbai  and then marketing his singing talent in the Mumbai Film World. Once settled , both Hameed Sahab and  Rafi Sahab married two sisters and became brother-in-laws. Career success was yet far away.

Hameed and Rafi Sahab in Poona, India

Hameed and Rafi Sahab in Poona, India

Hameed Sahab remained with Rafi Sahab in India probably till late 70’s and  then migrated to Toronto, Canada . He never returned to his native Lahore while Rafi Sahab did few times till 1962. Preceeding his death at the age of 85, I tried many times that Hameed Sahab agrees to visit his native Lahore that he left in early 1940’s but his reply always was that, all my closest family members including parents who were alive when he left have passed away during the 56 years of his absence from Lahore. To visit home with every one gone will be too much to bear.

Hameed Sahab died in July 2001 and is buried in Toronto, thousands of miles away from his parents in Lahore and a  brother like saint ‘Mohammad Rafi’ in Mumbai, for whom literally he dedicated his own life.

During Rafi Sahab’s visit to Toronto, Canada  in 1979 that proved to be his last one also, Hameed Sahab told Rafi Sahab in Punjabi , (being translated in English) the following and I

“ You started to sing on my persuasion and initiative. Now I ask you to stop singing altogether and shift to Canada where we could spend last few years of our life close to each other.. Rafi Sahab nodded in the affirmative  .  I will do as you suggest and will quit singing. “

Hameed and Rafi Sahab in Toronto, Canada

Hameed and Rafi Sahab in Toronto, Canada

Never did Hameed Sahab realize how prophetically Rafi Sahab was speaking at that time He indeed left everything including this world for his heavenly abode within few months thereafter”.  While narrating me this event,  Hameed Sahab had tear in his eyes. He said he never knew that asking him to stop singing mean’t that he will leave this world too!!! Perhaps for Rafi Sahab, keeping a promise and honoring a commitment   was more important than his life. Once he committed to stop singing mean’t the end of his life. A word that he kept till the very end and fulfilled a promise he made to his mentor and an ‘elder brother’.

The itch in me to have met Rafi Sahab never faded or left my system. It grew with passage of time in parallel with the growing recognition across the sub-continent of Rafi Sahab’s unmatchable voice and his exceptional qualities of playback singing that were not to be found in any other human being since his death.  The world simply could not find a replacement of him or any one close to his godly voice. Another Mohammad Rafi was no where, no more and perhaps would never be found.

I remember once attending a musical function in the memory of the late singer in Canada  when a  poet cum writer  went as far as saying and I  “ Rafi Sahab was a unique creation of God and  even if God once again tries to create another Mohammad Rafi , He cannot” . This is the ultimate compliment that can be given to a human being though such statements   cross the red lines of religious beliefs and Allah’s greatness. I should be pardoned for this sin of quoting an otherwise ‘unholy’ statement.

The second phase started with my regular surfing of internet websites about Rafi Sahab. This brought another revelation to me. Rafi Sahab’s youngest brother ‘Mohammad Saddique’ is still alive and lives in his old ancestral home in Lahore. This information was provided by two extremely friendly and cooperative ‘Rafians’  Mr. Ghulam Mujtaba and his nephew Mr. Adeel, both residents of Lahore and who were also involved with  the Lahore Chapter of ‘Rafi Foundation’ along with another very famous fan of  Rafi Jee  Col (Retd) Saeed Khan, Pakistan’s ex-Olympic Hockey Player and a star by himself in the field of sports .

Locating the ‘real brother ‘ of Rafi Sahab  was indeed a great discovery for me and very exciting one. I decided to visit my own home town Lahore as soon as possible to meet the gentlemen mentioned in the previous para and through their efforts meet the real brother ‘Mohammad Saddique’ and other close relatives of  Rafi Sahab.

The moment that I was so keenly waiting for finally arrived barely 36 hours of my landing in Lahore. I warmly embraced Saddique sahib at the entrance of a small auditorium of National University of Modern Languages (NUML) at Lahore where Saddique  Sahab had come as a chief guest to participate in a small musical tribute to Rafi Sahab arranged by the Principal of the college Colonel (Retd). Saeed Khan ( Also an enthusiastic Rafian, former Pakistan Hockey Olympian) under the banner of RAFI FOUNDATION..

I found Saddique Sahab very warm, affectionate and friendly on my very first encounter. It felt a lot of humility, warmth, simplicity and, genuineness in him. This was perhaps  a family trait for which Rafi Sahab too was uniquely remembered. The saying that Rafi Sahab was a Saint who sang in God’s voice was quite so true.

The evening choosen for paying Tribute to Mohammad Rafi happened to be 12th Rabbi-ul-Awwal’ (21st March) the day our prophet ‘Mohammad (PBUH)’ was born and was a public holiday in Lahore. Nevertheless the musical tribute did take place. Mr. Saeed Khan and  his son Bilal sang wonderfully well some of Rafi Sahab’s popular songs. Later on I also sang few songs and ghazals and felt very proud to be singing in front of the real brother of ‘Rafi Sahab’.

The treat of the evening was yet to come. Saddique Sahab in the end took over the harmonium and sang some of the favorite and difficult songs despite the old age factor  He started with Maduhuban Mera Dika Nachey Raye in his soft, low tone, husky and melodious voice .and ended with ‘Jane Bahar Husn Tera, in Raag Malkous.  I felt that I have eventually heard ‘Rafi Sahab’ sing in person. My wish to meet him and listen to him  seem partly fulfilled. No one could  have fulfilled my wish  better than this, in  any other way. God almighty did this for me.  I thank ‘Allah’ almighty.

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

The musical session concluded at midnight and here I must praise the commitment to music and Rafi lovers by Saddique Sahab who stayed with us till the very end despite his old age. We parted with a commitment that we shall meet each other in the next few days prior to my departure for Kuwait for an informal chat that can be communicated to the Rafi Lovers around the World.

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

Mohammad Siddiq at the musical function in Lahore

On Thursday March 27 Mr. Mujtaba and Mr. Saeed  were able to arrange as well as accompany me on  long desired meeting with Saddique Sahab at his and Rafi Jee’s family home in Bilal Ganj (Behind the Mouselum of Hazrat Data Gaj Buksh the famous 12th century Muslim Saint which was once a regular place of visit by Rafi Sahab also) . We arrived after driving through narrow streets and alleys of Bilal Ganj. The crowded area where driving during the day time was virtually impossible but was expertly managed  by my cousin Ismail Butt who kindly provided  logistical services  during my Lahore Yatra specially the ones I undertook for Rafi Sahab’s lovers across the world.

On our arrival at about 3PM in the afternoon we found Saddique Sahab waiting for us in his room on the ground floor of a  building that saw our beloved Rafi Jee through his child hood. We walked on the same street where Rafi Jees footsteps once rolled and spread the particles of gold dust that spread and converted into the voice of ‘God’ and thus became ‘immortal’ . We were in the same house where Rafi Jee  climbed and walked down the staircase many times during a day and where his golden voice echoed many times day or night.

I looked at the surrounding walls of the house  many times while I was there, visualizing that a young Mohammad Rafi in his teens would come down from some place of his house, humming and singing and getting out of the house into the street  into the waiting arms of his teenage friends. I touched Saddique Sahab ‘s hands and hugged him many times too, to feel that Mohammad Rafi not only lives in our hearts, but we can feel him too!!!!!!!

Mohd Saddique & Sohail Butt at the musical function in Lahore

Mohd Saddique & Sohail Butt at the musical function in Lahore

Musical function in Lahore

Musical function in Lahore

I admiredly watched Saddique sahib whose primary concern on our arrival seemed  how best and how soon to entertain us. A typical Lahori ‘host’ who would do about anything to feed his guests with the best snacks, food, drinks that can be made available. Saeed sahib and Mujtaba Sahab being his regular visitors successfully restrained him and we finally succeeded in getting into a conversation mode.

I  briefly summarize the main points of  conversation with Saddique Sahab with myself, Mr. Saeed Khan and Mr. Mujtaba for the amusement of the readers. My younger cousin Ismail who drove us through the narrow and crowded lanes of ‘Bilal Ganj’ also took the responsibility of  making a video while we informally conversed. This video is an invaluable record of a memorable and unforgettable conversation with someone who shares not only ‘blood and flesh’ but child hood memories, time spent together on various visits to Mumbai, his presence during the creation, composition and recording of scores of Rafi Sahabs famous songs that we all listen so fondly and so often.

  1. Rafi Sahabs singing  talent was discovered during his child hood. A ‘Faqir’ who used to pass by usually sang  while walking thru the street and the young Rafi would reproduce the same with no difficulty. “Khaidan Dey Din Chaar” (Days of Play and Fun are Four)  was one such melodious verse that young Rafi reproduced in front of the fakir prompting him to praise the young boy with lots of prayers for his success. The fakir prophetically declared that the boy will create a big name for himself in the field of music in the days to come.
  2. The first Ustaad was Chootay Ghulam Ali. Later  Ustaad  Feroze  Nizami and Ustaad Whaeed Khan sahib also contributed in training the legend.
  3. Saddique Sahab reminisced the day when  Rafi Sahab departed along with Hameed Sahab for Mumbai by train. Almost all close friends and  relatives accompanied them to Lahore Railway station to see them off. He was sent off with lots of prayers and good wishes.
  4. Rafi Sahab’s father ‘Haji Ali Mohammad’ instructed his son at the time of departing that since he is venturing on this great journey, coming back to Lahore without achieving success and his ultimate goal  is not an option. Effectively he was instructing him to take a ‘one way ticket’.He said he was willing to forget that he had  a son named Rafi in case his journey to Mumbai does not yield the desired results.
  5. Rafi sahabs love for his family back in Pakistan was very deep, caring and never ending. He never lost an opportunity of seeing his brothers and parents whenever and wherever he could.
  6. Rafi Sahab was the true face of  love, peace, inter-religious harmony based on  Gandhian philosophy, Secularism and  Indian Nationalism. Despite the fact that he belonged to Lahore and all his immediate family lived in Lahore, he remained an Indian citizen by choice till death. His burial in Mumbai India proved his eternal and everlasting love with the soil that immortalized him for ever. Rafi Sahab’s parents are buried in Miani sahib grave yard in Lahore that he visited last in 1962.
  7. Saddique Sahab narrated many events of his visits to Mumbai to meet his brother particularly the ones that happened around the recording of various songs during which he used to be present.

Later Saddique Sahab took us to a special room where few original portraits of himself ,  Rafi Sahab and their father Haji Ali Mohammad were hanging. The best I could do was to video film those hanging portraits.

Subsequently we visited late. Mohammad Ibrahim’s house (Rafi Sahab’s elder brother) in the street nearby. It was a pleasure meeting Rafi Sahab’s look alike nephew ‘Mohammad Ashfaq’, who too narrated some events of his family’s interaction with the legend. He proudly showed us many family photographs that included Rafi Sahib.

Returning from this memorable visit and driving through the evening rush hour of the crowded narrow lanes of the older part of Lahore,  I was looking at the surrounding buildings with envy who had seen young Rafi pass by many times. Everything probably stood as it was in the early 1940’s but Rafi Sahab was no where, not any where in this world. But for sure his golden voice will live on for ever, he too will live in the hearts and minds of people for all times to come.

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52 Blog Comments to “A Journey through Rafi Jee’s Hometown”

  1. Liaqat Ali khan says:

    I found this article and the website very interesting and informative.
    Many thanks for your efforts. I still listen “Balak tera khilona toota” from an old original Record “His Master Voice” ever since 1950.

  2. Parvesh Kumar Uppal says:

    Please give me his contact details of Pakistan soon as possible. I want to send him One Lakh Rupees

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