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Likhe jo khat tujhe…

By Col Harish Puri (Retd). This article is originally published here.

Likhe Jo Khat Tujeh

Had the man lived, he would have turned 90 today. As it turned out, he died at the relatively young age of 56. Hell, today I myself am a full six years older than he was when he died.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in the 60’s, when melody really reigned as queen in Hindi cinema, playback singers each had their own niche strengths, around which they built their repertoires.  The velvet voiced Talat was the ghazal maestro. The nasal vocals of Mukesh were best suited for pathos. The classically trained Manna Dey dominated the semi classical genre. Kishore was little more than a yodeller who sang the occasional breezy number for Dev Anand. Mahendra Kapoor, when he wasn’t singing those loud patriotic numbers for Manoj Kumar, was basically the poor man’s Rafi.

Why, even the females had their roles clearly cut out – while Lata crooned for the heroines, the more seductive Asha was earmarked for the vamps.

An aside here. It was Talat who indirectly set up my craze for crossword puzzles. When I was barely ten, a crossword in the Sunday ToI (Children’s Section) caught my eye. It was a Bollywood based crossword meant for kids. One of the `Down’ clues was `Singer going up the way he comes down (5)’. The answer, of course, was TALAT, which being a palindrome read the same way up or down! And I was hooked – man, this is so cool!

The only true blue `all rounder’ we had in those glory days was Rafi – the Gary Sobers of playback singing! And his greatness lay in the ease with which he could outdo each of the specialists in their own genre. He sang ghazals better than Talat, he out pathos-ed Mukesh, and clearly matched Manna Dey’s classical virtuosity raag for raag. As for Kishore, since Rafi also provided playback for Kishore the star, that was a no brainer to begin with!

Before diehard fans of these legends go up in arms, allow me to elaborate.

I remember a mellow evening at Jhansi, when we were discussing – over drinks, naturally – the merits and demerits of the Mukesh versus Rafi `sad songs’ argument. Col Mishra was a total Mukesh bhakt, and would have none of my `Rafi-is-the-greatest’ argument. “Ok, sir – the proof of the pudding” I argued, “is in the eating”! I slipped the vinyl LP (those were the vinyl days) out of its jacket. It was an SD Burman record, and had `Bandini’ on one side and `Meri Surat Teri Aankhein’ on the reverse.

I first played Mukesh’s `O jaane wale ho sake toh laut ke aana’ from `Bandini’. Now this is one of Mukesh’s best, and would take some beating. After Col Mishra was done swooning, I flipped the record over. “Now, sir – listen to real pathos” I told him, and played `Tere bin soone nayan hamare’, which is easily the most heart-rending outpouring of a torturous soul wringing in anguish. The songs spoke, or rather sang for themselves.

Manna Dey was, of course, formallytrained in Hindustani classical music, so when the two got together to sing a raag based duet for Uday Shankar’s dance epic `Kalpana’ (1960), Manna Dey was expected to totally walk all over Rafi.  The song `Tu hai mera prem devta’ remains a classical gem, and each of the singers performed superbly – but once the recording was over, Dey shook his head ruefully. “For all my classical training, where do I get avoice like his?” he bemoaned.

Much the same thing happened when Talat and Rafi got together to sing `Gham ki andheri raat mein’ from `Sushila’ (1966). The silken vocals of Talat render the pathos so beautifully (Dard hai sari zindagi, jiska koi sila nahin), and when he tapers off his anguish, Rafi simply takes off in his positive note (Subah zarooooor aayegi, subah ka intezaar kar).

The Kishore-Rafi debate is no debate actually – when you consider that Rafi has actually, on more than one occasion   provided playback for Kishore! I mean, can you imagine Lata providing playback for Noor Jehan? Of course Lata did provide payback for Suraiya, which is why nobody talks on any Lata-Suraiya debate.

The fact that Kishore dominated the 70’s is more of an accident – Dada Burman falling ill half way through `Aradhana’ , handing the mantle over to his less accomplished son RD. This was after he had already recorded two duets with Rafi (I still believe the best song form Aradhana is not Roop tera mastana or Mere sapnon ki rani but the Rafi-Lata duet Gunguna rahe hain bhawrein). This, combined with the phenomenal rise of Rajesh Khanna, laid Rafi low post Aradhana in 1969.

But there is no doubt that this man who had no formal education, this humble, God fearing Muslim was actually the voice of God. Proof? The best bhajans, in or out of movies, have been sung by Rafi – just listen to him sing `Hari Oooom’ the alaap of the mesmerising `Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj’ from `Baiju Bawra’ (1952). Even an agnostic like me turns believer!

Born on 24th December 1924, Mohammed Rafi would have turned 90 today. He now belongs to the ages. Happy Birthday, Rafi saab!

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28 Blog Comments to “Likhe jo khat tujhe…”

  1. haji zafar says:

    Rafi sb(marhoom) may ALLAH give him high place in jannat -ul fardous . His singing is an other subject even i dont know about raags but his voice strikes straight to any ones heart his voice was GOD gifted and his throat was made mushk e ambar coated with honey thats why his voice was so sweet.
    what i have read or heard about him it was very unusual that a person who worked so hard with honesty and never change his simple life style . rafi was very shy person but his sad and romentic songs put falmes in the heart because of his voice many hero become a top stars like dilip sb,dev sb,shami kapoor,shashi kapoor ,rajindar kumar,raj kumar its a long long list no one can touch his height of fame still now.may ALLAH bless hi soul

  2. shammi says:

    Even if Kishore Kumar dominated the 70’s which I beg to differ, let’s not forget who dominated the decades prior to that and it wasn’t like with Kishore Kumar with the quantity of songs he sang through his peak but with the quality. More importantly even in the decade that KK was suppose to be dominating all the great Mohd Rafi had to do was sing the odd song and it would become a super hit and make all the work KK had done seem insignificant. Dharmendra quite rightly said Mohd Rafi was his favourite as his songs are classic and are still remembered today and I think that sums up everything I’ve said!

  3. Nasreen says:

    To Mercy Daven: I love all your comments, totally echo them as I wouldn’t be able to say it better or equally.

    Great to see other passionate lovers of this incomparable voice.

  4. Ali says:

    Anil Buswas was top music director in 1940″s because of not using Mohd Rafi he lost his place,when in 1958 it said any song going to be sing by Mohd Rafi going to be hit. In 1958 Anil used Mohd Rafi voice and Mohd Rafi never said anything bad about him , Mostly people say that RD Burman liked KK more than Mohd Rafi but it is not true. As RD Burman that when Mohd Rafi sing for me it is his magic to make song it…..

  5. Mercy Daven says:

    Anil Biswas supposedly said Rafi is no singer at all? No music director worth his salt would have thought that way. This seems like a figment of imagination of Rafi foes. Any MD who thought in those lines was no MD at all unless he was so depraved and prejudiced that he was not a human at all.

  6. Mercy Daven says:

    Sharad Rajimwale, thank you for your well written comment that reflects your own good taste and knowledge of music. While I know Rafi is incomparable, as he is often drawn into comparison mostly by Kishore fans, let me make a statement. To see the difference in talent, all one needs to do is listen to duets of these two singers with Lata, a superb singer. Rafi stands equal and in some cases far above in performance while Kishore avoids all nuances and gets by with the strength of his voice. Personally, I can listen to Rafi’s singing all day while I have to switch to different singers if I listen to anybody else as it becomes too monotonous. Listening to Rafi is like listening to a dozen or more different singers.

  7. shakeel Ahmed says:

    Excellent write up ! Keep it up ! Congrats!pray for ur good health! I am a great fan of Rafi Saab.ur article has said every thing which I as a Rafi fan couldn’t.There is something special about Rafi Saab the singer and Rafi Saab the man.Long live His voice and long live His songs and His fans.

  8. Ramesh vaswani says:

    he was truly a genius of a singer. Though there were others with tremendous talent and voice.

  9. Javed Ansari says:

    While everyone waxes eloquent over Rafi and his extraordinary talent, nobody bothers to pay homage to the man by calling for the setting up of a foundation or university that would hone and groom new singers and keep the beacon burning. Indians should also immediately start doing something on similar lines for Lata Mangeshkar and her other sisters.

  10. Wonderful write up by Col Harish Puri whose appreciation for film music and fine nuances of taste are reflected in it. Every article on Mohammad Rafi inevitably contains an effort to make comparisons with other singers. I consider this absurd, given the fact that Rafi was incomparable. However, I have been wondering all these years, despite such supernal genius why Rafi was neglected by the three greatest music directors namely, Salil Choudhary, C. Ramchandra and Anil Biswas. Even Sajjad Hussain did not make much use of him. I cannot fathom the reason for this. C. Ramchandra used him in ‘Nausherwan-e-Aadi’ and a few stray film. In AZAD he preferred to sing himself for Dilip Kumar and in other notable films like Stree, Bahu Rani, Sharda, Nastik,Navrang, his choice was Mukesh, Manna Dey or more frequently Mahendra Kapoor. About Anil Biswas I read some where that he considered Rafi no singer at all!!! I dont know about the veracity of this comment, as I also read that Biswas after hearing Baiju Bawra songs exploded gleefully saying ‘ What a singer this man is’!. Salil Choudhury reportedly didnt like Rafi’s vocal mannerisms. But Dev Anand is one factor that forced all music directors to run to Rafi. In Maya Salilda used him brilliantly, CRamchandra had to go to Rafi for Amar Deep. In Goonj Uthi Shehnai, and Pyar ki Pyas Vasant Desai couldnt do withoit Rafi, and in Chhaya and Madhumati Rafi proved that even Salilda had no option. One wonders had these Music Directors been more sympathetic and sensible { For I think they harboured some sort bias against Mohammad Rafi, Films politics is very intriguing, given, many hushed stories},their own songs would have attained greater perfection and aesthetic charm . One word about Kishore Kumar. Today he is made much, thanks to our ignorant media who cant remember even correct dates of film. Till Aradhna, Kishore was considered no singer at all. The whole span of 1950s and 60s is devoid of notable Kishore songs. It was S.D.Burman only who tried to push him for Dev Ananad whose main voice was Rafi. Paying Guest is one notable film. His songs in this period belong to those film in which he acted, such as, Rangoli, Assha, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, New Delhi, Dilli ka Thug, Naukri, etc. It was mainly R.D. Burman who is responsible for bringing him in. And we all know what a decline in film music was seen in post-70s period. It is sad that Rafi was side tracked in this period. One feels that had RD,LP and Kalyanji-Anandji who were blindly adopting the R.D.Burman musical idiom as a sure formula for success, given Rafi Chance those songs would have been more memorable and durable.

  11. jayarajt says:

    Versatility –thy name is RAFI!

  12. Javid Rafiqi says:

    RAFI SAHIB, has fans everywhere,,,,he was simply great,,, we unusually come across such writing about him,,,

  13. Siva says:

    Really beautiful & well written article Colonel.The songs that you have mentioned are all really masterpieces .
    Sir , expecting more such articles from you….

  14. Mercy Daven says:

    Very nice, well written article. I too wondered why there is a debate on who is better singer, Rafi or Kishore when there should be no debate at all on a topic that is quite self evident. You have addressed this very effectively and I thank you for that. Rafi stands alone at the top of the pile but was so humble that status did not affect his overall gentle manly character. As for the Bhajans, I share your sentiments. As an agnostic or humanist I too find his devotional rendering irresistible and they do instill a feeling of spirituality. I listen to Allah mere Allah and that also gives me same feelings. It comes from the voice and the emotion it conveys. Nobody has been born yet to match Rafi in various genre as you have pointed out so eloquently. He was a human wonder whose greatness was too large for many to grasp.

  15. ghawas says:

    Very nice & informatry.

    Keep it up….


  16. TM Shashidhar says:

    There is no doubt about the greatness of rafi sahb. This king of melodies was very comfortable and accomplished in all genres of hindi movie play back singing. His voice was mesmerizing, had a silky touch and he was definitely god’s gift to hindi films. i believe on his death even the heavens burst forth in anguish and sorrow. There will never be another Rafi Sahb.

  17. K P Hassan says:

    Col sahab, you are absolutely right. Rafi sahab was an all rounder singer of our country.He had all qualities required for a PERFECT singer and due to this reason all true music lovers selected him as a millennium singer of our country. Besides above, he was a very gentle, polite, simple and God fearing man. Rafi sahab, your are still living in the hearts of all your fans. Your name and your melodious songs will remain here till the collapse of this universe.

    Col sahab, I offer my thanks for this article and also pray to God for your good health and long life. with regards.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Col Sahab, you are absolutely right. Rafi Sahab was a all rounder singer of our country. Due to this reason, he was selected a millennium singer by the true lovers of music. He had all qualities required for a perfect singer. Besides this, he was also a very gently, simple and God fearing man.

    Col sahab, I offer my best wishes for you and pray for your good health and long life. May God give us more opportunities to share the experiences of Rafians like you sir. with regards.

  19. vinod mehru says:

    great voice. no comparison to be made . all r great and legends

  20. Mohamed Salim says:

    Rafi was not only great but is great as no one yet has touched him .In sad songs,he would draw tears .
    Happy birth day to RAFI the great .

  21. Zafar Ahmad says:

    What a remarksable comments pass by you about Rafi Sahib. Rafi is the only ultimate singer of India and whole of the world. His voice was perfect in all respect in the singing filed. Some people was degrade this greatest singer.

  22. Uma Maheswar says:

    Fantastic article and true he was a great singer and his songs are evergreen

  23. Nasreen says:

    Loved reading this article with which I totally agree. Loved the nostalgic feel of the memory of sitting and discussing over drinks and vinyl in Jhansi the superiority of Rafi Sahab.
    Don’t really know why, but it brought pictures in my mind’s eye like memories of things that could have been part of a faraway dream but often felt quite real.

    Like sitting in a white marble Mughal palace wearing robes of silk, lace and satin, sipping sherbet from a crystal glass, maybe looking like Madhubala or Liz Taylor (why not) and listening to songs like “Likhe jo khat tujhe” or “hum aur tum aur yeh sama” or “tere mere sapne ab ek rang hai” or any other song of Rafi Sahab no one else. Oh well, Elvis might be okay but the scene would have to be different.

    I liked the examples of the songs you gave, So true that this great voice out melodied Talat, out-tragedied Mukesh, out-classicaled Manna and just outdid everyone who ever sang.

  24. Jae-Bee says:

    Absolutely agree with you on the comparisons made. As much as a die hard rafi fan I am, I must say to me, Kishore da comes a distant second to rafi sahb. The rest of the male singers in the list can compete for number three. By the way sir, the song you mentioned of Aradhna was sung by rafi-asha, rafi-lata sang the other duet “bago mein bahar hai”

  25. shammi says:

    I personally think only people that are in denial would object to being told that Mohd Rafi was the best all rounder ever and could beat any of the top singers in their genre. It is after all fact and his success and popularity even today speaks for itself. I personally don’t like to make comparisons as I feel Mohd Rafi is in a league of his own and this well above anyone else and no one even comes close to his talent. He truley was gifted and blessed but humble and down to earth at the same time, what an incredible human being.

    A great article and a lovely read especially remembering him on what would have been his 90th birthday!

  26. Anonymous says:


  27. syed salman afsar says:

    RAFI SAAB WE MISS THE BADSHAH OF Play back singing

  28. Anonymous says:

    happy birth day rafi sahib,, you are alive in our lives

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