Saturday, December 15, 2007


The Last Decade - Rising of the Phoenix.


Yes, Rafi Sahaab was all set to revive the glory of his early Sixties as was evident from his signing spree with the music directors in 1980.  Just some seven months before, Mohammed Rafi Sahaab had celebrated his 55th birthday.  The Polydor (India) that later went on to become Music India Ltd., wished him Many Happy Returns of the Day and also expressed their appreciation of Rafi Sahaab "in making this life worth living." (See inset)

The cruel hands of fate, however, snatched Rafi Sahaab from our midst and he breathed his last on 31st July 1980.  As luck would have it, just that morning he had his discussion with Composer Basu and Manohari and Director Mukul Dutt regarding a composition of a Bhajan meant for Durga Pooja album despite his critically bad health. The party had come to Rafi's mansion all the way from Kolkata for him.  He was the last person to disappoint any one for his personal reasons and he finished the job despite suffering severe pain in the chest.  When he came back home the pain had accelerated.   He couldn't even have water since he was fasting during the Islamic month of Ramzan.  He sat down on the sofa.  He was sweating profusely in agony.   His nails had turned blue.  Alarmed at the situation, Mrs Rafi called the family doctor who then advised the family to shift him to a hospital.  He refused the Ambulance service and opted to go by his own car.  Before leaving, Rafi Sahaab beckoned his family to his side.  He kissed them on forehead.  His last words were:  "Mere Liye KHuda se Dua Karna"  (Pray to God for me).  Even in that condition he walked down the stairs to his car.  Before leaving for the hospital, he looked up one last time from his car and waved at them.  Rafi Sahaab did not survive the major heart-attack.  He died in the state of  compulsory Ramzan fasting, which was his last action. 

Allah had chosen to call back Rafi Sahaab on the most auspicious day:  27th Day of the month of Ramzan, the month when especially during the last ten odd nights the gates of Heaven are open and dying in this month increases the chances of entering Paradise as a martyr for Islam. How auspicious was the combination: Month of Ramzan, 27th Night of Shab-e-Qadar, and Last Friday of this month for burial!  This definitely proves Rafi Sahaab was  a saintly person.   

The news of his death was very shocking to all those who knew him personally and to those millions who knew him through his melodious voice and songs.  Reports of suicides of his fans on hearing about his death  filtered through slowly, showing how popular he was even outside India.  Many schools in Mumbai declared a holiday on that day.  Everything seemed to come to a standstill.  It was the month of July and it was raining very heavily that day.  Open umbrellas and umbrellas could be seen every where. Yes, it was raining cats and dogs. It was as if the heavens were weeping. Despite the torrential rains, the funeral procession of Rafi Sahaab was such that has never been seen before for any film personality or even a political leader in Mumbai at least to my knowledge.  In addition to the relatives and friends, as well as the neighbourhood of Bandra, the entire film industry was present including Amitabh Bachchan, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Jeetendra, Vinod Mehra, Randhir Kapoor,  Naushad, Shankar, R.D. Burman, Chitragupt, Rajesh Roshan, Kalyanji, Anandji, Laxmikant, Pyarelal, Sapan Jagmohan, Sonik-Omi,  Bappi Lahiri, Yash Chopra, Manmohan Desai, Nasir Hussain, Sultan Ahmed, Ramanand Saagar, Shakti Samant, J. Omprakash, O.P. Ralhan, Ravi Chopra, Prasan Kapoor, Premji, Qamar Jalalabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Gulzar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Naqsh Lyalpuri, Anand Bakshi, Shyam Sagar, Anjan, Salim, Raza Murad, Sachin, as well as Rakhi, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Usha Mangeshkar, Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Sulakshna Pandi, Bhupendra, Hemlata, Manhar, Jaspal Singh, and others.   Only Shammi Kapoor was conspicuous by his absence since he was away and had no knowledge that he had "lost his voice."  At the home of Rafi Sahaab, his beloved wife and now the widow wept uncontrollably.  There were Naseem Bano, Saira Bano, Shammi, Mrs.Nasir Husain and others who tried to console her. 

Zahir, the brother-in-law and Secretary of Rafi Sahaab too was irrepresiblly weeping and wailing:  "Sahaab why didn't you take me along?" And looking at  Ravindra Jain, who was there, he asked: "Dada, whom would you now call 'Tansen'?"  Shahid Rafi lapsed into unconsciousness several times in grief. 
Even death had not robbed Rafi Sahaab of his smile which everyone was used to seeing in life. The body was kept in the verandah for everyone to see.  Each took turn in having a last glimpse of the face of the immortal singing legend and finest of  human beings.  Sulakshna Pandit kept on sobbing throughout.  Kishore Da too wept a lot, holding the feet of Rafi Sahaab.   The other members of Rafi Sahaab including his other sons and daughter and son-in-law who were in London had already been informed and they were expected to come by Saturday.
All the roads in the Bandra vicinity from 28th Road to Waterfield and the New Talkies were blocked by the people following the  bier of  their beloved  Rafi Sahaab.  Everyone wanted to carry the bier.  Namaaz-e-Janaazaa was performed at the Bandra Masjid after the Juma' prayers,  and thereafter the funeral procession started from the Masjid at 2 p.m.  Rafi Sahaab's body was finally laid to rest at the Santacruz (west) Muslim Qabrastan at about 4.45 p.m.

Now anything written after this would be an anti-climax since we would not be touching upon Rafi Sahaab’s various actions of altruism and his monetary and psychological help to other singers, music directors, and all those who came to him for help; or his giving free service in the name of friendship or just because he liked the particular composition or the song was a one-liner. Neither the views of the celebrities about Rafi Sahaab will be cited since there is a plethora of such writings available. What we need to download into our memory is the fact about the sterling qualities of Rafi Sahaab as a singer of originality of style and whose voice possessed amazing range, phrasing, pitch, timbre, timing, vibrato, versatility, clarity of diction, emotional impact and such sweetness as never had been heard since. We also need to be aware that certain elements have always been interested for one reason or another in distorting his achievements or attempting to gain upmanship – though unsuccessfully.

Let us now consider some other external circumstances in which Rafi Sahaab found himself in the Seventies. It is common knowledge that during the last years Rafi Sahaab was once again involved in a controversy vis-à-vis
Lata Mangeshkar over the entry of her name in the Guineness Book of World Records as the most recorded artist for 25,000 songs in various languages. Rafi Sahaab who had been recording songs since 1944-1945 stated that he sang at least two songs a day and sometimes even five and therefore Lata’s figure should be reassessed. Even as late as November 1979, Rafi Sahaab’s request for reassessment was never heeded. It was sometimes three years after Rafi Sahaab’s death that the Guinness Book of Word Records stated Lata Mangeshkar's name for the "Most Recordings" but also stated: "Mohammad Rafi claimed to have recorded 28,000 songs in 11 Indian languages between 1944 and April 1980. As for Lata Mangeshkar, she stated: "I don't know anything about it." "I don't know how my name appeared in the Guinness Book, or where they got their information from. Certainly I didn't supply it. I don't keep a record of the number of songs I have sung." Imagine this! So for Rafi Sahaab the Guiness authorities used the word “Claimed” and for Lata Mangeshkar they gave a clean chit of "most recorded." In short, Rafi Sahaab was never given an opportunity to prove his own claim. Later on, sometimes in 1999 the names of both Rafi Sahaab and Lata Mangeshkar were deleted from the Book.  Since it was rumoured that those letters were drafted at Naushad's home, Lata Mangeshkar did not take kindly to it.  This is evident even after thirty years, for I have observed that in the many interviews that she gave to the media, including TV channels, she has never included Naushad's name even once among  Five Music Directors of her choice.  The fact remains that Naushad's compositions have a very high standard and he has given Lata Mangeshkar many of his best compositions to sing.   

Recently, in order to short-change his achievements some are claiming that Rafi Sahaab never sang the alleged number of songs at all. Rafi Sahaab's own assessment was based simply on the work he put in, that is, how many recordings did he do per day for all those decades. Many fans of Rafi state that he has sung over 28,000 songs. Whatever the case may be, it would be well to remember that Emily Bronte wrote just one novel "The Wurthering Heights" and this just one has assured her name to the hall of fame of great novelists. As for Rafi Sahaab, we have thousands of his songs to prove his immortality.

Then it is said that "perhaps overexposure in the sixties where one could just hear his voice everywhere- from heroes to character actors to comedians was the reason for this decline." Not a valid statement, this! This is not the field of acting where, for example, the screen legend, Dilip Kumar, took great pains not to over-expose himself for retention of number one slot in the late Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and till the mid-Seventies. It was not the case of having George Clooney for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over-exposure of voice could never happen because those were different times. How many could afford a TV, or a tape-recorder, or even gramophones? One had to depend on the radio programmes which had fixed timings to hear the songs of one’s choice. Have we forgotten that even in the late Seventies Doordarshan used to telecast Chhayageet (literally: Songs with Images) programme which was an assortment of screened movie songs only every Thursday? The entire neighbourhood used to then gather in the home that had just one TV. Where is the question of over-exposure? Even though Rafi Sahaab playbacked for all sort of characters it is of paramount importance to make a note that his voice never sounded monotonous. There could never be "over-exposure." On the contrary we couldn't have enough of him. Vidya Rao, the great thumri and light classical singer, once described Mohammed Rafi’s voice as one with an internalized smile. How can one be antagonistic to a smile? Lata Mangeshkar admits that Rafi Sahaab's voice was his greatest blessing. Hafiz-e-Shirazi, the 14th century poet and philosopher, if he had seen him, would have nodded with approval:

Yes, Fresh and Invigorating song: 'Taaza ba Taaza Nau ba Nau' which was the hallmark of Rafi Sahaab's voice. Rafi Sahaab's was the sweetest, magical, "And I don't know What" Voice and remains to be so even till this day. The so-called theory about "over-exposure" therefore holds no water.

Then much is sometimes made of "yodeling" by saying that Rafi Sahaab could never yodel. Fasten your seat-belts: It was Rafi Sahaab who introduced yodelling to the Indian screen. Now a dictionary describes the word "Yodel" as "To sing with frequent changes from the ordinary voice to falsetto and back again, in the manner of Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers." There you are! It is not part of the Hindustani Music
. (Of course, someone knowing the classicals can always give a name to even Yodeling as some kind of a 'Swar'.) This is the reason why Rafi Sahaab did not pursue this insignificant antic. However, just for the satisfaction of his fans he did yodel in at least a few songs and that too with a variety, such as voice-breaks. To name a few, the picnic song: UNSE RIPPI TIPPI HO GAYI HO HO YAANI BAAT PAKKI HO GAYI from Agra Road (1957), a Rafi-Shamshad duet, ISS KEE TOPEE USKE SAR from Miss Bombay (1957), DO QADAM AUR AY SAATHEE from Khubsurat Dhoka (1959), HELLO SWEET SEVENTEEN - a duet with Asha Bhonsle - from Dr. Z (1959), THODI THODI GORI in Superman (1960), O CHALE HO KAHAAN KAHO from the movie Reporter Raju (1962), APNI APNI PASAND HAI in Raja (1963), YEH TO KAHO KAUN HO TUM in Akeli Mat Jaiyyo (1963), DIL KE AAINE MEIN TASVEER TERI REHTI HAI from Aao Pyar Karen (1964), KENA SABAN DAIEN - a Punjabi song with Dilraj Kaur among others. Most importantly, his yodeling was original too and not copied from the style of the Swiss or the Austrian yodelers.

During the last decade, circumstances may have caused interruption in Rafi Sahaab's career. We noted before how Hameed (brother-in-law, referred to as "brother") tried to persuade Rafi Sahaab to settle down in Toronto for good when the latter flew there for his live programme in 1979.   It cannot be contradicted that such persuasions were not tried before especially from his near and dear ones in his own interest of course.  Once he came out of the dilemma whether to sing or not to sing Rafi Sahaab never lost sight of his goal.  He was a go-getter and an extraordinary singer and person though in early Seventies he had been made a victim of  some terrible psychological circumstances and machinations of his detractors.  But he remembered his song:


and it is precisely because of this that persona of Rafi Sahaab emerges all the greater, in fact much greater than that of his contemporary singers.

We can go on and on writing about Rafi Sahaab and the hosts of qualities both in terms of his being an unparalleled singer and a great human being. This is humanly not possible to do justice to either.

Rafi Sahaab was known as "a complete family man" who enjoyed the bliss of his home and hearth.  He would invariably come back home after his recording sessions to spend time with his wife and children.  At times he would fly his black kites during the day from the terrace of his villa, joined by his children.   At times he did throw a party at home for his Bollywood colleagues on the occasions of winning an award.  He would relish Mughlai dishes, including Biryani. He also loved sweets.  He loved to drink tea but only at home or that which he carried from home.  Sometimes he would find time to take his wife and children outside the city to such places as Mahableshwar or Matheran or to Lonavla where he had his own bungalow, and there he would jump into the swimming pool to the delight of  all, clad in dhoti-kurta.  Sometimes they had singing sessions at home.   

Even during world tours, he would take his wife along with him since then she could see her children who had been sent away to London for education.  Their daughter Nasreen was only  12 then, and their sons Khalid, Hamid and Saeed were 16, 12 and 8 years old respectively.  Yasmin and Shahid at that time were little, and they remained home at Mumbai.  The children were never exposed to filmy atmosphere.   Their eldest daughter, Parveen, had also settled abroad.  They were never encouraged to take up singing as career or to do anything with the film industry.  Though Shahid did do Socha Na Tha after Rafi Sahaab had passed away.    Yasmin  states: (see the inset to the right)
Nasreen, Yasmin, Shahid have settled down in Mumbai. 

Before winding up, I would like to point out that when a debate erupted in the form of letters to the editor of the Filmfare Magazine as to who was greater, Rafi Sahaab or Kishore Da, the latter put an end to the controvery by clearly stating that "Rafi Sahib has been the greatest male singer of our times."

Surprisingly and not surprisingly, the altruistic attitudes have passed on to Rafi Sahaab's fans all over the world, which can be termed as the greatest of the compliments to his memory. "Surprisingly" because they have nothing to gain; "Not surprisingly" because when we are in good company the "goodness" is bound to pass on to all those who come to associate themselves with great souls. When a person goes on distributing Henna leaves to others for their benefit, his own hand attains the colour of Henna in the process. So we have his fans joining hands and making Rafi Sahaab's Death Anniversary a special day; or some personally holding shows or Rafi Nites and then donating the proceeds to the poor and needy of their localities or even donating to various charitable funds or constructing unique bus shelters for the public. Or some fans such as the one in Ahmedabad constructing a temple in the name of Rafi Sahaab to exhibit his boundless love for him. Or constructing a memorial in Birmingham to his name. Or those laying the Rafi Foundation in various Indian cities, including Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, or those coming up with the Biographies of the Legendary Rafi Sahaab; or those who are ready to defend their icon whenever some one tries to bring down the relevance and importance of Rafi Sahaab. Heartiest felicitations and many many greetings to all these selfless noble souls of all generations over the globe, who have acquired the altruism from their icon Rafi Sahaab and who have been continually keeping the flame of Rafi Sahaab's memory burning even after 26 years of his passing away. May their tribe ever increase and may their zeal and enthusiasm in this direction never cease. May all of them meet with success in whatever fields of life they are.  Blessings to the progeny of Rafi Sahaab too.  Amen



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