Mohd Rafi – a thank you note

Mohammed Rafi (generally abbreviated to Mohd) was born on Christmas Eve!  Pretty apt for a man about whom the worst that was said was that he did not back Lata Mangeshkar in demanding royalty from composers.  It is his birth anniversary today, but Times of India decided it is not worth remembering him.  So, I decided, I will.

Ironically, in my childhood (which wasn’t that long back…not yet!), Times played a significant role in introducing me to the living and long dead cultural icons of India, simply by making it a point to remember them on their birthday, whether it was Rafi saab or Kishoreda or Shammi Kapoor or Dev Anand (who were still alive at the time).  Not many among my schoolmates really cared about these tributes but I did. I was the ridiculous kid who stood up and proclaimed that old is gold (not sure that I’d still say THAT!).

Rafi mattered a heck of a lot to me.  He was the first singer who made an impression on me.  Enough of an impression to want to learn his name.  Perhaps, it was just me growing up because not too long after this ‘discovery’, I would spend afternoons wearing out an Asha-OP Nayyar tape and earning rebukes from mum.  But I do still remember the exact song which made me, then ten years old, a fan:  Jo Unki Tamanna Hai Barbaad Ho Ja/Toh Ae Dil Mohabbat Ki Kismat Bana De.

Not quite one of his oft-repeated classics, is it?  But that’s the thing about Rafi, which I didn’t know at the time.  Rafi is a gift that keeps giving.  There are so many songs stored away in that vault of timeless melody that you can never quite say that you’ve heard it all.  In the spirit of sharing, here’s another melody I had heard at the time:  Dono Ne Kiya Tha Pyar Magar.

Yes, a word or several more about the composers who came up with lovely melodies and tasteful arrangements for Rafi to sing over.  But he was verily the sone pe suhaga and added something extra to nice enough songs to make them unforgettable. And not once or twice, but hundreds, maybe thousands of times in his career.

As I grew, Rafi remained a constant in the playlist of my life.  Contrast that with Celine Dion whose show I had watched on TV in school with a lot of excitement and simply couldn’t care to return to anymore. That’s not a knock on Celine Dion, just saying that for me, Rafi was not a one time fad to grow out of; rather, the songs he sang came to occupy a special place in my heart.

My appreciation of his work only grew with time, as I got introduced to more of his songs and to more artists, including from the Western hemisphere lately.  When I realised that after hearing so many amazing singers from the world of rock and pop, I really hadn’t heard too many, if any, tones as silken as Rafi’s, it really put his achievements in perspective for me.

When I was 15 or so, we bought a 4 cassette compilation of Rafi songs, which is how I got introduced to the light-as-a-feather Jag Dil-e-Deewana or Aise to na dekho.  We bought it at the stylish Planet M store at the Times of India building near CST (Mumbai). We played it to our hearts’ content (my father is a huge fan of Rafi, needless to say, and introduced me to his songs in the first place) before giving them away to an aunt.

Or did we?  Can’t recall anymore.  We don’t listen to music on cassettes anymore.  And the swanky store I mentioned above is long gone too.  Much water has flown under the Vashi bridge since then. A lot has changed, including a burgeoning retro-culture in Mumbai.

Yes, Mumbai has not one but maybe three (don’t know if more have sprung up) radio stations featuring exclusively retro playlists.  And these are apparently the most successful stations; at least 92.7 is anyway. At a Rafi-Mukesh shradhanjali programme I attended a few months back where amateur/semi-professional singers presented their songs, somebody even took on Tu Ganga Ki Mauj and commanded the rapt attention of the audience where only a few years back, the mere selection of the song (forget about the quality of the singing) would have produced disinterested, restless fidgeting.

And now, yours truly, the old is gold guy,is the one trying to tell older generation people to just give a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or a Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan a chance because they are damn good singers too.  Maybe I am just a compulsive contrarian, always ending up on a path that diverges from contemporary culture.

However it may be, one thing is for sure.  I am not going to stop listening to Rafi.  Have already knocked down a few of his gems for the day and surely will listen to a few more by the time it’s Christmas.  There are times when I am not sure if there is a God but Rafi reaffirms my faith in Him. Thank you, Rafi, for the music and thank you God for creating Rafi.

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2 Responses to “Mohd Rafi – a thank you note”

  1. Sumathy Mohan Says:

    Very well written.. I remember many of this incidents as I was there with you at these times.. His velvet.. silken…voice can not be replaced by any one.. The feel he gave to some songs were very unique nobody can replicate it

  2. Madan Says:

    Yes, very true. He was one of a kind.

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