Written by Sumit Paul
Sukoon-e-dil ke liye kuchh to ehtemaam karoon
Zara nazar jo mile, phir unhein salaam karoon
Mujhe toh hosh nahin, aap mashvara deejiye
Kahaan se chhedoon fasana, kahaan tamaam karoon
(Let me do something worthwhile for the peace of heart/When I get to see her, I greet silently/I’m clueless, you’d better advise/Where to start it from and where to end).
The last line of Shakeel Badayuni’s immortal quatrain seems apt to define the boundless musical greatness of the one and only Mohammad Rafi, who breathed his last 39 years ago on Friday, July 31, 1980. Even after almost four decades, the genius of Rafi is still discussed and deified. The reason is obvious. He was born to sing. Ek maamooli mutrib hoon, faqat gaana jaanta hoon (I’m but an ordinary singer; I know just to sing), he had once said. That was his disarming humility.
Out of the 7,405 songs (not 26,000; that’s an exaggeration by hardcore Rafi fans) in several Indian languages, Rafi sang 4,334 Hindi songs. Nearly 70 songs have no official LP records and were never uploaded on YouTube. All India Radio, Urdu Service and Vividh Bharati also don’t have many songs that the stalwart sang in his distinguished career. I’m afraid, even writer Raju Bhartan’s Rafi Geet Kosh doesn’t have these songs like, Ae meri jaane-tamanna, meri jaan-e-ghazal….‘ (Film Sundari, 1950), Ek jaam pila de saaqi, raat abhi hai baaqi (Tere Do Nain, 1951), among others.
When it comes to picking up Rafi’s five best songs, one really gets confounded because the man sang so many fabulous songs that choosing just five best is akin to looking for a needle in the haystack. Way back in 1961, when Vimala and Kamini Ganjwar of Radio Ceylon interviewed him for a Hindi magazine and asked Rafi about his best songs, the singer replied, “Muhabbat zinda rahti hai, muhabbat mar nahin sakti (Changez Khan, Qamar Jalalabadi; Hansraj Bahal, 1956), Maine chaand aur sitaron ki tamanna ki thi (Film: Chandrakanta, Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianavi, Music: Dutta Naik aka N Dutta, 1956) and Aaye bahaar ban ke lubhaye chale gaye (Film: Raajhath, Lyricist: Hasrat Jaipuri, Music: Shankar-Jaikishan, 1958).”
But, when late Sadiq Ali of BBC interviewed him in 1979 and later for The Jung Group of Newspapers in Pakistan, Rafi selected some amazingly beautiful, but very rare songs as his best and didn’t mention any of the three songs that he liked in 1961. This proves that a creative person’s perceptions dramatically undergo a sea-change to accept something altogether new and novel.
Well, when I met Sadiq Ali in Sargodha, Punjab-Pakistan for my second Doctorate on ‘Rafi ki aawaaz ki naghmai baareeqiyan‘ (the musical nuances of Rafi’s voice), he provided rare insights into the songs which Rafi shared with him. To start with, the first song that Rafi always considered as his best was: Kaise kategi zindagi tere baghair (Film: Kaise kategi zindagi, unreleased, 1963). This song was the closest to the great man’s heart as it was to be picturised on his best friend Uttam Kumar, the icon of Bengali cinema. Had it happened, it would have been Uttam’s maiden foray into Hindi cinema. The film had to be shelved owing to lack of funds. But its song ‘Kaise kategi zindagi….’ survived and was brought to listeners’ notice only after the demise of Rafi in 1980. This song has the longest prelude — one minute and 16 seconds — in the history of film music and it’s on the Stradivarius violin, first and last time used in Indian film or popular music, played by Kunwar Mahendra Pratap Singh, the scion of a royal family in Rajasthan.
The song, which he considered to be his second-best, was: ‘Gham-e-hasti se bas begana hota, khudaya kaash main deewana hota‘ (Film: Wallah Kya Baat Hai, Lyrics: Anand Bakhshi, Composer: Roshan Lal Nagarath, 1962). In this film, Rafi jokingly nudged Shammi Kapoor that, ‘Parde pe aapko ye naghma zara sanjeedgi se gaana hai‘ (You’re supposed to lip-synch on celluloid with controlled emotions). Contrary to Shammi’s flamboyant image, this is one song which is very sombre. Rarely played nowadays, Shammi Kapoor cried after listening to this song and Roshan Lal Nagrath asked Anand Bakshi after its recording, “Recording room mein koi farishta gaa raha tha kya?” (Was there an angel singing this song in the recording room?). Rafi didn’t take any money for this song.
Now comes his third best: Mujhe tumse muhabbat hai magar main kah (not ‘keh’, this is erroneous English transliteration of Hindi/Urdu terms) nahin sakta (Film: Bachpan, Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri, Music: Sardar Malik, 1963, print and video unavailable). This magnificently romantic number was filmed on Salim Khan, the handsome father of Salman Khan, who came to Bombay from Indore to become a hero. Sadiq Ali added that Rafi asked Hasrat: “Parde pe kaun hoga?” When he came to know that a young man was the hero, he sang extra-soulfully so as to establish the young Salim Khan. Music critics Rustom Irani, Malika Rastogi and Ravindra Kapoor are of the view that this song is the epitome of romanticism with its words and Sardar Malik’s amazing composition. Rafi’s rendition was the icing on the cake. Hasrat shared that Rafi requested to make a few alterations to the song and they were duly incorporated, but the unassuming great said, “Mujhe kahaan shayari aati hai?” (I don’t know anything of poetry). It was Navin Nishchal’s favourite song and whenever the actor met up with Rafi, he requested him to sing it. Rafi always obliged.
The fourth song was Kahin se maut ko laao ke gham ki raat kate (Film: Mera Qusoor Kya Hai, Lyrics: Rajendra Krishna, Music: Chitragupt Srivastav, 1964). This is considered to be the depressingly most beautiful number ever recorded in Indian cinema. Picturised on Dharmendra, Rafi was not very happy with the lyrics and requested the lyricist to make it less depressing. “Ye kuchh zyada hi ghamgeen hai...” he said. But on that very day, he got the news about the passing away of his childhood friend Darshan Singh at a hospital in Lahore. He cried and phoned Chitragupt and lyricist Rajendra Krishna that he’d sing the song sans any change as a tribute to his friend, who Rafi had helped financially and also got him admitted to the Military Hospital, Lahore Cantonment. The song exudes pain and pathos in such a manner that unless you listen to it, admiration will be akin to describing a rainbow to a blind man. The director R Krishnan and S Panju cried hysterically after watching and hearing it on the screen.
The last song that he chose was the finest nazm: ‘Kahin ek maasoom nazuk-si ladki‘ (Film: Shankar-Hussain, Lyrics: Kamaal Amrohi, Music: Muhammad Zahoor Khayyam Hashmi aka Khyyaam). This is a long nazm (not a ghazal, it’s often mistaken for a ghazal by the uninitiated announcers and listeners). Rafi was very happy after recording this song and the taciturn legend hugged Kamaal Amrohi and said, “Aap likhte kyon nahin?” (Why don’t you write more?). He corrected a word grammatically in this song. The word was ‘qalam‘, used in Urdu as a feminine gender (muannas) and in Persian as a masculine gender (muzakkar). Rafi suggested that ‘Qalam haath se chhoot jaata (not jaati)’ will sound better because we often say in Persian: Qalam goyad ke man shah-e-jahanam…Qalam kahta, not kahti, hai ke main duniya ka baadshah hoon: (The quill proclaims that I’m the Emperor of the world). Rafi fell in love with the imagery used by Amrohi and complimented Khyyam on his lilting composition.
In that longest interview of his life, Rafi shared some rare gems and even admitted that he ought not to have sung songs like Savere wali gaadi se chale jayenge, ‘Main jatti yamla pagla deewana’ or ‘John-jaani janardan.’ Yet the humble man added: “Mujhe zindagi aur kisi shakhs se koi shikayat nahin rahi” (I’ve no grievances whatsoever).
He also mentioned that there were quite a few songs that were close to his heart like “Mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na tha” (Akashdeep, 1965, Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri and music: Chitragupt), ‘Jaag dil-e-deewana rut jaagi‘ (Oonche Log, Majrooh Sutanpuri and Chitragupt, 1965), ‘Zindagi ke safar mein akele thay hum‘ (Film: Nartaki, Music: Ravishankar Sharma, Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni, 1963) etc. Sadiq told me that Rafi had a premonition of his death during the interview in December 1979 and January 1980. He shuffled off the mortal coil after a few months. The posterity will forever remember you, Rafi sahab. Some individuals are simply indelible. Their incandescent memories can never be erased.
Sumit Paul is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and religions.
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