• Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mohammad Rafi: The humble great artiste

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Mohammad Rafi

It is hard to forget Mohammad Rafi. There was the supreme artiste in him. More specifically, there was the voice of God in him, in his renditions of songs. You get a taste of it in the Bahadur Shah Zafar ghazal, na kisi ki aankh ka noor huun / na kisi ke dil ka qarar huun. There are all the moments when Rafi reminds you of the glory of the Creator. Sit back and reflect on the spirituality which shines through in parwardigar-e-alam tera hi hai sahara / tere siwa jahan mein koi nahin hamara. You are then perhaps closer to God than you have been at any other time in your quotidian existence.

Thirty four years after Rafi's remains went into the grave, it is the greatness of the artiste that lives on. And it is greatness which comes wrapped in humility. He never drank, indeed never indulged in anything that was forbidden by his faith. The call to prayer was a duty he consistently answered. Observe all the images of him, some faded, quite a few grainy, but most as bright as daylight. There is always a smile, that of child-like innocence, which endlessly brightened his features. The man was symbolic of luminosity.

And nowhere was this luminosity more pronounced than in the versatility he brought into his music. If he could invoke God and have you go into a trance-like state with his songs of faith, he could also arouse in you --- and it did not matter how young or aged you were --- the ecstasy which came of being in love. The song, takra gaya tum se dil hi to hai, is proof of the profound depths to which love could sink in order to rise into fullness. But, surely, the course of true love never did run smooth. The pain which underlies love as it gets entangled in myriad emotions flows in kabhi khud pe / kabhi haalat pe / rona aaya. Love all too often turns into remembrance of all the good and the pure that has been. Again, Rafi gives powerful voice to that emotion in yaad na jaaye beete dino ki / jaa ke na aaye jo din / dil kyun bulaye unhen.

There was the unassuming about Mohammad Rafi. For him the art of music was all. He would not be a celebrity, would not be an individual happy to bask in the adulation of crowds. The urge for music, which came early, constituted for him the essence of being. At age ten, it was the simple song of a beggar seeking alms every morning that laid bare before him the power of music. Rafi would follow the beggar for as long as he could and return home humming the man's tune. Music, then, was for him never a contrived affair. He breathed it, lived it, in innumerable ways. In his songs came large doses of comedy. The image is Johnny Walker's, but the comic is in Rafi's rendering of ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan. Shammi Kapoor's on-screen tomfoolery could not have been conveyed by anyone other than Rafi. Think of lal chharhi maidan kharhi here.  Or, through Biswajit's screen portrayal of it, April fool banaya / to un ko ghussa aaya / to mera kya qasoor / zamane ka qasoor / jis ne dastoor banaya.

Rafi had a range of voice that could take his songs to Olympian heights, as in O duniya ke rakhwale / sun dard bhare mere naale and zindabad zindabad / ae mohabbat zindabad. It could also glide into a perfect pitch suitable for expressions of placid and yet passionate romance --- in aise to na dekho ke hum ko nasha ho jaaye, in sau baar janam lenge, in tere ghaar ke saamne ik ghar banaoonga, in tere mere sapne ab ek rang hain. There are all the instances of impatient romance in him. Think of wo saadgi kahen isse diwangi kahen / un ka barha jo haath yahan dil luta dia and main pyar ka rahi huun / teri zulf ke saaye mein / kuch der theher jaoon and banda parwar thaam lo jigar / ban ke pyar phir aaya huun.

The Rafi repertoire has a universal quality that treats you to an endless flow of music. If his solos excite your romantic sensibilities, the duets with Lata, Asha, Geeta Dutt, Suman Kalyanpur, Noor Jehan and others only enhance the urge in you to love yet once more. Recall jeet hi lenge baazi hum tum and tere husn ki kya tareef karoon and aaja ke intezar mein jaane ko hai bahar bhi and teri duniya se door chale ho ke majboor  and kabhi raat din hum duur thhe din raat ka ab saath hai.

The day loses itself in the shadows of the night. From out there in the gathering dark comes a sense of inebriation as Mohammad Rafi sings koi saghar dil ko behlata nahin and chhoo lene do nazuk honton ko and hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukare chale gaye and chhalkaye jaam aaiye aap ki ankhon ke naam.

Rafi's constellation of songs winds its way, always, deeper into an ever-unfolding universe of melody. Here on earth, the collective heart sings for him: tere bin soone nain hamare.

Mohammad Rafi, pre-eminent singer of Indian film songs, bhajans, ghazals and what not, died on 31 July 1980

Published: 12:00 am Friday, August 01, 2014

Last modified: 12:12 am Friday, August 01, 2014

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