Paean to Mohammad Rafi: The man with the Golden Voice!

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Mohammad Rafi. Print of a 2016 postcard and postal stamp issued by the Government of India.
Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Our beloved Mohammad Rafi turned 96 this December 24, 2021 — the man whose songs have always held a special appeal in the hearts of people who have experienced love in some form. We only wish he was here, with us.

When no other music industry existed, film music reached out to millions in remote parts of India and helped them live their lives with hope, with upliftment of spirit, and faith. Radios were priced possessions then, even as late as the sixties.

‘Vividh Bharati’ and ‘All India Radio’ and “Radio Ceylon’ were the stations of choice. People waited at certain times of the day for theme based film music on ‘Vividh Bharati’, and the nocturnals waited for ‘All India Radio’s Urdu Service’ past midnight, for lovely soulful film songs. In that day and age when music was not available at the tips of one’s finger, it made one’s day if one heard a lovely song floating on air from some radio somewhere. The spontaneity of such treats and the teasing unavailability added to the attraction of the melody.

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Voices there were many then. Individuals either liked the rugged, hard voices or they liked the gentle, mild feather-touch of an underplayed voice of Rafi. One could like the all pervading, all encompassing, almost intimidating voice or one could like the soft, friendly, delicate, romantic voice which could go the mile if needed. The choice was one’s own, as it is today.

Rafi’s was a therapeutic voice, never harsh, never crude, always gentle, always understanding the desires of your heart, always comforting, always reaching the sky in joy with you and always shedding silent tears with you.

Rafi’s songs have been a four-layered bouquet of music, beautifully put together with melodious compositions, meaningful literary lyrics, his own versatile voice, and the actor presenting it on the screen. Rafi sang for some of the best music composers of his time including S.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Chitragupta, Roshan, R.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Naushad, and many more. But the compositions alone would not have worked the wonders without the beautiful words. Rafi sang songs which were poems, standing on their own as literary works. The poets or song-writers Rafi worked with included Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Aazmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Neeraj, Shailendra, and more. The fourth layer in this bouquet was that of the actor portraying the song. Rafi was so conscientious as to note the normal speaking voice of the actor, his mannerisms, how he would pronounce certain words, and sing accordingly. Rafi’s voice became almost synonymous with actors like Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Dileep Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, and Joy Mukherjee.

Rafi sang the songs with versatility, adopting new mannerisms, expressing new feelings, descending to a low pitch and then rising to a very high pitch in a single song. His voice has been described by music experts as a baritone with a very high range. He could display both the lows and the highs without any strain in his voice, never breaking, never losing the expression, never losing the pronunciation, singing with total ease. Which better can prove this, than his beautiful song from ‘Oonche Log’?

Jaag dil-e-diwana, rut jaagi, vasl-e-yaar ki,

Basi hui zulf mein payee hai sada pyar ki!

If one has to describe Rafi’s voice by a category, one would say Rafi’s voice was synonymous with the emotion of Love. Of all his renderings of different emotions, his rendering of Love was the one that reached the hearts of a large number of people. His seemed to be a voice made to express love, be it longing for love not found, crying for lost love, or feeling happy with elation of love found, or the soulful love for God, Rafi’s voice reached all hearts. No pheromones were needed. A song in Rafi’s soft, caressing voice could make one transcend to a different world.

Jaag dil-e-diwana touched many hearts, evoking joy at the dew-dipped, foggy morning tryst. So did the loving, teasing, playful notes of Aaj mausam bada be-imaan hai. And if one needed more confirmations that the whole world was full of love, one could listen Ek haseen sham ko dil mera kho gaya. The playful tones of Aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai could bring dreams of love to many hearts.

Voices there were many who could perhaps portray emotions as well as Rafi. But none could whisper love straight to the heart as did Rafi in Tum se kahun ek baat paron se halki, in Khoya khoya chand, in Tumne mujhe dekha ho kar meharbaan, in Mujhe dekh kar aap ka muskurana, in Kahin ek masoom nazuk si ladki. In Rafi’s voice, love’s fulfillment and surrender were all around, even with seductive notes, as in Tu mere saamne hai, teri zulfein hai khuli or Yeh jo chilman hai, dushman hai hamari.

It was in Rafi’s songs of longing that many a heart’s hidden desires found a voice as in Kabhi na kabhi, kahin na kahin, koi na koi to aayega or in Akele hain chale aao jahan ho. And it took all to hold one’s heart and not drown in sadness while listening to Din dhal jaye haye raat na jaye. Then one could begin one’s long walk alone singing Dil ki tamanna thi masti mein manzil se bhi door nikalte with Rafi.

The disillusionment of love and the listless wanderings of the heart came through in Koi sone ke dil wala, koi chandi ke dil wala, shishe ka hai matwale tera dil. Only Rafi could bring us the pride of a wounded heart in love in Chahunga main tujhe sanjh sawere, phir bhi kabhi ab naam ko tere aawaz main na dunga and the ultimate surrender to love in Mera to jo bhi kadam hai woh teri raah mein hai.

Love found great depths of mystic and Sufi longings in Rafi’s voice in Madhukar Rajasthani’s songs of love for Krishna, composed by Khayyam, in Tere bharose hey Nandlala koi ro-ro baat nihare or Paun padu tore Sham, Brij mein laut chalo. And one could lose one’s self in Gazab kiya tere vaade pe aitbaar kiya and concede Yeh na thi hamaari kismet ke visal-e-yaar hota.

Who needs convincing that Rafi could also reach great heights in classical raga based songs? No one could tell us to take heart as did Rafi in Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare. No one could take us to great heights of joy with Madhuban mein radhika nache re as did Rafi.

With all these emotions about love, Mohd. Rafi’s voice did not let one feel old. One was eternally young in one’s mind when one listened to Rafi. Others were voices of experience, of having seen the world. Not Rafi’s. His was the voice of the first ecstasy at the surprising emotions of love in a young heart. Rafi even today brings the much needed human growth hormones to stir that one point in one’s heart that is forever young, forever in love.

That same young voice can do so much even today, the only prescription is to listen to one good romantic love song a day of Rafi. One would be seventeen again, thinking wistfully of one’s love for whom one sang Rafi’s songs.

Like the Beatles, Rafi became immortal with his songs in the day and age when no other music was available in any other form. And if anyone says his presence was only momentary, or that no one knows him now, let us prove them wrong. We know him. And we love him, and we cannot forget him, as predicted by him.

Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge

Jab kabhi bhi sunoge geet mere

Sang sang tum bhi gungunaoge.

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