My friend Ravi from Nagpur does something very emotional and touching every July. On the 31st of this month every year he travels from wherever he is to Mumbai and lays a wreath, and says a silent prayer to Allah thanking HIM for his benevolence in having given to the world THE INCOMPARABLE MD. RAFI who lies in that grave.
On one such occasion as he stood in silent prayer someone tapped his shoulder. On turning around he noticed the benign smile of an elderly gentlemen.
“Son what brings you here?”, asked the elderly man.
“Sir, I am a Md. Rafi fan. I come here every 31st july to pay my homage to Rafi saheb my idol”.
“I am so happy to see youngsters like you remember Rafi sahib. I had the unique privilege of working with Rafi Sahab several times.”
“Aapki taarif?”, asked Ravi.
“Do you remember the music director duo Shanker –Jaikishen?”
“I am Shanker.”
Ravi stood speechless. He could hardly believe that he was face to face with a man who along with his friend Jaikishen created musical magic with Rafi sahib.
These thoughts came rushing to my mind when I read a news report that brought tears to my mind. I rang up Ravi to tell him about the tragedy that has befallen Rafi saheb years after he left for his heavenly abode. On hearing me out Ravi broke down into uncontrollable tears.
The news item was that Rafi Saheb’s grave would be dug up, his bones thrown away and the grave vacated for another person to be buried. The reason? “Shortage of land for cemeteries in Mumbai.”
When some people protested they were told that Islamic law allows for such an action and is in keeping with the basic Islamic tenet that there ought not to be any icon, statue etc. of any Muslim — a provision I agree with for many reasons.
Yet when I heard this I was deeply hurt. But come to think of it –Rafi lives in our memoties by his immortal music. That is sufficient.
In fact, how many of his fans visit his grave even if we are Mumbai residents?
Rafi was not only a great singer but by accounts from those who knew him well an extraordinarily fine man among the gentlest one could meet A friend of mine who has traveled by car in the company of Rafi told me that even if you sat next to him you could barely hear his voice—so gentle was he. Often Rafi’s brother would ‘interpret’ Rafi’s words to guests !
It may not be widely known that in the years leading to the Punjab terrorist era one factor that hurt Sikhs was that on the advice of some Hindu outfits many Hindu Punjabis would tell the census officials that their mother tongue was Hindi not Punjabi a language which they spoke in the normal course.
In contrast Rafi, a Muslim, would proudly have told everyone that his mother tongue was Punjabi. His detractors—shame on them !!!- would say that Rafi’s Urdu diction was heavily influenced by his Punjabi accent.
Rafi was a secularist in the finest traditions. His rendering of “Duniya ke rakhwale” will stir the soul of anyone irrespective of religious inclinations. His “Tu hindu banega na Muslman banega” is the finest definition of humanist philosophy.
From classical based songs like “Ajhun na aaye balma” to the hip “Yahoo chahe koi mujhe” his repertoire was vast. From the ghazal “Subha na aayi shaam na aayi” to the melancholy “Yaad na jaae” to the funny “Tel maalish” to the quawali “Na to karvaaan ki talaash hai” to the lullaby “Main gaaaon tum so jao” he has sung them all.
I was pleasantly surprised to know that there exists in Chennai a Rafi Fans association–a welcome change from the fans’ associations of film stars with giant egos and even bigger cutouts but pigmy sized talents.
This association meets once every two months and sings Rafi songs, reminisces about the music of that great singer and relives the Rafi era. I am also on the lookout for a Talat Mahmood fans’ association in Chennai. Readers may help me out please
Let’s immortalize Rafi by singing ‘a Lata song.
Tum na jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye
Hum bhari duniya mein tanha ho gaye
I chose this song because it is from the film ‘Sazaa’—Rafi’s death is a sazaa – a punishment for us .