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Matchless magic lingers

Mohammed Rafi imprinted his name on the musical firmament with his mesmeric voice. Although he is no more, he is still fondly remembered for his captivating songs in Hindi films. A tribute to the singer whose death anniversary falls today.

STRANGE, BUT one of the earliest memories of Mohammed Rafi are of his funeral procession. It was July 31, 1980. One of the greatest singers of independent India had passed away and sub-editors of various newspapers across the country were struggling to find appropriate words for the following day's headline. It had to be precise, yet do justice to the man who sang nearly 26,000 songs. The headline had to say something about the man who was too shy to propose to his would-be wife, about the man who wanted to be an actor yet asked his directors not to show him on the screen and merely use his voice! The few words in bold print had to be all about the man who was, what one would in modern parlance call, a method singer, the man who would brook no banter when in the studios - something quite opposite to what his contemporary Kishore Kumar used to do. The headlines had to say something about the dedication of the man who recorded his last song, Tu kahin aas paas hai dost... for music directors Lakshmikant-Pyarelal a couple of days before he breathed his last. The film was Dharmendra-Hema Malini-starrer, Aas Paas. It bombed at the box office but the cine-goers could not help humming Tu kahin aas paas hai dost in memory of the singer whose voice had an innate sense of life.

Years have rolled by; singers have come and gone. But the matchless Rafi magic lingers. Just the other day one happened to be in Bhopal. Talking of some interesting sidelights about the city, a Bhopal veteran took yours truly to the house of Kaif Bhopali, a well-known poet in the Urdu mushaira circles who did not quite get his due in Bollywood. Fine but why are we talking of Kaif at this time? Well, simply because Kaif's main claim to fame in the Hindi film world was provided by Mohammed Rafi. The song was the timeless Chalo dildar chalo, chand ke paar chalo, the film Pakeezah with Naushad and Ghulam Mohammed as music directors. The song had a haunting quality which brought to mind the picture of two lovers quietly moving into the sunset, hand in hand, far from the maddening crowd. Rafi's voice had enough zing to match the lilt of the music and vivacity of his co-singer Lata Mangeshkar. Between them they gave Kaif his passport to an acquaintance with posterity.

Yes, that is what Rafi did to countless other artistes - Shammi Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar would have vouched for it. Remember Rafi's Yahoo! Chahe koi mujhe jungli kahe which gave Shammi Kapoor his identity. And Baharon phool barsao or Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki qasam which sent Rajendra Kumar's career on the highway to success and many a young, dainty heart aflutter. Yet he did it all and more. Interestingly he managed the almost impossible. When he sang for a star, the image which the music-lovers nurtured in their mind was of the star, not the singer. Yet while doing so he managed to carve out his own niche, his own identity; some thing the common man could identify with. He came to be associated with songs that had life written over them, that could get the romantically-inclined humming and the youngsters swaying. Though he probably did not have the melancholy of Talat Mahmood's voice or the sadness of Mukesh, he still managed to pull off many a tragic number with the least fuss. Remember Teri zulfon se judai to nahin maangi thi... .? Or even Aye duniya ke rakhwale... where he teamed up with Shakeel Badayuni and Naushad to come up with a lasting testimony of India's pluralist culture?

Born on December 24, 1924 in a small village near Amritsar, Rafi trained under Ghulam Ali Khan and recorded his first song in 1944 for a Punjabi film Gul Baloch with Shyam Sunder. He even acted in a couple of films - Laila Majnu in 1945 and Jugnu in 1947. It was Feroze Nizami who gave him his first major hit with Yahan badla wafa ka bewafai in Amar Raj. From there to Kya hua tera vada in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Rafi was always on song. And when Rafi sang, he was worth going miles to listen to. Pity he is no more.

ZIYA US SALAM.

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