This was perhaps one of those dreams…..I sat , thinking to myself – “Lagta nahin hai dil mera ujade dayar mein”. I was missing my idol, my God, the great soul whose voice had taken total possession of me from the evening that I slipped on the rain drenched patch of road outside a theatre in Chennai, as I came out after watching a tall and handsome young man call out “Khoya Khoya chaand”.
It had been perhaps quite a few years that Rafi Saab had left us all to go and entertain a large audience somewhere else up there. But I was missing him badly. Even as I just murmured the first lines of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s mournful soliloquy, Rafi Saab appeared out of nowhere. He was immaculately dressed, as he had always been. And the same benign smile captivated me. Every time he would sing facing the microphone his voice would boom. But when he spoke, and many people have testified to this – he had a soft and almost apologetic voice that barely rose above certain decibels. I could barely conceal my happiness and count my blessings as the great man came and sat down next to me.
He continued to smile but said nothing, almost as if to say, “not only my voice, my very presence shall comfort you”. I looked up at his beatific face. Just as I was about to ask him something, his face crinkled into a bigger smile, his eyes expressive as ever, and he sang softly- “meri awaaz suno, pyaar ka raaz suno”. I was ecstatic. This was one song that we all remember as Jawaharlal Nehru’s song for all Indians mourning his passing away. “thaa judaa sabsey mere ishq ka andaaz suno”, Rafi Saab ended the song with these lines and I coudnt have agreed more. He was so different, so divine. So utterly human, yet godly.
Emboldened by this offering of his in the form of his own song I picked up some courage to ask him- where have you been? We all miss you so badly. No day passes without your song being played on the radio or on the office computer or the car music system. But we still miss you. And he smiled again, the same charming and disarming smile. Gently shaking his head, he said- “tumne pukara aur hum chaley aaye, dil hathaali par le aaye re”.
I realized now that this was going to be a very interesting albeit different kind of Antakshari. Rafi Saab was going to talk to me through his songs. Or maybe, he expects me too to talk to hit the same way. So I put forth this question- “zindagi kya hai?”. Promptly and without batting an eyelid he sang “Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan, pyaar bhara dil meethi zubaan”. I immediately remembered the ice cream vendor from the film Maya.
Played by my other hero, Dev Saab, the ice cream vendor passes around ice cream to all the kids, including one who has no money to pay for it. Rafi Saab came through as the same ice cream vendor, dishing out sweet songs for us, even if we had nothing to give back to him for those great desserts except in the form of rapt attention. Love, sweet words for all, and a happy countenance to remember him with.
I was now enjoying this tete-a-tete and I asked him- you smile all the time, don’t you feel sad at any time? And Rafi Saab softly sang-“ rahi manwa dukh ki chinta kyon sataati hai dukh toh apna saathi hai.” But then he also gently explained “gham ki andheri raat mein dil ko na beqaraar kar, subah zaroor aayegi subah ka intezaar kar”.
This was so reassuring, I sank deeper into my cushion where I was sitting. I found that my idol too had made himself very comfortable and was enjoying talking to me through his songs. What amazed me even more was the fact that he seemed to be in no hurry to get up and go, and he just didn’t seem to having the airs that we associate with most celebrities.
Rafi Saab do you like children? I asked. Now this question pleased him no end, and he got up and almost danced as he sang “ hum bhi agar bachhe hote naam hamara hota dabloo shabloo khaane ko miltey laddoo……” Hmmm…so my hero was fond of children. Of course he had so many himself, I recalled. And each of his children have always talked so fondly about him.
People go around killing each other and hurting each other in the name of religion, I told him. For a fleeting second his face took a different expression. He appeared pensive, but putting his hand on my shoulder (the first electric touch of a great man, nay,God on my shoulder) he sang “tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega, insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega”. This song he went on to song longer and repeated the lines for my benefit –“maalik ne har insaan ko insaan banaya, humne usey Hindu ya Musalmaan banaya, kudrat ne toh bakshi this hamein ek hi dharti, humne kahin Bhaarat kahin Iraan banaya”. So truly said Sir, I told him. And he smiled back, his eyes becoming smaller with that smile.
So what should people do to become good human beings, I couldn’t help asking him. His answer was so simple- “kahaan jaa raha hai tu ae jaaney waley, andhera hai man ka diya toh jalaa le”. He added –“behakna hai mumkin, bhatakney ka dar hai”. This was his life’s method too, perhaps. Precision, discipline, a life of simplicity with no vices, no grudges and no ill-will.
Having spent so much time with him already, I decided to ask some bolder questions. You have sung so many romantic songs. How romantic are you, actually? And just like in that interview on Doordarshan ages back, he laughed softly, saying “arrey yeh kaisa sawaal kar diya aapney…!”
But soon enough he crooned “Main pyaar ka raahi hoon” and proceeded to add one more favourite of mine-“kisina kisi se kabhi na kabhi kahin na kahin dil lagaana padega”. The twinkle in his eye clearly showed a man who was born to love. Love all people around him. His family, his friends, people who worked for him and with him. My friend Bashir Shaikh always talks about an incident where after a recording, while the other singer walked out of the studio, Rafi Saab stayed back to check the welfare of various musicians who had played the instruments for him.
Suddenly, perhaps because I must have looked like a young child to him he sang “pyaar ki raah dikha duniya ko, rokey joh nafrat ki aandhi.”. He paused for a second and then continued “tum mein hi koi gautam hoga, tum mein hi koi hoga Gandhi”. Patriotism was always a hallmark of his songs, I reminisced. I remembered having grown up listening to him sing for Shammi Kapoor- “Ganga meri maa ka naam, baap ka naam Himalay, ab tum khud hi faisla kar lo, main kis soobeh walah”.
Rafi Saab, everybody talks about your competition with Kishore da. What was it actually? I was trembling as I asked him this question. I was perhaps stepping into hot water and uncertain territories. He leaned back, looked up and said “ baney chaahey dushman zamaana hamaara, salaamat rahey dostana hamaara”. And for ample measure he sang another one with gusto- “ehsaan mere dil pe tumhaara hai doston, yeh dil tumhaarey pyaar ka maara hai doston”.
Rafi Saab, why haven’t they still conferred the Bharat Ratna on you? You deserve it
more than so many of the others….! He simply sang “jo mil gaya usi ko muqaddar samajh liya, jo kho gaya main usko bhulaata chala gaya”.
By now I was basking in the warmth of the presence of this saintly messenger whose five decades of disciplined labour had earned him the love of all and sundry, even though there may have been a few unjust and unkind detractors. And just as I was beginning to feel comfortably ensconced in his company, he shook his head gently, put his hand again on my shoulder and asked for leave. What a great man, what a great soul ! He is such a big person, but he beseeches me to take leave of me. And like every human who is never satisfied, I (for the first time, and that too in his presence) sang-“ abhi na jaao chhodkar ke dil abhi bhara nahin”. He laughed that soft laugh of his, patted me on my head and said “aaj kal mein dhal gaya, din hua tamaam, tu bhi so ja so gayee rang bhari sham”.
The halo around him shone, I can bet on it. That benign smile appeared again. That warm and affectionate touch of his remained with me, but he slowly faded away, even as he softly sang his last song for me- “tum mujhe yun bhula na paaogey, jab kabhi bhi sunogey geet mere, sang sang tum bhi gungunaaogey”.
I couldn’t help murmur “nafrat ki duniya ko chhodkey pyaar ki duniya mein, khush rehna mere yaar”.
Rafi Saab has been coming in my dreams now for the last two years with amazing regularity. And that is exactly why I started writing in these pages here. Maybe he wants me to keep a record of all the songs he has sung for me. Maybe he wants me to remember each one of them so that when I go up there (if at all I have done something good in life to merit being in the same place as he is) he may playfully taunt me and urge me to sing as I struggle the way I always do when I sing.
I can clearly imagine him playfully scolding me saying…..”Sa pe ruk gaya? Ab aagey badh……”
“lekin ek masoom sa dil bhi, in saarey hungaamon mein chhup chhup ke roney ka bahaana dhoondega….dil ka soona saaz taraana dhoondhega.”