Caption – Mohammad Rafi with his wife Bilquis Rafi
Bilquis Rafi remembers her husband Mohammad Rafi
I did not have a father — only my mother and an elder brother. But from as far back as I can remember, Rafi saab was a household name. My sister had married his elder brother, and it was she who brought the proposal home. I was doing my sixth standard examinations and had just returned from school, when my sister told me, ‘Tomorrow you are getting married’. I was 13 years old and Rafi saab was 19. I didn’t know the meaning of the word shaadi, but did exactly as I was advised. I don’t want to elaborate on the marriage, because I was probably too young to understand what was happening to me.
Rafi saab had been singing from the age of 10 So when we got married, he was well into singing ghazals (which were a rage at that time), and film songs. But since I came from a very conservative upbringing, I didn’t switch on the radio to hear the music. l was told about his singing, but since I didn’t quite like music, it didn’t matter so much to me. Even when we were married, Rafi saab didn’t encourage me to listen to his songs. He’d always smilingly look at me and joke, ‘If you only paid attention to my singing, who will do the house work?’ We would share a good laugh about it.
We lived in a chawl at Dongri in the beginning of our marriage. I never felt anything, because I knew my young husband would be great one day. A little later, we shifted to a chawl in Bhendi Bazar, but Rafi saab didn’t quite like the area. So by the grace of Allah and fate, we soon took up an ownership flat at Colaba. I never interfered in my husband’s work, but I realized that things were looking up for us. Even though Rafi saab never showed it— he remained a simple man throughout his fame. In ’54, we shifted to our home in Bandra and have remained here ever since. It was here that we had six of our seven children — four sons and three daughters.
Rafi saab was a very simple human being. His life revolved around his children. In fact, I’d say unki zindagi bachche the. I can’t recall a single moment when he never asked about them. His was a routine: a home-to-recording-and-back-home-schedule. After which, he’d promptly ask me if the children wanted anything. There was nothing he wouldn’t give them. Only the Almighty above knows how they didn’t grow up spoilt. They adored their father and were very proud of him.
The only thing the children disliked about their abba was that he didn’t encourage taking them to recordings, functions or movies. In fact, they hated going to the movies with their father, because it was always the case of, ‘Let’s enter after the film begins and we’ll leave before it ends’. The kids always complained that they didn’t know what the start and end was!
AII this stemmed from the fact that Rafi saab disliked publicity of any kind. It was funny, because even if we were attending a marriage, he’d promptly tell the driver to wait near the gate. He’d enter, go straight to the bridal couple and after wishing them warmly, he’d walk back to the car and we’d drive home. It was quite a joke really.
Even the interviews he had to give, weren’t done by him. The previous night, he would sit idle with his elder brother Abdul Amin and he’d explain to him how to answer. All Rafi saab’s interviews were done by his elder brother. In fact, he treated Abdul saab like a father — the man literally caught my husband’s finger and taught him to walk. Abdul saab figures very prominently in making my husband the celebrity he finally became.
Habits? Rafi saab as far back as I remember, would wake up every day at 3 a.m. and do his ‘riyaaz’. After about two-and-a half-hours of that, he’d go and play a game of badminton. Yes, the only funny habit he did have, was to fly kites. Even if he had a half-hour break between one recording and another, he would rush home, run up to the terrace and start flying his kites. He was like a child when it came to his kite flying. And he’d sulk like a baby if his kites were cut. This habit was his only love till the end.
I think his greatness lay in his humble attitude towards people. He was very religious and never forgot to thank Allah for what he had become and achieved. The whole world around him had progressed, people had changed, but Rafi saab knew nothing of it— his ways never changed according to the times.
For him, it was the togetherness of his family which mattered. I think he was at his best when he would call all of our relatives over, ask me to cook a lovely meal and sit and chat. The unity of our whole family, is what Rafi saab was very sentimental about.
M y husband didn’t have any favorite singers. For any song that was sung well, he’d praise the singer. And even if he did like someone more than another, it was never mentioned — even to us. He always felt that if he took sides, he’d be hurting so many others in the bargain. If anyone came and said, ‘Rafi saab, you sang so well that, that movie is a hit and the hero has become big’, he’d answer, ‘If it wasn’t for the music director or that hero, I wouldn’t be singing that song. Inki vajay se mujhe kaam mila’.
Every music director that he worked with was treated with equal respect. For example: when Rafi saab was already an established singer, Laxmikant-Pyarelal were violinists in Shankar-Jaikishen’s group. Yet, when LaxmiPyare became big, never once did Rafi saab consider them as mere violinists. He’d always say, ‘Mere ustaad hain. I will learn more by singing for them’.
Favourite songs? I know he loved his song from Dulari under Naushad saab’s music — ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki, na jaane tum kab aaogee.’ But there were quite a few of his own songs which he liked. I knew it, because after his recording, he’d gather the children, bring out the harmonium and sing the song. He’d do this quite often when he was in a happy mood.
What Rafi saab did quite enjoy, was when he had sung a song with a star — like with Nanda in Jab Jab Phool Khile or with Saira Banu in Aman. He always told us excitedly, ‘Today I sang with so-and-so’.
Favourite films? God knows what he liked about it, but he saw Sholay thrice. He attended many trials, but I don’t remember him mentioning any film in particular.
A s far as actors were concerned, Rafi saab did have a special liking for Shammiji (Shammi Kapoor) and Dharamji (Dharmendra). Shammiji, almost at every recording, would listen to Rafi saab and literally act out how he’d do a particular line, or make an expression with a particular word. Dharamji was another actor who always openly showered his love on Rafi saab, Bada pyar tha in dono actoron ke liye. In fact, I am proud to say that I don’t think there is any film industry person who didn’t love my husband. And personally, he never spoke a word against anyone.
I spent the most wonderful 35 years of my life with Rafi saab — before he passed away on July 31, ’80. He was going to be 54.
I remember it even today. He had been requested to do a Bengali recording for their Kaali pooja album. The day before that, he told me ‘I’m tired, I don’t think I’ll be able to sing this Bengali song’. So I told him to tell the people to take somebody else. ‘No, no, they’re are coming all the way from Calcutta in the hope that I will agree. I’ll do it this year, but next year I’ll say no’.
The next day, he sat for rehearsal from 9.30 a.m. and was in pain, but he refused to tell us anything till 12.30 in the afternoon. We scolded him about it, but he told us, ‘Those who come to the Rafi residence, should never return empty-handed’. These were his last words.
He was in a lot of pain and was sweating profusely. It was also in the month of Ramzan, so he was hungry. His hands and feet were yellow. The doctors asked us to shift him to a hospital, explaining that Rafi saab had suffered a very major heart attack. The end came soon after that…
Today, when I look back I am grateful for the children we have borne. They have been wonderful sons and daughters, and have been my strength for the last eight years, after his passing away. But yet there are moments when I wish I was 13 years old and Rafi saab was 19… There are times when I wish he’d come to me like he would nearly every evening, sit beside me and ask me, ‘What is troubling you? Tell me your troubles and they’ll all go away’. (Mohammed Rafi’s wife Bilquis Rafi interviewed by Patrick Biswas – September 1988).