Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Sohail Hashmi : Playback of a golden voice

Mohammed Rafi My Abba: A Memoir by Yasmin Khalid Rafi; Tranquebar Press; 204 pages; Rs 250

In this country of almost a billion and a quarter you might find some people who have not heard of Mohammed Rafi. In such a scenario, My Abba: A Memoir, a book on the great singer written by his daughter-in-law Yasmin Khalid Rafi in its stream of conscience kind of technique, connects one to his life like no other book. Yasmin is writing about someone she idolised and loved, like only a daughter can. When she talks of him, a jumble of memories comes rushing back and surrounds her—the songs she liked, the music directors who worked with Rafi Saheb, his simplicity, his generousness, his love for his family, his insecurities, his inability to be flamboyant, the metamorphosis that transformed him into a great performer the moment he set foot on the stage.

Yasmin led a privileged life; she grew up loving the voice of Mohammed Rafi. While she listened to his magnificent voice, she created a mental image of the man who could always create magic with his incredible voice. A few years later, she got married to Mohammed Rafi’s favourite son. Her joy knew no bounds despite the fact that Khalid lived in London and she had to leave her family and India, she didn’t seem to be overly anxious about going to a strange land. She kept travelling back and in the 70s when Rafi Saheb began to visit London regularly, she got to spend more time with her parents-in-law.

My Abba talks about the man, his background, his deeply religious family, where singing and music were hardly the kinds of things that one indulged in. It also talks about the man who prayed regularly, fasted, performed the Haj, sang Hamds in praise of Allah and Na’ats in praise of Prophet Mohammad, was keen to sing at the shrine of a Sufi and when security concerns denied him the opportunity, was at ease singing late into the night at a friend’s house. The man could also be deeply hurt when his contribution to a mosque was not accepted because he had earned it through singing and in his hurt asked, “Who gave me this voice if not Allah?”

The book makes no attempt to be an “objective” soulless account of birth, childhood, education, struggle, success and the painful passing away kind of biography. It is a biography in the style of tazkirahs that have been written in Urdu and in Hindi about the well-known and the famous. It is also a biography of Yasmin. My Abba was not written in English. It was written because Yasmin’s children wanted her to put together her memories of her father-in-law. Yasmin did it in the only way she could, placing her memories, her observations of Rafi saheb, the man, the performer, the Sufi, the simple uncomplicated man who could not nurse a grudge, at times not even charging money for a song because the producers or the director told him that they had no money.

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