Mohammed Rafi is considered, by many, one of the finest singers India has ever produced. Along with Lata Mangeshkar, he dominated Indian film music during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Years after his demise, in 1980, the Indian audience kept searching for the magic of his voice which launched a number of singers, who could imitate his style, into stardom. Mohd. Azeez, Shabbir, Sonu Nigam, Vipin Sachdeva and Sukhwinder Singh are few such examples who made it big by following the style of Rafi.
A National Hero
Rafi was an icon admired and loved by people across the communities. The audience never asked for his religion or caste while admiring him. The very fact that he was a lower caste Muslim man never hindered his ascent to the top of the music industry proves that the country never looked for his communal identity. Yet, the insecurities which came along with his identity never left him completely.
India Under Attack
In 1965, Pakistan attacked the Indian borders a second time. The India under Lal Bahadur Shastri gave a befitting reply as India unitedly repulsed the attack. At the famous battle of Asal Uttar, Havaldar Abdul Hamid single handedly destroyed a battalion of Patton tanks with a Recoiler Gun mounted Jeep and proved that India stands united. But, sadly few antisocial elements in those times fanned the communal passions and blamed the Indian Muslims for the war. At places violent clashes had happened.
Rafi Stranded in Pakistan during War
Grandfather of Rafi, who was born in an undivided India, lived in Lahore and was ill at that time. Rafi went to see his grandfather and was in Lahore when the war started. Backhome, in India, many of his friends believed that at a time when communal tensions were soaring high he should not come back to Mumbai with his family. Ironically, all this was being suggested to a man who chose India over Pakistan in 1947, while being a native of Lahore, at a time when several Muslim musicians went to Pakistan. Moreover, he raised funds for the army through shows during the previous war.
Naushad Advises Rafi for Haj
Famous music composer, Naushad, called him up and cajoled him to not to come to Mumbai from Lahore. He asked Rafi to take a flight to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage. Meanwhile, Naushad used his contacts in the media and government to ensure that no news reported Rafi’s visit to Pakistan. Instead when Rafi reached Saudi Arabia, the news was publicized well and he returned to India almost a month later.
Love Wins Over Hate
People welcomed him, and his family, as a pilgrim coming back from one of the most sacred places of Islam. While in fact, he did not plan to visit Makkah and Medina. The pilgrimage was planned as a preventive measure to ensure that no antisocial element used his Pakistan visit to fan communal tensions in India. The fact that people welcomed him across the communities proved that barring few antisocial people, most of the Indians never saw him as a Muslim but as an Indian singer who brought them joy.
(Source: Naushadnama: The Life and Music of Naushad by Raju Bharatan)