Tum mujhe yun bhoola na paaoge…

Farhana Farook
·9-min read


On Mohammed Rafi’s 96th birth anniversary, we bring you rare insights about the legendary singer.

The first heartbeat, the first heartbreak… dreams and despair, hope and happiness… Mohammed Rafi’s songs familiarized us with a million feelings across the emotional landscape. From Dilip Kumar to Rishi Kapoor… he lent his voice for a league of gentleman.

From Naushad to R.D.Burman… he could grasp the style and symphony of every composer. From radio to apps, Mohammed Rafi has survived generations and genres.

The patriotic ’Kar chale hum fida..’ (Haqeeqat), the elegiac ‘Jo vada kiya (Taj Mahal), the philosophic ‘Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare’ (Chitralekha), the emotional ‘Babul ki duaaen leti jaa’ (Neel Kamal), the sensuous ‘Meri duniya mein tum aayee’, the romantic ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki’ (Dulari)… Rafi’s voice owned the spectrum.

Spanning more than three decades, recording around 4,500 songs in several languages… Rafi is the voice of India, echoing across global shorelines. Culling out a few rare facts about a personality colossal in its impact and influence…


Young Rafi was inspired by a fakir, who sang Sufi verses and Punjabi dohe playing the ektara in Lahore (now in Pakistan). A spellbound Rafi would follow him. When the fakir sat under a tree and sang, Rafi would listen to him from afar. Then he’d return home and repeat those renderings.

Once when Rafi was 15, he happened to attend singer K.L. Saigal’s show in Lahore. The lights suddenly went off. The audience was getting restless. Someone suggested that Rafi, known to sing, should engage the listeners. Composer Shyam Sunder was sitting in the audience. Impressed by the young boy, he invited him to Mumbai.

During his days of struggle, Rafi lived in in Bhendi Bazar in Mumbai. He’d be up by 4 am, go to Chowpatty beach and sing in a ghada (earthen pot) to gauge the throw of his voice.

Rafi’s first assignment was for Shyam Sunder’s Punjabi film Gulbalcoh (1944). The first Hindi film he sang for was Gaon Ki Gori again for Shyam Sunder (1945). But recognition came after Shyam Sunder’s Yahan badla wafa ka with the late Noorjehan for Jugnu (1947).


Maestro Naushad tapped his versatility – Rafi did justice to his masti bhare songs like Nain lad gayi hai (Ganga Jumna, 1961) and Mere pairon mein ghungroo (Sanghursh 1968), romantic ditties like Ek shahenshah ne banwa ke (Leader 1964) and spiritual ones like Duniya ke rakhwale (Baiju Bawra 1952).

Incidentally, Rafi sang the maximum number of bhajans - Duniya ke rakhwale (Baiju Bawra 1952), Man re tu kahe na (Chitralekha 1964) and Dukh ke sab saathi (Gopi 1970).

Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, composer Naushad and Rafi will be remembered for the iconic bhajan ‘Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj’ for Baiju Bawra, based on raag malkauns. Story goes that Naushad asked his team to attend the recording only after ablution as a bhajan was to be recorded… such was their reverence for the spiritual composition.

Rafi came to be known as the voice of Shammi Kapoor in the ’60s, his nuances matching the star’s onscreen shenanigans. From the boisterous ‘Chahe mujhe koi jungle kahe’ (Junglee) to his sonatas in films like An Evening in Paris, Prince, Brahmachari, Laat Sahab and Chote Sarkar, Rafi could convey Shammi’s brand of romance and rhythm.

Shammi was not present for the recording of Aasman se aaya farishta (An Evening in Paris). But Rafi sung it exactly the way he would have wanted him to. Shammi asked Rafi how he managed it. “Mujhe kya karna tha. Shammi ek taang idhar phenkenga, ek taang udhar phenkenga, yeh soch kar maine gaana gaa diya!” replied Rafi.

With regards the song Taarif karun kya uski, every time the word ‘taarif’ featured in it, Rafi attempted to render it differently. Correspondingly, Shammi wanted to enact it differently on screen.

Composer O P Nayyar was not keen about ‘taarif’ being repeated so many times towards the end of the song. “I told Nayyar saab gaanewala woh hai, karnewala main hoon, toh phir aapko kyun taqleef ho rahi hai?” revealed Shammi. “After the picturisation, Rafi hugged me. But Nayyar saab hugged me the hardest,” added Shammi.

Shammi was in Brindavan when he was informed that Rafi had passed away. Years later, the actor recalled the devastating moment saying, “I cannot forget the moment when I was told, ‘Aapki awaaz chali gayee’!” Tum mujhe yun bhoola na paoge… (Pagla Kahin Ka 1970) remained Shammi Kapoor’s ringtone… perhaps in Rafi’s memory...

Through his career, Rafi stayed away from controversy. Much to the chagrin of peers like Lata Mangeshkar and others, he didn’t join them in the fight for royalty from the producers. He believed that the fee he received was enough as all producers were not well-off.

Also there was some disagreement with composer SD Burman. Later they all reconciled and gave the fantastic duet ‘Dil pukare, aare, aare, aare..’ (Jewel Thief 1967).


Rafi and wife Bilquis had four sons Saeed, Khalid, Hamid and Shafi and three daughters Parveen, Nasreen and Yasmin.

“Abba never socialised. He didn’t drink or womanise. He had a Sufiyat (detachment) in him. After attending the Filmfare Award function he’d immediately head home. He stayed on for dinner only if his family was present,” shared son Shahid Rafi in an interview.

The family had a bungalow in Lonavala where they spent their weekends. The children enjoyed playing carom and flying kites with him. Rafi played badminton at the Bandra gym with Naushad.

Rafi always acknowledged his wife Bilquis’ contribution in his career. “Ammi would wake up early to cater to his needs. Abba would get up at 5.30 am to perform namaz and then do riyaz with the tanpura,” revealed son Shahid Rafi. Sometimes, Rafi would tease his wife by singing Teri pyaari pyaari soorat ko kisi ki nazar naa lage (Sasural 1961) to her.

Rafi was extremely attached to his daughter Parveen. When she got married, he remained composed and didn’t give in to his emotions. A few days later he happened to record the bidaai song, Babul ki duaen, with composer Ravi for Neel Kamal (1968). He broke down while singing the last antara. Ravi retained the ‘natural’ tremble in Rafi’s voice in the track.


Between the ’70s and ’80s, the combination of RD Burman-Kishore Kumar grew popular, most of their chartbusters being for superstar Rajesh Khanna. Though Rafi’s career went through a lull, he gave hits including Chura liya hai tumne (Yaadon Ki Baarat), Tum jo mil gaye ho (Hanste Zakhm) and Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai (Loafer).

His songs in Sargam, Laila Majnu and Karz were hits. Heer Raanjha (1970) was a special album. In Yeh duniya yeh mehfil every antara is raag-based. In fact, Kishore Kumar once remarked, “We singers sing from our throat, Rafi sings from his heart.”

The morning of July 31, 1980 seemed a routine one. It was the 27th of Ramzan and Rafi was observing the fast. He rehearsed a Bengali bhajan. He felt uneasy but continued the practise. His wife Bilquis realised something was amiss as he had suffered heart attacks before. His nails had turned blue.

Rafi was taken to the hospital. Bilquis urged him to relax. He replied, “Achcha tum kehti ho to main aaram karta hoon.” Rafi passed away within the next five minutes, leaving behind memories and melodies.

Reportedly, a fan from Ahmedabad picked up matti from Rafi’s grave and built a shrine over it in his house. 'Every morning he performs pooja there. On Sunday he opens the door for the public, they pledge mannats there,' revealed Shahid Rafi in an interview.

Sadly, Rafi’s sons Saeed, Khalid and Hamid passed away between the years 1998-2005. They were all based in London. Rafi’s oldest daughter Parveen lives in London; Nasreen runs a boutique in Bandra, while Yasmin and Shahid live in Bandra. Their father may have left them years ago, but singer Mohammed Rafi lives on…