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How fair were they to Mohammed Rafi?

August 23, 2006
After that, the powers that be knew that they could take Rafi for granted. Rafi felt deflated as Lata's silver jubilee in films came to be announced by the state government of Maharashtra. Lata had first sung in All-India Hindustani cinema only after Independence in 1947 (Aap Ki Sewa Mein), so how could she be completing her silver jubilee in 1967 --- before Rafi? But Rafi dared not say that aloud.

For they were reckoning Lata's silver jubilee from Kiti Hasaal, the 1942 Marathi film from which her debuting song, Naachu Ya Gade Khelu Saari Man Haus Bharee, had been dropped! This 1967 Lata silver jubilee was the turning point. After that big happening, Lata always seemed to have the drop on Rafi.

Of course, Rafi should have won many more honours than he did, considering the scale of his achievement. But his own humble persona became a bar to his getting his due -- beyond the Padma Shri Mohammed Rafi Chowk in the Bandra suburb of Bombay.

For instance, Rafi could have been bestowed with the Padma Bhushan even after he became a Padma Shri. But I doubt if Rafi knew about this, whether he discerned that winning a bigger award involved no end of lobbying. This was something at which Rafi was no good in any case.

Shall we say that his own inbuilt sense of humility ultimately worked against Rafi? It won him friends, but it did not influence people who awards-mattered.

Or, who knows, maybe Rafi, ultimately, did divine how badly he'd been had. Certainly the stand he took against Lata, on the Guinness Book Of World Records issue, was not expected. It caught Lata totally unawares. 'The claim of the singer referred to in that (Guinness) column, to have recorded not less than 25,000 solo, duet and chorus songs, is open to challenge,' Mohammed Rafi wrote in a letter dated June 11, 1977 to the volume's publishers.

Rafi just let himself go in that letter, only to get a rather escapist reply from Guinness. So that Rafi persisted, in a letter dated November 20, 1979, as he wrote: 'I am disappointed that my request for a reassessment vis-a-vis Ms Mangeshkar's reported world record has gone unheeded.'

There is more in that vein, yet Guinness is a theme for another day. If only because it needs more elaborate treatment. Yet just take a re-look at this Guinness 1984 noting:

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