It is said that when art is at its highest it touches divinity. But for art to reach its highest I truly believe there must be at least a spark of the divine in the artist. This “spark” is the X-factor needed beyond skill, talent, hard work. And if that X-factor lies in the purity of heart, the sincerity of expression, then Rafi really did fit that bill. He seems to have this “X-factor” in good measure.
How else does he take you to converse with the divine in “mann tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj”? Or to communicate with your own conscience when he urges you “kehne ki zaroorat nahi aana hi bahut hai, is dar pe tera sheesh jhukana hi bahut hai…”
In the Punjabi Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai, S. Mohinder gives Rafi one song. The hero has lost his eyesight, thanks to the shenanigans of his greedy aunt and her brother. He breaks off his engagement to Vimi whom he loves very much, as he feels it would be unfair to tie her to a handicapped man for the rest of her life. The same aunt, now repentant, plans with Vimi – who will not leave his side – to visit all the sacred gurudwaras and ask for a miracle at the feet of the Guru. Vimi, unknown to the hero, becomes “chann” , his companion disguised as a young man. “Chann” in Punjabi means “moon” and is a favorite endearment among lovers.
In a train journey going from one gurudwara to another, the hero longs for Vimi, the lady he still loves, not knowing she is right beside him. Holding a blank piece of paper from which “Chann” has read a “letter” to him (supposedly from Vimi), and which flies out of the window as he holds it, the hero sings a shabad. A shabad, (literal meaning “sound of the Guru”) is the equivalent of a Punjabi bhajan.
This shabad was originally sung by the 10th guru, Guru Gobid Singh, on a cold winter night, after a hard day’s battle, having watched his own sons embrace martyrdom. “Guru Sahib ji in this shabad yearns for remembrance of Waheguru despite of the extreme hardships and tough times.” (from the internet).
The yearning for that Supreme Friend to not forget the devotee…Rafi’s voice brings a tenderness to this yearning. Is he (in the movie) yearning only for his beloved? Or also for the mercy of that Supreme Beloved to return to him a life that he had loved? For days gone by? For that Supreme Beloved to give him a chance to go back to his beloved? The yearning is as human as it is divine.
There is a wealth of love in Rafi’s voice here, that seems so unique to me. I grew up on this song. Whenever the forces of the world have descended to fight battles with me, I have retreated to find my Best Friend in this sound and song…
The lyrics and explanation are mentioned below. But with Rafi’s voice, one doesn’t really need them…his heart speaks to ours.
Mittar piaarae noo (n) haal mureedaan daan kehnaa ॥
thudhh bin rog rajaaeeaa dhaa odhan, naag nivaasaa dhae hehinaa
sool suraahee kha(n)jar piaalaa bi(n)g kasaaeeaaa(n) dhaa sehinaa
yaararrae dhaa saanoo(n) saathhar cha(n)gaa bhat(h) khaerriaa dhaa rehinaa ॥
The words are taken from a Sikh site. And so is this explanation:
“Tell the beloved friend (the Lord) the plight of his disciples.
Without You, rich blankets are a disease and the comfort of the house is like living with snakes…Our water pitchers are stakes, our cups have edges like daggers. Like the suffering of animals at the hands of butchers. Our Beloved Lord’s straw bed is more pleasing to us than living in costly furnace-like mansions.”
Thanking this lovely human being and amazing singer today on his birth anniversary. Thank you, Rafi saahab. _()_
Thanking also today the lovely human being and, in his own way, amazing singer, whose love for the Lord sparked my own. Whose friendship with his own inner being taught me that my Best Friend lived within me. My father. This was his favorite song. And therefore, mine. It will be 35 years this December since I saw him. But he remains, in my heart, my “mittar piyaara”…
Monica Kar received her BA in English Honours from the University of Delhi. She now lives in St. Charles, Missouri, where she wears several hats, including doing voluntary work as an educator and homemaker.
Originally published on Mohammad Rafi’s birthday, 24 December 2018