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Not just Hindi: When Mohammed Rafi sang in English, Creole, Dutch and Persian

The legendary singer extended his vocal range to foreign languages whenever he got the opportunity.

Mohammed Rafi’s first break as a singer came in 1942, when he sang the duet Goriye ni Heeriye ni with Zeenat Begum for composer Shyam Sunder in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch (1944). Since then, he sang an estimated 4,500-5,000 songs in 14 Indian languages and four foreign languages until his death on July 31, 1980.

Not a bad feat at all for a singer who struggled with even English. In the biography Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen, Sujata Dev writes about how the unlettered singer would politely turn down requests for autographs as his fame grew. “He began practising his signature diligently and when Ammi (mother) enquired why he was wasting reams of paper, he told her that he did not want to deprive his fans and so was learning to sign his name in English,” Rafi’s son, Shahid, told Dev. “Soon he began signing autographs in English and enjoyed doing so. It came as a great compliment for all his efforts when a journalist mentioned that he had the best signature in the industry.”

Rafi was born on December 24, 1924, in Kotla, a village near Amritsar. Singing in English became one of his greatest triumphs, especially since the language was a stumbling block throughout his life. When music composers Shankar-Jaikishen approached him to sing English numbers for a non-film music album in 1968, the singer was hesitant. Maverick actor-writer Harindranath Chattopadhyay, an ardent fan of the singer, wrote the lyrics. He convinced Rafi to take up the assignment, helping the singer perfect his diction for the recording. The two songs were Although we hail from different lands, based on the same composition as Baharon phool barsao (Suraj, 1966), and The she I love, based on the composition Hum kaale hain toh kya hua (Gumnaam, 1965).

Rafi’s English songs pale in comparison to the command he had over Hindi songs but never one to back down, he made a valiant effort to overcome his fears and grasp his limitations as a singer. It also gave him the courage to test his vocals in other foreign languages such as Dutch, Creole and Persian.

In this clip, Rafi sings in Creole, the local language of Mauritius, when he toured the country in the 1960s. He sings Mo le coeur toujours soif zot l'amour camarade (My heart will always be thirsty for your love, my friends), based on the tune of Ehsaan mere dil pe tumhara hai doston (Gaban, 1966).

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‘Mo le coeur toujours soif zot l'amour camarade’.

This video clip shows Rafi performing at a concert in Dutch. He sings Ik zal jou nooit vergeten al zal ik in India zijn (I will never forget you, although I will be in India). The music is by Shankar-Jaikishen from the composition Baharon phool barsao, which remains immensely popular among Rafi fans.

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‘Ik zal jou nooit vergeten al zal ik in India zijn’.

For the Persian track Aye Taaza Gul (O fresh flower), Rafi collaborated with Afghani singer Zheela.

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‘Aye Taaza Gul’.

In Mohammed Rafi: Golden Voice of the Silver Screen, Sujata Dev writes, “Kersi Lord, the multi-faceted musician had a long association with Rafi. He also happened to be the singer’s next door neighbour. ‘I remember once an Iranian couple had come to India and they wanted Rafi Sahab to sing an Iranian song. He called me home to play the synthesizer as he sang the song, with a fluency that made it seem as if it was his own mother tongue. The couple was left spellbound.”

Boxer Muhammad Ali felicitates Rafi in Chicago during one of his tours. Courtesy Sujata Dev’s ‘Mohammed Rafi’.
Boxer Muhammad Ali felicitates Rafi in Chicago during one of his tours. Courtesy Sujata Dev’s ‘Mohammed Rafi’.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

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The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.