We saw the birth and death anniversary of Munshi Premchand and Mohammed Rafi recently. Despite living in different times, they had much in common

By a quirk of fate, July 31 unites two outstanding talents of India whose virtuosity, depth and creativity continue to be beyond comparison decades after their departure.

If it is the birth date of Hindi literature’s tallest writer Munshi Premchand, the last day of the seventh month, sadly, also happens to be the death anniversary of Mohammed Rafi, rated by most as the greatest playback singer ever. And though both contributed to two different genres of art in two separate eras, it is astonishing how the two stalwarts still reign supreme in public affection despite their long absence!

It isn’t that there haven’t been other writers and singers of calibre but if they haven’t been blessed with such reverence and adulation as showered upon these two geniuses, it is only because the duo’s creative expressions are an inspired ‘modulation’ of human emotions.

These giants have remained unsurpassed till date since their efforts have been devoid of gimmicks and were borne out of pure, unalloyed joy of creation. As such, their content is simple, trustworthy and humane but never lacking in universal appeal since it is laid out with sincerity after an immense introspection of the inner and outer world.

Obviously, art created out of sublime depths of life’s spectrum never fails to impact the collective consciousness of people and if these two masters have been captivating our hearts it isn’t any surprise since they are profound visionaries.

Book lovers adore Munshi Premchand as his writings reflect universal pathos and struggle of ordinary people, illuminating complexities of everyday life. The class struggle that stifled many a labourer/farmer in the pre-independence era and the devastating effects of social ostracism and deprivation upon personal lives are magnificently portrayed by Munshiji’s pen. The rural landscape may have undergone a change in the last few decades but it hasn’t altered the pain and anguish of the have-nots’ fight for recognition and Premchand’s writings are still a moving saga of historical facts and individual aberrations. In fact, the universality of situations and emotions give Premchand an everlasting relevance for all times.

Precisely, in the same fashion, Rafi has an enduring ability to arrest attention with his mellifluous expression of agony, pain, anguish, longing, deprivation, hope, romance, cheer and laughter through the wide repertoire of his songs (Geet, Ghazal, Bhajan, Qawwali, Ballad, Pop and Classical). His timeless appeal beyond all ages and national borders is because of his powerful ability to give ‘sight’ to words as well as give new meanings to phrases drawn from our everyday affairs.

Golden voice

Simple yet weighty, Rafi’s golden voice captivates the listeners’ soul since he understands the intricacies of human heart and gives the perfect ‘colour’, pitch, tone and expression to billions of aspirations. Given his exquisite range, Rafi articulates ‘emotions beyond words’ and is aptly called everyone's voice or the ‘voice of humanity’.

Much before cinema, Premchand was the mouthpiece of a common man’s woes and it is no wonder that his motivating stories like “Mazdoor”, “Heera Moti”, “Godan”, “Gaban”, “Sadgati” and “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” were adapted into cinema. Endowed with a hypnotic appeal, they reveal several layers of ‘truth’ with unparalleled sensitivity and sympathy.

Similarly, while many a singer may have given moving recitals in their voice, Rafi’s uncanny knack of being the ‘character’ makes his voice take on all hues from a country bumpkin to a soldier and a farmer to an ascetic with remarkable ease. Like Premchand’s pen, Rafi too weaves not just intricate sentiments but also stamps an indelible image upon our mind.

Though the two giants never got an opportunity to be together since Premchand died in 1936 when Rafi was just twelve years old, the two did ‘collaborate’ later when Rafi gave life to Premchand’s cinematic characters in “Godaan” and “Gaban”.

If only they had been together, the world would have been richer in creative content but nonetheless, both will remain universal favourites for all ages since their creations transcend all boundaries of time, space, mind and heart.

To them we owe a million thanks!


Cast into the shadowsAugust 3, 2013

Rafi rememberedAugust 8, 2013