Also known as ‘Rafik’ in Mauritian villages

The visit of Mohammed Rafi, late in the 1960s, was felt as a major event in the Indian community of Mauritius. In the villages, he was known as ‘Rafik’ and was popularized by cinegoers who would whistle his tunes while on their errands. On wedding eves, there would be song competitions and the artists would do their utmost to imitate ‘Rafik’, their idol and folks, not necessarily, guests would stay awake until two in the morning to enjoy the show.
Rafi had a large number of fans who would put his photo in a frame, garland it and hang it on the wall of the room where guests are normally received. Some would buy small photos to keep them in one compartment of their purse. Still others would collect the prints of his songs sold for 30 cents at the Central Market. There was no limit to the fans’ adulation. Some Hindus took him for a saint because in one of his film songs, he moved a deity to tears; some Muslims, after watching Hatim Tai, considered him as a pir [saint], kept his photo with them and kissed it daily.
Gramophones were expensive and rare but great promoters of Indian songs. Some proud owners would wait for the arrival of a new Record by Rafi and would like to boast to be the first to acquire it. Usually, after dinner, people would sit in their yard in the moonlight, some smoking a cigarette, some old folks enjoying their hookka and still others, especially children, with their hot cow milk to listen to the golden voice of Rafi pouring out of the gramophones and which would cover homes in the radius of 500 metres. There was no electricity and hardly an automobile to disturb the peace of the village.
Even it were getting late, some would suggest that he would turn in only after listening to such a title by Rafi. He would further comment that he liked a particular film because of a particular song by Rafi. He would buy a cinema ticket, watch a film and would not wait for the end but leave the hall after listening to the rendition of Rafi of his song.
In the sixties, there were lots of stories about film artists. They were believed to be living on a different planet. Many wished to see an artist but going to Bombay was too expensive. When rumours were afloat that Mohammed Rafi would come here for a tour, some people were thrilled while the majority thought it impossible.
Abdool Gaffoor Hattea was importing Hindi films and he visited Bombay to spend time with his magistrate cousin and to conclude deals on films that would crash the box office. He persuaded Mohammed Rafi to give some performances.
It was a hit. Rafi toured the island and sang in cinema halls. Crowds would flock there and the house would be full. Lucky ones would follow their singer round the island not to miss a single show. In the latter part of each performance would come the requests of the listeners. The numbers were so big that it was a headache to decide which would be the last song.
On the show that I attended, Rafi sang “ Oh duniya ke rakhwale” and moved the whole audience. The following weeks, the “talk of the town”... in the villages was Rafi. My school mates relived the occasion by asking one class fellow, a good singer by our standard, to sing at lunch time the hits of Rafi. We had of course a price to pay: help in his homework and buy him nuts and sweets for desert.
The old generation misses Rafi very much and says that India will never produce a Mohammad Rafi again.