In 2013, when 28-year-old Rafi Khan was waiting at the Srinagar International Airport to board a flight to Mumbai, he remembers feeling both excitement and dread. “I couldn’t ignore the knot in my tummy, because I was leaving home and travelling thousands of kilometres to a city, where I knew nobody, simply on the assurance of a lady I had met a few days ago,” says the vocalist, who hails from Batamaloo, Srinagar.
Khan was no stranger to compliments for his mellifluous voice when he would perform at cafes in the Valley. Patrons – including music producers and filmmakers vacationing in the Valley – would often walk up to him, and suggest he head to Mumbai and make a career in Bollywood. “Nobody offered help or guidance. But, when I met interior designer Rupal Mehta from Ghatkopar, who was in Srinagar for work, there was promise in her voice,” he recalls. Two days later, he received a call from Mehta informing him that there was an event in Mumbai where he could perform.
A home in Bollywood
It has been four years since that day at the airport. On Thursday, when we meet Khan at a 3BHK rented apartment in Ghatkopar, which he shares with a Maharashtrian family, he’s busy prepping for a gig at a Lower Parel cafe. Twice a week, the vocalist croons Sufi numbers at the venue. “On other days, we’re busy travelling to other cities for cultural and corporate events,” he says. But, his goal remains Bollywood. “In my family – parents, two brothers and a sister – I am the only one enamoured with Bollywood. I would pick up tunes and strum them on my guitar for hours.” His father, a doctor, who also runs a medical store in Srinagar, wasn’t in favour and suggested he manage the shop. “He felt a musician had no future in Kashmir, but I couldn’t sit at the shop for more than two days,” he laughs. Ultimately, they gave in.
Khan moved to his current apartment two years ago. “Till then I was living with Rupal and her family who treated me like one of their own.” He now shares the flat and splits the Rs 20,000 rent with Aashu Khan, a fellow Kashmiri musician who plays the cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru. “We, along with two other boys, were part of a band back home called Valley Boys. When we would step out of our homes with our guitars in a case, people would think we were carrying guns,” he says.