By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
Muscat, Feb 19 (IANS) Until a few months ago she could barely string together a sentence in Hindi. Now Omani girl Asma Mohammed Rafi, who won many Indian hearts on a music reality show on TV and rubbed shoulders with top Bollywood faces, is back for a second stint.
The beautiful 18-year-old, whose faltering, funny sounding Hindi made her a rage on the "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge" last year, is on a two-year contract with Zee TV which produces the show.
"I am in love with India and I am thrilled by the way people showered their love. I feel like a celebrity in Mumbai as whenever I go out people mob me. I am also not allowed to go out alone," Asma told IANS here before leaving for India.
Wearing a black abaya (cloak) and her head covered with a scarf, she oozes confidence. "I used to speak atrocious Hindi and some words used to sound like abuses! I used to write the songs in Arabic without understanding them. Now I am much better."
She is tipped to travel to Thailand and South Africa and will be earning between Rs.200,000 to Rs.400,000 per show as she travels with Zee.
As one of the five finalists on the show last year she was hugely popular with the audiences and the star judges, including Bollywood actors Salman Khan, Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor, and was called back for the grand finale.
She floored everyone with her humorous antics and on her part has fallen "madly" in love with India.
Armed with a six-month visa, Asma, who was born in Muscat, said she has already recorded a song for music director Adesh Srivastava.
"I have been offered a role in a movie in the lead role and also to act in a television serial. But I can't take them up now as I am on contract for another two years," she said.
Asma will also be anchoring a "Sa Re Ga Ma" contest in Dubai, said her proud father Mohammed Rafi, who was named after the famous Indian playback singer.
"She is the cultural ambassador to India," Rafi said about Asma, who is the second of his nine children.
Rafi, who is an assistant manager in Ahlibank in Oman and also runs an audio-video business, said he was so named because even as he was born his father was attending a show by Bollywood singer Mohammed Rafi in Muscat and fell in love with the voice.
He never realised the significance of his name until his teens when an Indian neighbour told him about the singer. After that he too was hooked to Hindi songs and Bollywood movies.
That is what took him to a "Sa Re Ga Ma" show in 2006 in the Middle East. Though he was not selected, he befriended music composer and singer Bali Brahmbhatt, who is now helping him bring out a cassette of Rafi's songs sung by him.
Incidentally, his voice is uncannily similar to that of the Indian legend.
Though he was rejected, he egged his daughter on to take part in the show two years later.
Giving a lot of credit to her father, Asma said it was unthinkable for an Arab girl to wear short revealing dresses the way she did on the show. "My father has been a pillar of strength for me. He is my manager and advises me on everything. He has always encouraged me."
Sharing some of her experiences, Asma said she would never forget her first visit to a discoth?e in Mumbai.
"When I first went to a nightclub, I was hesitant and sat outside. Everyone had to cajole me to enter the place. It's difficult to forget one's culture," she added.
Her only regret - dropping out of Class 11 last year. But she is determined to complete her higher education in Mumbai.
"Not many people know about me in Oman. But among my relatives, friends and school I am a celebrity," she said with a mischievous smile.
She is all praise for India. "I love India and its people. I am eager to return to India and I am missing dal and chawal and even asked my mother to make it for me and she laughed because she hasn't even heard of it," Asma said.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)