A shrine to Mohammad Rafi in Birmingham

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By Prasun Sonwalkar

London, Sep 26 (IANS) Some critics call Indian singer Mohammad Rafi a mere 'qawwal', while millions revere him as the epitome of romance and solace - and now a Birmingham-based fan has built a shrine to his idol who he sees as nothing less than a saint.

Tasawar Bashir, a Birmingham-based artist, has designed a contemporary shrine to Rafi (1924-1980). It is currently on display at the Festival of Xtreme Building, Birmingham. Visitors are encouraged to bring offerings.

Bashir, who designed the relic, said: "There is no doubt in my mind that Rafi is already a saint. However, life moves at a much faster pace in the 21st century and therefore I believe that achieving the status of sainthood should reflect this societal shift. "I asked myself how I could pay homage and honour Rafi, and was struck by the simple solution to make a shrine; a capsule in the middle of a bustling city which compresses time and space and expresses a one-to-one transmission between Rafi's voice and the listener. It is my intention that the shrine will transcend time and space."

The shrine has been built from transparent materials to emphasise its accessibility, and to encourage people who may not be familiar with Islamic art, or Rafi, to explore the space. The shrine, which is still only a prototype, will eventually be taken to India.

Tasawar added: "The shrine will be affected by the environment, weather and light depending on the time of day, meaning that every visit will be unique."

Dave Pollard, Curator of the Festival of Xtreme Building, said: "Mohammed Rafi had near universal appeal and his songs covered both the sacred and the secular. We hope that the shrine will create a link between the city and communities that may not normally visit the town centre, and urge the public to assist Tasawar in his attempt to turn this respected man into the peoples' saint."

The shrine is a 'Project 500' commission, a challenge set by the Festival of Xtreme Building asking artists and architects to work within a community to build a structure or installation with a budget of only 500 pounds. The shrine has been constructed with help from community residents and the support of Travel West Midlands, SAMPAD and Marketing Birmingham.

Tasawar told the media: "Mohammed Rafi embodies the golden age of Bollywood. He was never present in any of these films but everyone knew who he was through his voice. He was so prevalent in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid.

"My mum used to put him on in the kitchen, dad in the car - you couldn't get away from him."

Ameet Chana, a former actor in the popular serial "EastEnders", hosted the event Saturday and said: "It's great everybody's come out to celebrate the renowned voice of Mohammed Rafi. I was very young at the time he passed away but I grew up with his sound through going to watch classic Bollywood films."

Shin, an artiste with Birmingham-based bhangra band DCS, said: "Rafi was a great influence on me and he's the reason I'm singing. He encouraged me to sing like him and my singing is still based very loosely on his style. This shrine is a great idea and well overdue."