Raihanah Shekar, 47
Sister to: Allah Rakha Rahman, 46, Oscar-winning music composer-singer
Is: Singer in Rahman’s troupe
Home is: Chennai
“Rahman is more father than brother to me”
Sometime in the early ’90s, during Ramzan, Raihanah sang a jingle for a toy company. That was the first time she worked with her brother, Rahman, India’s most feted music composer and singer. Since then, the 47-year-old has recorded several songs, sung harmonies in his Tamil compositions, and avelled as part of his troupe.
“The first time I performed abroad was in 1996 with the troupe in Malaysia. It was a big deal for me. After the show, I joined the other musicians who had gathered around Rahman to thank him. He smiled at me and said, ‘Thanks for what?'” says Raihanah.
Though she loved to sing, Raihanah never took it up professionally till she began to work with Rahman, when he would compose jingles for ad films. Her sisters Talat Fathima (42) and Ishrath (38) began to sing for him soon after, as part of his chorus.
“Each time we are up on stage together, it is magic. But when the show begins, there is no brother-sister dynamic at play. He is the composer and I am the singer,” says Raihanah. But then, she adds, the benefit of being Rahman’s sister extends much beyond the stage.
After their musician father R K Shekar passed away when she was 10, Rahman took on the role of the breadwinner. “Though he is younger to me by 15 months, he has always looked out for us. He has been more a father than brother to us. He made sure that we didn’t despair over our loss. My respect for him is so deep, it’s akin to reverence,” she says.
Rahman’s self-effacing personality is reflected even at home, even though Raihanah says, he prefers a slight sense of detachment. “He is most attached to God, and his work. When he makes a suggestion, I usually follow it. He is almost always right.” This also explains why the siblings have never fought. “I can remember no more than two arguments in 20 years,” she laughs.
This, despite going through hard times, like when they had to rent out their father’s musical instruments and Rahman quit school to earn as a keyboard player. Back then too, Raihanah says, Rahman was as even tempered. “His little legs sunk in large gum boots, Rahman would happily cycle to his school. Once, my mother and I fetched him during school hours to rush him to a recording session. It broke me to see him struggle, leave studies for work.”
The sister admits to being mesmerised by his music. “I would just sit and listen admiringly whenever he played. His music always leaves me feeling inspired. He may have a million fans but, as he had once acknowledged in an interview, I’m his first fan.”
Rahman’s unblinking trust in Raihanah is legendary, too. In the early 2000s, Rahman left her in charge of the cassette duplication unit at his studio, Panchatan Record Inn, before going abroad on work. “I advanced a sum of several lakh to someone for a deal, but that man duped us. I was distraught. I wondered how I’d face Rahman. But, he never brought it up with me. His only reaction after I told him what happened was, ‘Oh, he cheated us?’