The unlikely legend: Renowned folk singer Reshma passes away

Published: November 4, 2013
Folk singer Reshma. PHOTO: FILE

Folk singer Reshma. PHOTO: FILE


Legendary Pakistani folk singer Reshma breathed her last in Lahore on Sunday, succumbing to a long drawn out battle with throat cancer which had deprived her of her enchanting voice, the most precious gift the nature had given her.

Reshma was something of an unlikely legend when it came to classical and folk music in Pakistan. While training and hard work are inherent components of any success, she was blessed with superb natural talent.

Recalling her performance, the famous classical singer Farida Khanum said in Lahore on Sunday, “We got so happy [when we heard Reshma sing], because she had brought in a new passion to the art with a style that was influenced by her background,”

Reshma was born in Bikaner, a small city in the Rajasthan state of India, around the time of Partition. Her father, Haji Mamdad Mushtaq, a cattle and camel trader, had migrated, along with his Banjara tribe, to Karachi. In her childhood, she would frequently travel and camp out where they sang folk songs with zest.

The quality of her voice was honed under this environment. She got her professional break at the age of 12 when Saleem Gilani, a Radio Pakistan producer, heard her sing a song at the festival of Sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan. Gilani invited her to the Karachi radio studio where she got her first song recorded.

When the song, ‘Hai O Rabba nahion lagda dil mera’ came out, it became an instant favourite. Later, she recorded such enthralling songs as ‘Lambi Judai’, ‘Chori Chori’, ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’ which are forever etched in lasting memory.

Her stature grew and she became an internationally renowned singer. She had a greater following in India than in Pakistan.

Reshma was staying at India’s all-time great actor Dilip Kumar’s residence where Bollywood producer Subhash Ghai heard her captivating song. He convinced her to sing for his film ‘Hero’ which made here a household name in 1982.

“She was selfless and had developed a great following in India,” recalls Mustafa Qureshi, a popular Pakistani showman who began his career from Radio Pakistan.

While Reshma enthralled a big crowd at Pakistan’s Independence Day in the United States, she had her first encounter with her disease. Blood started dripping from her nose during her performance and the doctors later diagnosed her with cancer. This did not stop her from performing. She became be a staple for the expatriate communities in US, Canada and Europe.

She was conferred the national awards of Pride of Performance award and Sitara-e-Imtiaz. Now that she is no more, her lilting desert voice will last forever.

Reshma is survived by a son and a daughter: Umair and Khadija.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th,2013.

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