Kids Corner


1947 - 2013





I was 22 when I first heard her voice. And instantly fell in love with her. She changed my life … literally.

I was a thousand miles from home, for the first time away for a lengthy stretch, in order to attend university in the remote northern Ontario (Canada) city of Thunder Bay. I was renting a room with a local family, and the only entertainment I had easy access to was from a portable cassette player, via a smattering of home-recorded kirtan and a carefully selected string of old filmi songs.

I was being driven to a weekend party one evening when my friend, the driver, pushed an eight-track cartridge (remember those?) into the console in the dashboard, and slowly, very slowly, strains of an ethereal sound unravelled all around me.

And then, The Voice.

It was crystal clear. And every Punjabi word, in its sheer enunciation, surrendered its meaning effortlessly. I sat there mesmerized by the magic of her voice …

Did such singers exist? Where?

I asked my friend and he introduced me to a whole new world … of Reshma.

It was Punjabi song and music like nothing I had heard before. Not the crude, garden variety that had only recently begun to pass as Bhangra music. It was also recorded flawlessly, with no hiss or crackle, no skips or dead moments. Just flowing and encircling, transporting me to a place I hadn’t been to before.

Where can I buy these tapes, I asked.

In Toronto, said my friend.

That’s a thousand miles away, I muttered, and I won’t be down there for another month or two. Can you copy me a tape? I asked.

Sorry, can‘t, he said; these are 8-track tapes, and they can‘t be copied.

‘But I’ll lend you mine for a few weeks,’ he graciously added, seeing I craved instant gratification, ‘until you get your own.’

I thanked him and mulled the idea over for a few seconds. But, darn, I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car.

We talked things over and found a solution.

We decided to skip the party. He drove me home. I picked up my car and followed him to a garage he knew. En route, we picked up an 8-track player from a store. And then -- since the garage owner was his friend -- the same evening, was able to get it installed in my Karmann Ghia.

As I counted off the bills in payment, first, for the player, and then for the installation, I realized I had just spent my month’s rent and grocery money.

Not a problem, I said to myself. I’ll go to the employment office in the university on Monday morning; I knew someone there who’d helped me out a few weeks earlier. She’ll find me a part-time job! [Which she did, mercifully!]

Thereafter, began my immersion into Punjabi music … and thus, into the Punjabi language.

As I heard her, I hungered for more of her. And there were only one or two more tapes available. But I wanted more. So, I discovered Noor Jehan and Mallika Pukhraj and Alam Lohar. And re-discovered Surinder Kaur and Asa Singh Mastana.  

Gradually, words and phrases began to make sense.

And then, lo and behold, I realized I could suddenly understand words and phrases in the kirtan tapes I played. In the beginning, a scattered few, and then, gradually a few more … and then, more.

Thus began my journey into the world of Punjabi -- long-delayed because I had grown up in Bihar, a thousand miles from Punjab, and had never had a formal introduction to, or education in, the language.

Reshma was my gateway to my mother-tongue. My inspiration. And my motivation.

*   *   *   *   *

This morning, dear Reshma passed away after a lengthy bout with cancer, at the age of 66. She is survived by son Umair and daughter Khadija.

The following is a brief bio, based on news reports covering her death:

"She had been in coma for the last month and was diagnosed with throat cancer some years ago," said doctor Rahim of the hospital where she was undergoing treatment.

Born in Bikaner in Rajasthan to a Banjara (gypsy - nomad) family around 1947, her tribe migrated to Karachi shortly after the Partition of Punjab and the subcontinent.

She first burst on the music scene with her soulful rendition of songs like 'Dama Dam Mast Kalandar' and 'Lambi Judaa-ee' in her trademark rustic voice.

After her tribe had migrated to Karachi and her ‘discovery’ while she was still a child, she remained unaffected by the fame.

"The borders do not matter to me, “ she once said, “because an artiste belongs to all".

Having received no formal education in music, she was only 12 when she was spotted singing at Shahbaz Qalander's shrine by a television and radio producer, who arranged for her to record the iconic song 'Laal Meri' on state-run Pakistan Radio.

The song was an instant hit, and Reshma went on to become one of the most popular folk singers of Pakistan, appearing on television in the 1960s, as well as recording songs for both the Pakistani and Indian film industry.

"Singers of that level and magnitude are an institution in themselves and her passing away means a complete era has passed away. It is a huge loss," Shahram Azhar, lead singer of Pakistani band Laal, said.

Some of her famous numbers include 'Hai, O Rabba, nahio(n) lagda dil mera' and 'Ankhiyaa(n) nu rehen de ankhyan de kol kol'.

Reshma, who has a massive and loyal fan following, was awarded several national awards including prestigious awards 'Sitara-i-Imtiaz' and 'Legend Of Pakistan,' given by the President of Pakistan.

She was able to perform live in India much later, during the 1980s, when warring India and Pakistan finally allowed exchange of artistes.

Filmmaker Subhash Ghai used her voice in the film 'Hero', which featured one of her most famous songs 'Lambi Judaa-ee'.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a music lover, had come to her aid and gave her Rs 1 million to help pay off a bank loan. He also put her on a secured assistance of Rs 10,000 rupees per month.

When she was hospitalised in Doctors Hospital at Lahore, Punjab, on April 6, 2013, the caretaker government led by Najam Sethi decided to pay all her medical expenses.

Pakistani band Junoon's former guitarist Salman Ahmad tweeted, "A voice of passion not of this earth … RIP … 'Hayo, Rabba'! ".   


Please CLICK here to hear her  `Hay O Rabba, laghda nahi dil mera ..`

November 3, 2013


Conversation about this article

1: Harminder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), November 04, 2013, 12:51 AM.

Sher Singh ji, thank you very much for a beautiful write up about Reshma. She had a unique style of singing. Indeed, a God-gifted voice.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 04, 2013, 11:46 AM.

Sher Singh ji: thanks for your nostalgic piece. I have a CD where Reshma briefly talked about herself and said: "I was just a homespun 'khaddar' that you have made into 'rsham' (silk). The border did not matter to her and she was loved in equal measure both in India and Pakistan as a flower of the desert, a symbol of love, music and peace for all times to come.

3: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), November 04, 2013, 8:43 PM.

First time heard her in a live concert and was haunted by Haaye o Rabba'. I thought she could carry it off without instrumental music. She was spotted by Saleem Gilani who nurtured her. He had a difficult time taking her on her first air flight. She was shy to the core and in fact the whole family disappeared into the desert after her first recording! And she always reminded me of my Satwant Maasi (sister of S Sangat Singh)!

4: G. Poonaam  (Berlin, Germany), June 12, 2014, 10:54 AM.

We will miss her wonderful voice.

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1947 - 2013"

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