Legendary Pakistani folk singer Reshma, who mesmerized music lovers in the Indian subcontinent with soulful renditions of songs like “Dama Dam Mast Kalandar” and “Lambi Judaai” in her trademark rustic voice, passed away in Lahore Nov. 3 after a prolonged battle with throat cancer.
Born around 1947 in Bikaner, Rajasthan in a Banjara family, Reshma had been under treatment after being diagnosed with the disease years ago. She is survived by son Umair and daughter Khadija.
“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.
Reshma’s tribe had migrated to Karachi shortly after partition and the singer, who remained unaffected by the fame, had once said that “the borders do not matter to me because an artist belongs to all.”
Remembering her origins in the sandy lands of Rajasthan, she said, “People in India showered me with a lot of admiration. In Pakistan, people have given me respect. But in India also, they listen to me with lots of love. It does not matter to them that I am a Pakistani singer.”
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 industries.
“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,” said Shahram Azhar, lead singer of Pakistani band Laal.
Some of her famous numbers include “Hai O Rabba Nahion Lagda Dil Mera” and “Ankhiyan No Rehen De Ankhiyan De Kol Kol.”
Reshma, who has a massive and loyal fan following, was honored with several national awards including the prestigious “Sitara-i-Imtiaz” and “Legends of Pakistan” given by the president of Pakistan.
She was able to perform live in India much later, during the 1980s, when India and Pakistan allowed the exchange of artists.
Filmmaker Subhash Ghai used her voice in the film “Hero,” which featured one of her most famous songs, “Lambi Judaai.”
During her career, she was invited to meet former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a music lover, had come to Reshma’s aid and given her Rs. 1 million to help pay off a bank loan. He also put her on a secured assistance of Rs. 10,000 per month.
When the legendary singer was hospitalized at Doctors Hospital in Lahore Apr. 6, 2013, the caretaker government led by Najam Sethi decided to pay all her medical expenses.
The Indian and Pakistani music industries mourned Reshma’s demise, describing her as a “voice of passion” and “an inspiration to many.”
Pakistani band Junoon’s former guitarist Salman Ahmad tweeted, “A voice of passion not of this earth (RIP) ‘Hayo Rabba.’”
“Tragic. RIP Reshma,” Bollywood music composer Vishal Dadlani wrote on Twitter, while singer Harshdeep Kaur posted, “Reshma-ji no more...Can’t believe this. Have grown up singing her songs. My inspiration. You will always be alive in our hearts.”
Bollywood filmmaker Anubhav Sinha and actor Kabir Bedi both remembered the singer for her hit “Lambi Judaai.”
Sinha wrote, “RIP Reshma. You were a gift to us. ‘Lambi Judaai,’” while Bedi shared the link of her performance to the popular song and wrote, “In memory of the legendary Reshma, a live performance of her. Unforgettable ‘Lambi Judaai.’”