I have always been mesmerized by Rashma’s voice. It is a voice unlike any other I know. Truly it is the voice of the desert – unending in its breadth and unrelenting in its depth. A voice that comes from the heart and a one that always touches the heart.
Although she is probably best known for her film song lambi judai, I must confess that is not a particular favorite of mine. My favorite has always been her rendition of Shahbaz Qalandar; something that I have had the pleasure of listening to, from her, more than once.
A song that does full justice to the phenomenon that is Reshma is the Punjabi favorite Kithey nain na jourin. I have long felt that no one else could possibly sing this song. Nor should they try. But recently I saw this video of a young man singing this very song, with a beaming Reshma sitting in the audience and encouraging him along. He was no match to Reshma’s original but the tenor of the voice was unmistakable. This is Reshma’s son (I believe his name is Sawan) singing Kithey nain na jorien.
In a profile of her published in Newsline some time back Ayesha Javed Akram described her voice thus:
Her voice possesses that rare quality that is often aspired to, but attained by only a chosen few â€“ what one might almost call the sublime catharsis of the soul. It has the ability to make listeners believe not only in passion, but experience all its manifestations â€“ the torture of waiting for a beloved, the ecstacy of union, the sharp pain of betrayal, the sadness of loss.
This quality is particularly evident in a very early recording of her duet (with Pervaiz Mehdi), Gori-aye Mein Jaana Perdais (see if you can recognize some of the other faces sitting in the Mehfil).
I had interviewed Reshma many years ago and remember fondly her natural grace, her charm and her ready wit. All of these are on display in her Newsline profile. I was rather sad to learn that she is not in a very good state – either economically or in health. But as Ayesha Javed Akram writes, “she may be down, but not out. Even in just her unpredictability, she remains quite the star.” I certainly hope so.
Here are more excerpts from the Newsline profile, which give us a glimpse into Reshma the person.
Finally face to face with the icon, I was forced to repress a gasp. Still apparently physically robust, Reshma nonetheless appeared only a shadow of her former self. Gone was the distinctive and elaborate â€˜keelâ€™ that adorned her nose and was her trademark. But more significantly, gone was her once regal gait and the sparkle in her ubiquitously kohl-rimmed eyes. The vivacious gypsy was now a nondescript, middle-aged woman…
â€œI was born in a family of saudagars in Rajasthan in a small settlement called Bikaner. I donâ€™t know the year I was born; my family was too masroof to keep records of such trivial matters as dates of birth. But I do remember being told that I was a month or two old when I was brought to Pakistan in 1947. Jo ap ka dil chahay likh dain.
â€œMy family would take camels from Bikaner (humaray wahan kay oont bohat mashoor hain) and sell them in other areas, and bring back goats and cows from elsewhere to sell at home. I belong to a huge clan of gypsies; (hamarey apas main bohat mohabbat hai). We were forever travelling around. Though a lot of us have now settled and taken up permanent residences in Lahore and Karachi, whenever we feel restless we pack our bags and move on.â€
Throughout the interview, Reshma spoke to me in fluent Urdu, occasionally interspersed with Punjabi and a word or two of Pushto.
â€œI have been very lucky, by the grace of God,â€ she mused. â€œWhilst most of my tribe members have not journeyed beyond Pakistan, various governments have sent me to countries across the world. Iâ€™ve been to Disneyland in Americaâ€¦ bohat barra hai America. Iâ€™ve been to Hollywood, and even to Canada where I dipped my feet in the Niagara Falls. In Washington, I saw the badshah ka mahal and in England, the malka ka mahal. Which one did I like more? Hmmm…obviously the malka ka mahal. It was so clean and white and huge. I thought to myself when I saw it, wah, no mitti, no gand.
â€œI have even climbed the Wall of China. Looking at the mountains around me, I felt so overwhelmed that I began to sing, Hayo Raba Nahin Lagda Dil Mera. The gora log who were by the wall at that time stopped and began to stare at me. When I finished, they all clapped and said, â€˜wah, kya range wali awaz hai.â€™
â€œBut after seeing the world, I have come to the conclusion that Pakistan ka koi jawab nahin. Every day I pray to Allah to give peace and stability to my country…â€