Ashqaan di gali …as the melodious voice wafts through the hall, there’s a sudden silence. For world-renowned Pakistan folk singer Reshma it’s been a Lambi judai from Bollywood and after almost two decades, fans are welcoming her back with open arms. The Lahore-based folk singer Reshma was in Delhi recently for the release of the film Woh Tera Naam Tha in which she has sung the hummable Ashqaan di gali. Perhaps a measure of her popularity can be gauged from the fact that when she made her entry at the press conference, she received a standing applause from the usually cynical journalists. Even after decades her luminous voice remains the same. It still grabs your attention the way it did years ago.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Avinash Kalla
How did you feel receiving a standing ovation from journalists?
R - The sound of the applause shows not just the love that people in India have for me but it also is proof of the cultural ties that bind our two countries. It is an honour for any artiste to receive such admiration. I am indebted to all my well-wishers who keep blessing me and like my voice and singing.
It has been over two decades since you sang Lambi judaai for Subhash Ghai’s film Hero. Do you think a lot has changed in the Hindi film industry?
R - Many times change signifies progress. Yes a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t changed. Someone told me the other day that my voice hasn’t changed. I am thankful to Allah for that. [Laughs] But I find it hoarse and heavy. I sometimes wonder what people find in my ‘bulldozer’ aawaz.
You are in India on a month-long tour. What else have you been doing?
R - I was invited to perform at a function organised by Gaj Singh at his beautiful palace in Jodhpur. It was for the first time perhaps that there was no room even to stand. Now I am looking forward to a visit to my native place, Bikaner where I have a musical performance as well. I will try and go to Ajmer Sharif as well.
How does it feel to be loved and admired in India?
R - Dono desh mere do jahaan hai [India and Pakistan are my two worlds]. I was born in one country and live in another. There is no difference among people on both sides of the border. Our traditions, culture and expressions are the same. People in India are like my brothers and sisters who shower me with the same love and respect that I get from the people of Pakistan.
How did you decide to sing in a Bollywood film after almost twenty years?
R - I have sung whenever I am given a chance. The director of Who Tera Naam Tha, Kuku Kohli came to meet me in London where I had a concert. He asked me if I would sing in his film and I told him, ‘When you have travelled all the way to invite me with so much affection how can I say no.’ That’s how I am back singing in a Hindustani film.
Why was the song recorded in Dubai?
At that time there were travel restrictions between the two countries. So we decided to record the song in Dubai.
Are you open to more film offers?
R - Why not? I am looking forward to coming more often to India to perform on-stage and sing in films. I’ve always enjoyed giving performances in India.
Can you tell us a bit about your background…especially your musical roots?
R - I was born in India in Bikaner to a family of banjaras [gypsies] who moved to Pakistan when I was very young. I received no formal training in music and I still cannot read or write. Be it a folk song, ghazal or a film track, I sing from my heart. But the musicians have to work hard on me as they have to first teach me the lyrics orally because I cannot read.
If you’ve received no formal training then you must have worked very hard on your voice training….
R - Not only have I never received any formal training in singing but I have seldom practiced as well. The only riyaz that I do is the namaz that I offer every morning. Allah has blessed me with this voice.
Since when have you been singing?
R - I’ve been singing ever since I started to speak. But I gave my first formal performance in 1965 when I was 17.
Since your first Hindi film song Lambi judaai was such a hit why didn’t you sing more?
R - As I said I have come whenever I am invited to sing. Apart from Lambi judaai and now Ashqaan Di Gali I have sung in Sanjay Khan’s Sarzameen and Heer Ranjha.
Is it true that you had some throat problems sometime ago and you almost gave up singing?
R - Yes sometime back I suffered a serious throat infection that kept me from singing for a long time. My voice was restored after a surgery. Aap ke pyaar aur duaon ne mujhe nayi jindigi de di aur main gaane ke liye haazir hu (your love and blessings have given me a new life and I am here to sing for you.)
Which in your opinion is your most favourite song?
R - It’s like asking a mother which is her most favourite child. I love all of them. But if you ask me to make a specific choice then I’d say I am particularly fond of the Qawwali Shehbaaz Qalandar.
Who are your favourite Indian musicians and singers?
R - I have great respect for Naushad sahab and I consider him my guru. I am also a great admirer of Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar and my most favourite song is Lata’s Rasik Balma.
Do you think there will be a more frequent exchange of artists now with the improved relations between India and Pakistan?
R - I have always prayed for peace between the two countries so that art and culture can thrive. Only if there is aman will singers like us prosper. So let’s all pray that love and harmony prevails not hatred and tension.
"We were banjaras, who would go to Pakistan to sell camels from Bikaner She has a voice of silk, a will of steel, eyes that dance and a heart of gold. RANA SIDDIQUI meets Reshma, the singing sensation that belongs to the entire Indus valley.
ALLAHRAKHI, ALLAH mafi, Allah shafi... No, one is not counting God's various attributes on the beads of a sacred `tasbih' nor addressing someone. These are titles bestowed on cooking utensils like `handiya' and big plates called `parat' by one who added a unique dimension to music through her sonorous voice well defined in "Lambi Judai", "Damadum Mast Kalandar", "Sanjha Chulha Jalya" and more: This is Reshma, you guessed it right. In her kitchen housed at her Rachra Peer, Lahore residence, she will not let anyone touch these favourite utensils. For her, they are like members of the family, which otherwise consists of her two sons, Sunny and Latif, their wives and children - all musicians. A vegetarian by choice, she loves saag, missi roti, bajri and makki and never lets any one cook non-vegetarian food in her cooking pots. That is one aspect of her personality.
And there is another: Her subtle sense of humour that is sure to bring a smile to one's face. Tell her that she has lost weight and she promptly replies, "To kya? Main isse silim, smarat bhi to ho gayi" (So what? I have grown slim and smart because of this), but explains, "Doctors have advised me to curtail oily and spicy food." On the dais, she makes famed industrialist Vijayapat Singhania droop his head in shyness when she proclaims, "He is a hero and I am the heroine," in her trademark, innocent, rustic style. "My voice is like a bulldozer, if you still love it, I am obliged," is another nugget from this naïve personality. She may overdo it, and spoil the decorum of a press conference for she still hasn't learnt the so-called etiquette desired there, but finally wins all hearts with her motherly attitude and a media-savvy approach. "Look out, you are attaching it, see that I don't get a shock!" is what she orders a TV representative who fixes a mike to her kurta for an interview.
Still agile, Reshma has lost none of the euphonic voice quality. Proof of this can be heard in the song "Ishq Te Gali Wich" in the Singhania produced film "Woh Tera Naam Tha", directed by Kuku Kohli.
"I have no training in classical music, I do not know even the `r' of any raga. So when I sing and miss any technical aspect, please forgive me," is what this daughter of Haji Mamad Mushtaq, a trader of camels from Malashi, Rajasthan keeps on repeating. "We were banjaras, who would go to Pakistan to sell camels from Bikaner and buy horses and cows from there several decades ago," she recalls. They would camp anywhere, sing folk songs and move ahead. Folk songs that many people have heard in Lata Mangeshkar's voice, such as "Yara Sili Sili", "Kesaria", "Mera Piya Ghar Aaya", "Akhiyon Ko Rahene De", were first sung by Reshma, informs Naveen, her adopted son who lives in India, himself a post graduate in classical music.
It all started when a television and radio producer heard her singing Sufiyana Kalam at Shahbaaz Kalandar's shrine in Pakistan and invited her to come to Karachi and sing for Pakistan radio. She started with "Laal Meri" and the rest, as they say is history.
Reshma may have sung in a Hindi film after more than two decades, but she is a regular visitor to her native country. Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jaipur invites her each year on January 13, his birthday, when she stays at the Umed Sing palace.
"For me, there is no difference between India and Pakistan, they are like my two eyes," says the singer who now plans to come out with an album of Sufi songs with Times Music. As for her stage shows, she has curtailed them, for, "It has become more Westernised." (With Thanks from "The Hindu")