Folk singer Reshma preferred stage performances to playback singing. In 1983, director Subhash Ghai discovered her voice at a party hosted by actor-director Raj Kapoor. Ghai convinced her to sing “Lambi Judaai” for his film Hero (1983), after which her popularity rested on that one soulful song. She later confided to Ghai that everywhere she went, the song followed her like a shadow.
Reshma was born into a nomadic Banjara community in a village close to Bikaner in Rajasthan. Her family moved to Pakistan after the Partition. In 1968, she shot to fame when she rendered “O Laal Meri”, a modified version of the traditional spiritual song “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” for Radio Pakistan.
Raj Kapoor was so enchanted by her song “Akhiya Noo Rehn De Akhiyan De Kol Kol” that he had Lata Mangeshkar sing a tweaked version “Ankhiyon Ko Rahne De” for his film Bobby in 1973. In the 1980s, when the governments of India and Pakistan eased restrictions on artists and allowed them to perform across the borders, Kapoor was one of the first people to invite Reshma to his house.
The song “Lambi Judaai” was written by lyricist Anand Bakshi and the music was composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Reshma’s piercing voice and the mournful tone of the composition became an instant hit.
There was a sublime quality to Reshma’s untrained voice, which echoed with a spiritual yearning even when she sang a dirge like “Mere Chan Pardesi” (Pati Patni Aur Tawaif, 1990). Reshma also sang “O Piya Hua Kya Kasoor” (Geet, 1992), for Bappi Lahiri, “Jo Phool Yahan” (Heer Ranjha, 1992), for Laxmikant-Pyarelal and “Ashqan Di Gali Vich” (Woh Tera Naam Tha, 2004), for singer-composer Roop Kumar Rathod. None of these songs attained the success she achieved with “Lambi Judaai”.
The singer was very selective in her playback career. She chose earthy songs about unrequited love that suited her raw voice and earned her the title “Nightingale of the Desert”. Always clad in a simple salwar-kameez, with her head draped in a dupatta, the singer was an image of piety. In one of her last public performances, the benign singer appeared on stage at an awards function in Karachi in 2008 where singer Atif Aslam paid a tribute to her by singing “Lambi Judaai” along with her. She wept and blessed him as he serenaded her.
Diagnosed with throat cancer, Reshma’s health began to deteriorate soon after. She slipped into a coma and died on November 3, 2013. The melody of “Lambi Judaai” continues to haunt music lovers.