Our Soulful Songstress

Author: Qasim Fareed


Allah Rakhi Wasai was born in the city of Bulleh Shah in 1926, who then went on to act on the big stage alongside stars such as Dilip Kumar and Neelo. She was also known as the mother of Shan, sharing an onscreen kiss with the latter in 1959. It comes as a surprise to learn that a girl-on-girl kissing scene was included in a major picture, considering the fits people are throwing now over a make-believe wedding.

Always dressed to the nines adorned in silk saris, the benevolent giggle, copious eyeshadow, highlighted cheekbones, overlined rosy red lips with a gajra in her ever-changing hair was our Madam; one coquettish flicker of her raven lashes is all it would take to have you entranced. Madam’s opulence, both timber and cosmetic, made her a symbol in more ways than one.

Madam Ji was a wild one who lived life to its fullest. Be it her famous and scandalous flings which included a who’s who of actors, an up-and-coming cricketer and the then highest in our land at the time (in more ways than one) General Yahya Khan, who was so smitten by Madam that he once had her sing “Sayeeon ne mera mahi” from Tokyo in his usual state of intoxication while we were amidst the 1971 civil war.

There were numerous accounts about Madam’s generosity regarding philanthropy; through the grapevine, we hear she supported several families in her hometown and was the patron of the lawaris trans-community of Lahore and a symbol of the gay community owing to her decked-out looks.

She was not one to be ordered around. The story goes that she was once called upon for a benefit during the Ayyub regime, where she was given strict orders not to perform any ghazals of the revolutionary Faiz, who was then in the Hyderabad Jail after being convicted of being involved in the attempted coup. But Madam Ji did not give a damn and sang Mujhse Pheli si Mohabbat, which was broadcasted countrywide. After hearing the broadcast on a radio in his jail cell, Faiz Sahab famously relinquished it to Noor Jehan, stating, “Woh geet ab mera kahan, Noor Jehan ka ho gaya hai“.

Much need not be said about her career as one of the most prolific singers the subcontinent has ever produced.

That’s all right, but what’s a playback singer of olde got to do with me and my troupe of followers? Madam Ji is not just an ex-singer/actor who just so happens to be the grandmother of Ahmed Ali Butt. She was a force of nature who, through her geet, touched the hearts of millions, was the role model for the daughters of our nation for literal decades and was the epitome of the “rok sako tou roklo” spirit.

Despite all the scandals, tabloids, and fake news, nothing could taint the image or extinguish the love people had for Madam Ji on both sides of the border, as discerned by the generous reception she received from fellow playback singer Lata Mangeshkar.

In these dark times where most of us can not wait to vacate this burning building and desire that coveted stamp of the Canadian Immigration office, we must reflect on our roots and what

those roots represent. Not the literal soil, but the culture and heritage. It’s all about the people of the land and what they represent.

The next time you think of Pakistan down the road in your abode in whatever part of the world you choose to call home, try and remember the artists like Madam Ji who redefined our culture and raised entire generations, whose voice could not be evaded in any part of the subcontinent from busses in metropoles to dhabas in the rural, from blockbusters in cinema to the ordinary person’s theatre, all the way to your home on both the radio and television. Even during the ‘65 war, you could hear Madam Ji on the radio where her Milli Naghmas were a much-needed pick me up for both the soldiery and citizenry alike.

A songstress like no other, she was an icon for the state and soul.

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