Nazia Hassan: Remembering our subcontinental princess

Published: August 13, 2013
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She was not to live long and passed away at 35, to stay forever young and beautiful in our minds. PHOTO: APP

Hendon Cemetery, London NW7 on Holder’s Hill Road is a serene space with the usual poignancy and hush that accompanies cemeteries. There, tucked away among other graves is a simple tomb with a black headstone. “786”, the numerical translation of Bismillah is etched along with this touching epitaph:

“In the loving memory of Nazia Hassan. Loving daughter, sister and mother. Beloved and cherished by millions of people. Died in her youth, August 13, 2000.”

Every word rang true and took me back to July 2000. I was driving my friend and Nazia’s songs were playing on the stereo.

“She is about to die”, he said.

His callous remark was like a jab to my face, sharp and hurtful. On the morning of August 13, I saw the top half of a folded newspaper which showed only her picture, the rest of the news was printed in the unseen part below. I unfolded it with dread and saw the headline, terse and painful: ‘Nazia Hassan Passes Away.’

It has been 13 years since that day and almost 33 since she burst upon the music world in a blaze of sultry lyrics and effervescent beats. “Aap Jaisa Koi (AJK)” was everything the 80s represented. The story is well documented, musician Biddu and the child singer made the “Disco Deewane” album. HMV, the record company, estimated it would sell 25,000 albums. It sold three million albums.

Nazia’s youthful good looks, lilting voice and pacey beats caused a sensation and such was the success of ‘AJK’ that she became the youngest winner of a Filmfare award. For a short time the teenaged wisp of a girl from Karachi even supplanted Lata Mangeshkar on the throne of Indian music. Lata’s biographer Raju Bharatan has written about the despair Lata had when the songs of her film Aasha trailed behind AJK for 14 weeks, a cataclysmic event if there was in the life of the reigning queen of melody.

She has an incredible story, like out of a penny press novel. Teenage girl finds everlasting fame at a time when it was almost unheard of. It happens now but in this day of social media and pervasive media coverage, stardom it is much easier. Nazia was an international pop icon at 15 with none of that, in a pre-internet time, in spite of a repressive zealot dictator ruling the country, with a controlled media, and at a time with very limited avenues of expression.

Nazia was a star but more than that, she was also a part of people’s lives. My sister loved ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’, so much that my parents would play it in the morning to wake her up with. A generation later, family kids cavort to “Telephone Pyar”, or rather “Teen Teen Do Do”, easy for two-year-olds to say. Thinking about Nazia is like going through a montage of memories. I remember when she visited my school as part of her charity work. We were all enamoured, some still are, and when she said she can substitute if our teacher falls ill we started making plans of doing away with the poor lady so Nazia could come every day.

These were not just the fantasies of a second-grader, Nazia’s grace and charm had a lasting impact on people of all ages. She had that rare quality; for instance, when she said she would like to meet you again, it felt as if she really meant it. Many cherish chance meetings and a cousin still raves about running into her in London and her readily agreeing to an afternoon tea. Others carry memories of sneaking into a concert, or dancing along on Music 89 or hosting masquerade parties like the one in “Aankhen Milane Wale.” Many males went to their mothers begging to be married to someone like her while the girls wore their hair in the same style. Everyone’s dream teacher, sister, friend; Nazia was a heaven sent means of escape, catharsis from impositions and why shouldn’t she be? She stood in bright contrast to the stifling atmosphere forced by the dictatorship.  The side parted hair, the sparkling, erudite ways made her the perfect symbol of youth and optimism in India and Pakistan who, in spite of their political difference, loved her with equal measure. While her songs touched all ages, it was the youth who lucky enough to enjoy them to the fullest for as Wordsworth said:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven!

The songs were magic and the videos revolutionary. Juxtaposed to the staid singers on various TV programs stage, Nazia seemed to be the very embodiment of youth, a Diana or Artemis. A Norwegian friend called her Iduna, the Norse goddess who gave Thor, and other gods’ apples of youth. Her songs have been like the mythological age defying apples, taking millions back to their younger years or in my case, childhood. Today- more than ever- we play her music to remind ourselves of our happiest memories and rejuvenate in her ephemeral presence.

I cannot quite comprehend why she has this role in our lives. Maybe it is nostalgia that makes us miss her so. Nostalgia, from Greek, is comprised of two root words, “nostos” (return) and “algos” (pain). Thus it literally translates to ‘pain for the returning’ or in the same sense an impossible longing for an immemorial loss. Nazia’s passing just makes this sentimental longing for the happier, simpler past even stronger and her songs hang on memory’s everlasting peg. Keats immortal words may just have been written for Nazia:

Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds
Along the pebbled shore of memory!

The music stars of Indo-Pak owe her a debt of gratitude for she paved the way for them. India Today nominated her as one of the 50 people who helped change the face of India.

 “She set – well ahead of its time – the personal album trend in India, spawning the likes of Alisha Chinai, Lucky Ali and Shweta Shetty,” it noted.

Biddu stated that Nazia put the subcontinent on the music world’s map and was to the region what ABBA was for Sweden. Intensely patriotic, she turned down the offer of singing “Made in India” which made the career of Alisha Chinai, because she didn’t want to offend her countrymen. Most would give their right hand for such opportunities

After an enormously successful career as a singer she joined the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs, UN. At that time I thought she would eventually return home and continue her work but unbeknownst to most, Nazia was very sick. She was not to live long and passed away at 35, to stay forever young and beautiful in our minds. She had been pushing herself hard all these years as if aware of the lasting peace that would come but the end came too soon.

Maybe her thoughts were on Edna St Vincent Millay emotive lyricism: My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!

Sibtain Naqvi

Sibtain Naqvi

A writer and social commentator who has written extensively for various Pakistani English dailies. An art critic accredited by the AICA and the Royal College of Art, London, he dabbles in music and sports writing and tweets @Sibtain_N (twitter.com/Sibtain_N)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Lovely tribute to an amazing singer whose music will live for a long time and it was nice of you to give credit to Biddu, for spotting such talent.
    Recommend

  • Insaan

    Her songs brought joy to millions. She did lot of charity work. She was divorced 10 days before she died. I wonder if stress of divorce and unhappy married life shortened her life.Recommend

  • Usama Bin Ahmed

    You beauty.. Superbly written and a true representation of many fans emotions around the globe.
    She would surely be missed by many. Mere mehboob sun and dosti were another worthy songs by her. True sensation Mr. Naqvi. For a while you took me back to my childhood memories..

    Thumbs up Recommend

  • Haseeb

    What an iconic lady!

    Had tears reading your piece. You have brought some beautiful memories bacj.

    May you rest in piece, Nazia HassanRecommend

  • H. Columbia

    The most beautiful piece I have read on Nazia!

    She is the true goddess of Pakistani Pop Music.

    Sibtain your writing duly represents a generation embedded in a 2 decade time lapse. It’s truly amazing what you have done here. Recommend

  • Shahwilayat

    This blog piece serves to establish Mr. Naqvi’s reputation further as one of the primary nostalgic representations of our times. And by our times i align myself with the millions of thirty somethings my age who have witnessed the magic of Nazia Hassan.

    You have a true talent and you have given a much needed resurgence to the Nazia Hassan fan club! Recommend

  • sajid

    true picture conveyed to the readers.unforgettable personality nazia.,dil se nazia ke sawab aur bete aur nazia ke maa baap keleay duain nikalti hain.

    if possible convey my remarks to nazia son and her parents Recommend

  • nausheen

    what a befitting tribute to an outstanding star…i still listen to her song on my way to and back to work…she does live onRecommend

  • laila

    Mr Sibtain, this is no doubt the most touching piece I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing your emotions with us. Nazia will live forever through her songs and through people like you who can present beautiful tributes to her like this one.Recommend

  • Zahid Imran

    Words can’t express the feelings I have for Nazia…..She will always be the most remembered person in my life.
    Thanks for giving such a beautiful tribute…Recommend

  • Sanity

    Love you forever Nazia Hassan. May you rest in heaven in eternal life. Ameen!Recommend

  • farzana

    I enjoyed reading it very much. Nazis Hasan was the most graceful personality belonging to Pakistan and she will always be. Well done Sibtain. I always enjoy reading your articles.Recommend

  • Akoo

    Wow! A rush of memories are coming at me whilst reading this article. Thank you Sibtain!

    Nazia Hassan, im always been a huge fan, i mean who was’nt? One of the all time greats, a true Zeitgeist of an era gone by.Recommend

  • Ali Q London

    Nazia Hassan, she was the best! A true reflection on the yester years.

    Lovely writing! Absolutely adored your writing style!Recommend

  • Unaiza Subhani

    Beautiful writing, brilliant use of words, ofcourse one must spare nothing when describing the goddess that is Nazia Hassan!

    A joy to read Mr. Naqvis take on Pakistan’s iconic legends!Recommend

  • Vishal Kaul

    Great article for Great Singer Nazia Hasan .His melodious song win the heart of million persons of Indian subcontinent . She live only for 35 years but she lives forever in the heart of his fans all over Indian subcontinent and in world also. Recommend

  • Mount Lavinia

    I have the most vivid memories of Aap Jaisa Koi, especially hearing that song in the famous Feroz Khan film. She will always be remembered. Recommend

  • rana naqvi

    very impressive sibtain.indeed a well written piece. keep shining like a star and keep writing.Recommend

  • Zeeshan Hasan

    Had the pleasure of meeting her. What a graceful person she was. Love her happier songs, but this one tops em all…

    Rest in peace Nazia.Recommend

  • haider ali

    Wow! this piece is truely amazing. you are a real talent sibtain naqvi. keep writing in this way for everyone of us.Recommend

  • Colombo

    Sibtain, A writer at the top of his game! What a delightful piece! You have most certainly struck a chord with us fans of the Late Great Nazia Hassan! A belated Eulogy of one of Pakistan’s pillars of Pop MusicRecommend

  • Talha Sabri

    Sibtain has hit it out of the park yet again! I have been reading articles on Nazia Hassan all my life, but this one takes the cake. Superbly written, feeling very nostalgic right now tearRecommend

  • OMER Purdue

    Perfect Article to read just before Pakistan’s Independance Day, Nazia Hassan is one of the few staples of Pakistan we can be proud of. A lovely choice of words on the writer’s part as wellRecommend

  • S

    Such a beauty and so talented as well….very sad and touching personal life. Why do bad things happen to good ppl :(Recommend

  • Jamil Ahmed

    Her music is an example of Westoxificaton a disease that afflicts Pakistanis. What has “Disco Deewane” to do with the culture of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Azmaira

    One of the few writers who can express the natural raw talent which Nazia possessed. When we lost her, a piece of our nation went with it. We miss you Nazia!Recommend

  • Danish Sussex University

    THE GREATEST POP SINGER Pakistan has seen! Nazia was the pioneer of Pakistani pop music!Recommend

  • Laila M.

    @jamil ahmed Ur comment shows your backward thinking. Why cant you extremists appreciate just a few positive things our country has.

    So sad to see people not appreciating the simple positive aspects of Pakistan.

    So what do u want the culture of Pakistan to be then? Burka clad women banned from driving,voting , speaking in public. How dare you bring down this nations most respected women, I pity you mr. Jamil ahmed. Your comment was in poor taste. Recommend

  • sultan ahmed

    the life span of a person is not determined by the time he spend in this world but what he has given to human kind. nazia hassan has given so much to us with her voice and music which touch the heart of every music lover. sibtain naqvi’s piece on her has refreshed all her memories to present generation of teenagers that her popularity will go on for a very long time.Recommend

  • Kamran

    @Jamil Ahmed

    In a time when there aren’t many aspects of this country one can be proud of, at a time when there is so much negativity around us, we are jubilant to read Mr. Naqvis article.

    This article just shows that by being nostalgic and remembering a few golden moments in our nation’s history it brings a smile to your face.

    AND THE THERE IS MR.JAMIL AHMED…….whose comment was in such bad taste that it led me to write a whole diatribe in response to it.

    How ill of you MR. Jamil Ahmed to say such low comments about your Nation’s Princess Nazia Hassan.

    Nazia Hassan will live forever and her music TRULY represents a core moment in Pakistan’s culture and history which we wish would continue on foreverRecommend

  • Aysha M

    lucky are those who die youngRecommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    I love Nazia Hassan and for the love and respect you showed for her Mr. Sibtain Naqvi… I love you tooRecommend

  • gp65

    Nazia was a fresh voice and with Biddu’s fresh composition, she took India by storm. Followed up with Disco Deewane and the the songs for the movie Star – which were all hits though themovie flopped – particularly Boom boom which was a runaway hit. 1965 is clearly a year that brought a lot of talent to the subcontinent : Amir, Salman, Shah Rukh and Nazia.

    Commend the author for writing a well deserved tribute to someone who lives on in millions of hearts.

    A small anecdote about Aap jaisa koi. A parsi friend of mine who spoke limited Hindi was scandalized by the song. Upon investigation, I discovered that she was not familiar with the phrase ‘baat ban jaaye’ and hence thought that the lyrics had the term ‘baap’ where ‘baat’ was actually used. I still tease her about that.Recommend

  • Sarish Khizar

    Great singer and charismatic personality,there is no comparison of Nazia Hassan..Her music is loved by the people of all age groups.
    Nice article.Recommend

  • Dr Malik Adeel

    Sibtain Naqvi.. you have penned a master piece about the great Legend of Pakistan… Mashallah…May Allah bless her soul.. Nazia Hassan though has passed away, she will live on with us through her everlasting songs and melodies..Recommend

  • http://www.pltacademy.com Travel_Tart

    She was so simple yet was so glamorous.
    .
    Diana of sub-continent?Recommend

  • Lalit Sardana

    Wonderful and very heart warming tribute to the great icon.
    Nazia Hassan still lives with millions of fans in India and other parts of the world, and will live forever.Recommend

  • Sammia Shahid

    Brings tears to my eyes remembering my teenage years singing her songs with my friends. In this day and age where you can be killed for dancing at happiness of coming of the rain a Nazia Hassan has no chance of success.Recommend

  • http://WWW.NAZIAHASANSOUNG.COM maseef

    DESCO DIWNERecommend

  • Ali

    very well written article.

    i m 23 yrs old, and memories of listening to nazia’s kariye pyar diyan gallan are as fresh as new in my mind. i remember her song kariye pyar diyan gallan used to be very frequently telecast on pakistan television during my childhood days, and i would listen to it each time it was telecast… nadia used to walk around girls, having fun, smiling at them…. and taking us all to this whole new world where there was nothing but just pyar diyan gallan…..

    her songs give me peace of mind.
    and her demise was a great loss for pakistan, and it brings tears to my eyes, everytime i think of her!

    may her soul rest in peaceRecommend

  • abhi

    Really beautiful tribute to the great artist!Recommend

  • Another North Indian

    Every word of this superlative tribute is true. In the history of India-Pakistan, Nazia Hassan was unique. It is hard to imagine the scale of what she achieved, how much she was loved. Looking back, it was almost unreal. Nazia Hassan, you will always be the reigning symbol of youth, freshness, innocence and beauty. And you will always be missed. Recommend

  • Akoo

    Just reread this piece again, really miss her music, im just imagining in an alternate universe, Nazia Hassan is still singing and still releasing new music, if dreams could come trueRecommend

  • Sajjad Raza

    Very well written SibtainRecommend

  • Fiz

    Rest in peace, beautiful. You still rule our hearts!Recommend

  • Sabit

    Nazia Hassan is the pillar for pop music in the sub continent, a superb writeup to honor a legendRecommend

  • Zoheb Hassan

    Nazia Hassan was a perfect woman. She ticked all boxes to become a true star.
    Beautiful
    Decent
    Well Educated
    Well Spoken
    Good and affluent family background
    Highly talented
    Generous
    List goes on…..

    Above all, an exceptionally beautiful voice..

    Nazia Hassan is Queen of Hearts.Recommend