Cultural Icons That The South Asian Subcontinent Lost In 2022

Cultural Icons That The South Asian Subcontinent Lost In 2022
Arguably the greatest loss to filmi music in 2022 was Lata Mangeshkar’s demise. She was the voice of the universe. The pathos in her singing would treat depression and insomnia. Her ecstatic songs would enrich our weddings, birthdays and new year celebrations. She had her fans in every part of the world.

Long ago, the sun won’t set on the British Empire. It was so huge. The irony now is: it rarely rises in Britain, for it is so tiny and cloudy! And yet in any part of the world, your ears will certainly come across Lata or Rafi songs.

How much did fans love Lata? Read this: my mother would often pray that Lata ought not to die as long as she is alive. She thought that she would not be able to bear the loss. God honoured her prayer. My mother died at 48. Now I am five years older than my mother!

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was the master of sur. See what he is saying about Lata-ji: “Kum bakht ghalti say bhee baisuri nai hoti!” (Lata won’t be out of tune even in a state of forgetfulness.)

Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma

The greatest setback to the Indian classical music was the departure of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma at the age of 84, on the 10th of May 2022. Shiv-ji was the father of the santoor. In fact, he invented a new santoor so that he could render North Indian classical music on it. The santoor, otherwise, was always an instrument of folk music. Together with Ustad Zakir Hussain, he gave laikaari a new dimension. The duo gave more than 400 concerts all over the world. The halls were always jampacked. Shiv-ji and Zakir were known for improvising music on odd rhythmic cycles like 9 beats, 11 ½ beats, 14 ¼ beats, etc. Shiv-ji was also a great tabla player. In his youth, he would accompany Pandit Ravi Shankar. Accompanying Ravi-ji was not easy. The santoor is now fatherless!
The world of Kathak lost an icon on the 17th of January 2022 in the form of Birju Maharaj

Together with the flutist Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv-ji composed music for films such as Silsila, Chandni and Lamhe. Silsila’s songs are evergreen and Lamhe’schooriyan khanak gaeen” was such a complicate composition that Lata had to master it under the guidance of Shiv-Hari. Music was an important factor behind the success of these three movies. Apart from this, Shiv-ji played santoor in the background music of hundreds of movies.

The ‘Lata of Pakistan’ was Nayyara Noor. She left us on the 21st of August 2022. Remarkable voice. If she were in India, she would have made life difficult for Lata and Asha. O.P. Nayyar was an arrogant but wonderful composer. He would not have Lata for his compositions, for she, in his opinion, was arrogant. He was a fan of Asha Bhosle. In an interview with Herald, Nayyar wished if he could have Nayyara for his music. What a pair it would have been – Nayyar and Nayyara!

Bappi Lahiri was a unique composer. He was known for composing some most ‘obscene’ songs based on ragas. Choli Teray Tan Par (Hoshiyar) and Tum Aur Mein Aur Ye Baikhudi (Aitbaar) were two such remarkable songs. The former was based on raga Shiv Ranjani and the latter on raga Marwa. Both these ragas are very serious. We can’t imagine them to be associated with ‘item songs’. Bappi, who left us on the 15th of February 2022, was also a fine playback singer. Do listen to his “Raat Baqi Baat Baqi” (Namakhalal) and focus on Shashi Kapoor’s gestures.

The world of Kathak lost an icon on the 17th of January 2022 in the form of Birju Maharaj. He was known for his immaculate bhao and laikari. He died at the age of 83 and was active till his last few weeks.

Pandit Birju Maharaj

A very few people know that he was also the guru of our Naheed Siddiqui, who had received her early Kathak education from Maharaj Ghulam Hussain Kathak. Naheed, like any obedient student, sought Ghulam Hussain’s permission before becoming Birju-ji’s disciple. She told me this in a conversation that took place in the late 1990s at her place in Lahore at Thokar Niaz Beg. She was flying a kite then! She said that her first guru was very upset and he did not allow her. But Naheed had to learn. Knowledge has no limits. Naheed claimed that Ghulam Hussain knew too little about Kathak, whereas Birju Maharaj was an ocean. We saw a new Naheed after she had been trained by Birju-ji. And Ghulam Hussain never forgave her! He kept on taunting her till his death.

Raju Shrivastav

Two fine comedians passed away in 2022 too.

One, the Indian (Raju Shrivastav), and the other, our Ismail Tara. Tara was one of the spiritual gurus of Raju. The latter died on the 21st of September. Tara left us on the 24th of November. The famous TV show 50:50 was nothing but a show of Ismail and Majid Jehangir. Majid has been ill for a long time. May God give him health!

Ismail Tara

Afzaal Ahmad

Two brilliant Pakistani actors also left us in 2022: Afzaal Ahmad (2nd of December) and Sajjad Kishwar (24 May). Afzaal was basically a cinema icon, in villains’ roles mostly. He immortalised himself through the drama Piyas by performing the role of a Pir. Sajjad Kishwar has many accomplishments to his credit. They need a full write-up. But nobody can forget his role as Fateh Sher in the drama Waris. He would ride a vintage Vespa of the 1960s that I loved. Once, he gave me a ride on it. He lived in poverty all his life. Besides his own family, he had to look after his daughter and grandchildren.

Sajjad Kishwar

In the early 1990s, Afzaal was the first to introduce a revolving stage in Pakistan. He did a play in Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh Hall. He hired Sajjad Kishwar but never paid him. Sajjad was too unhappy and disappointed. He told me that he won’t let Afzaal stage any play in Pindi again if he did not pay him. Afzaal became bedridden soon afterwards and spent more than 23 years in this state. What a coincidence – both Afzaal and Sajjad left us in 2022!

Mohammad Shehzad is based in Islamabad. He has been writing for national and foreign publications since 1992. He is the author of The State of Islamic Radicalism in Pakistan (Routledge Taylor & Francis) and Love and Fear: Poems Beyond Time ( He learns tabla and classical vocal music. He is a passionate cook and shares his recipes at Email: