Another time, another anthem

Beena Sarwar writing for the DAWN

Most people are unaware that prior to Hafeez Jullundhri’s Persianised lyrics being adopted as the national anthem in the 1950s, Pakistan had a national anthem — commissioned and approved by no less a person than Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The lyricist was the Isa Khel (Mianwali)-born Jagannath Azad, son of the renowned poet Tilok Chand Mahroom (who won accolades for his rendering of naat at mushairas). A few bloggers have made mention of this in the past but I learnt of it recently through an unexpected source — an article on the history of Pakistan’s flag and national anthem in PIA’s monthly Hamsafar magazine (‘Pride of Pakistan’, by Khushboo Aziz, August issue).

‘Quaid-i-Azam, being the visionary that he was, knew an anthem would also be needed, not only to be used in official capacity but [to] inspire patriotism in the nation. Since he was secular-minded, enlightened, and although very patriotic but not in the least petty, Jinnah commissioned a Hindu, Lahore-based writer Jagannath Azad three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan. Jagannath submitted these lyrics:

Ae sarzameene paak

Zarray teray haen aaj sitaaron se taabnaak

Roshan hai kehkashaan se kaheen aaj teri khaak

Ae sarzameene paak’

(‘Oh land of Pakistan, the stars themselves illuminate each particle of yours/rainbows brighten your very dust.’)

As Jaswant Singh’s recent book on Mr Jinnah created ripples in mid-August, The Kashmir Times, Jammu, published a short piece, ‘A Hindu wrote Pakistan’s first national anthem — How Jinnah got Urdu-knowing Jagannath Azad to write the song’ (Aug 21, 2009). The reproduction of a front-page report by Luv Puri in The Hindu (Jun 19, 2005), it drew on Puri’s interview of Azad in Jammu city days before his death, published in Milli Gazette, New Delhi (Aug 16-31, 2004).

Azad told Puri that he was working at a literary newspaper in Lahore ‘when mayhem had struck…. All my relatives had left for India and for me to think of leaving Lahore was painful…. My Muslim friends requested me to stay on and took responsibility [for] my safety.’ On the morning of Aug 9, 1947, he received a message from Pakistan’s first governor-general, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, through a friend working in Radio Lahore ‘who called me to his office. He told me ‘Quaid-i-Azam wants you to write a national anthem for Pakistan’.’

Azad felt it would be difficult to do in five days, but agreed upon his friend’s insistence as the request had come from the Quaid.

Why him? Azad thought the answer lay in Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11, 1947, stating that if everyone saw themselves ‘first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges, and obligations … in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state’.

‘Even I was surprised when my colleagues in Radio Pakistan, Lahore approached me,’ recalled Azad. ‘… They confided in me that ‘Quaid-i-Azam wanted the anthem to be written by an Urdu-knowing Hindu’. Through this, I believe Jinnah Sahib wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a Pakistan where intolerance had no place.’

Mr Jinnah approved Azad’s lyrics within hours, and the anthem was broadcast on Radio Pakistan, Karachi.

Increasing insecurity forced Azad to migrate to Delhi in mid-September 1947. He returned to Lahore in October, says his son Chander K. Azad in an email to this writer. ‘However, his friends advised him against staying as they found it difficult to keep him safe…. He returned to Delhi with a refugee party.’

Azad had a distinguished career in India — eminent Urdu poet, journalist and editor, authority on Allama Iqbal, author of over 70 books, government servant (retired in 1997), and recipient of numerous awards and honours. His last wish, he told Puri, would be to write a song of peace for both India and Pakistan.

His lyrics survived in Pakistan barely six months beyond Mr Jinnah’s death in September 1948. ‘The people and the constitutional bodies of the country wanted to have a more patriotic and more passionate national anthem that depicted their values and identity to the world,’ explains Hamsafar.

The National Anthem Committee (NAC), formed in December 1948, took two years to finalise a new anthem, finally choosing NAC member Hafeez Jullundhri’s poem from among 723 submissions.

The anthem commissioned by Mr Jinnah was just one of his legacies that his successors rejected, along with the principles he stressed in his address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 — his political will and testament according to his official biographer Hector Bolitho.

Pakistan’s inherited problems that Mr Jinnah outlined in that speech included the maintenance of law and order (the state must protect ‘the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects’), the ‘curse’ of bribery and corruption, the ‘monster’ of black-marketing, and the ‘great evil’ of nepotism.

This speech, literally censored by ‘hidden hands’ as Zamir Niazi documents in Press in Chains (1986), also contains the famous ‘fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state’, where religious identity becomes secondary and where religion, caste or creed ‘has nothing to do with the business of the state….’

In March 1949, the Objectives Resolution laid the basis for recognising Pakistan as a state based on an ideology.

In all these deviations from Mr Jinnah’s vision, perhaps discarding Azad’s poem appears minuscule. But it is important for its symbolism. It must be restored and given a place of honour, at least as a national song our children can learn. After all, Indian children learn Iqbal’s Saarey jahan se accha. Such symbolism is necessary if we are to resurrect Mr Jinnah’s vision of a nation where religion, caste or creed ‘has nothing to do with the business of the state’.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary film-maker.




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