Opinion

Contested verses: Was Pakistan's first national anthem written by a Lahore-based Hindu?

What explains the legend that Jinnah had personally invited Jagan Nath Azad to write Pakistan's first national anthem?

Jagan Nath Azad was the son of Tilok Chand Mahrum. Both were good enough poets, famous and much respected while they lived, but now largely forgotten. Azad was also an informed admirer of Iqbal, and his writings on the poet are still worth a look. His name, however, recently keeps coming up in odd newspaper columns in India and Pakistan. Odd, I hasten to add, only because the columns are not about poetry. People keep mentioning Azad’s name in the same context as Pakistan’s national anthem, claiming that he was the first to write one – at the express order, a few even maintain, of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The latest repetition of that legend is the witty essay “Nationalism over Verse” by Khaled Ahmed (The Indian Express, June 12, 2015), which unquestioningly refers to Abdul Majid Sheikh’s assertion in his recent book, Lahore: 101 Tales of a Fabled City, that “the Lahore poet Azad was commissioned by Quaid-e-Azam to write Pakistan’s national anthem three days before the creation of Pakistan in 1947.” Not having seen Sheikh’s book I cannot say what his particular source of information was, but I have seen many articles in the Urdu press in the past making that same claim.

The lost anthem?

At the base of all the fascinating verbiage is one sentence that Azad wrote 49 years back, and that too in an essay that had nothing to do with anthems. Azad, a prolific writer, wrote in several genres successfully. Ankhen Tarastiyan Hain, his book of personal sketches of some of the many remarkable people he met in his life, came out in 1981. It contains a lovely essay about a wonderful man named Salahuddin Ahmad – most people who came in touch with him added Maulana to his name, though he was anything but a conventional Maulana. Salahuddin Ahmad was one of Urdu’s foremost journalists, and his magazine, Adabi Duniya, was arguably the most respected Urdu literary magazine in the 1930s and 1940s. In that essay, dated September 16, 1966, Azad mentions his own situation in Lahore as the date of “Independence” approached. On August 14, 1947, he tells us, he was the only Hindu still living in Ram Nagar, the Lahore neighbourhood that was once almost exclusively inhabited by his co-religionists. He writes:
“And one day I discovered that I was the only Hindu left of that original population of sixty thousand. Everyone had left. In that state [of things], on the night of the 14th of August, I heard from the Lahore Radio my own Tarana-e Pakistan.” He then gives the full poem, which contains five stanzas, and adds: “If I’m not mistaken, that was perhaps the first tarana-e Pakistan that reached the ears of the listeners the moment Pakistan appeared on the world’s map, i.e. at midnight on the 14th of August.”

To my knowledge, Azad never claimed that he wrote Pakistan’s first qaumi tarana or “national anthem.” Nor, as some have asserted, that he had been asked by Jinnah to write one. Had that been the case, Azad would have mentioned it proudly in 1966. How and why the legend developed that Jinnah had personally invited Azad to write an anthem for Pakistan, and he did so because Azad was a Hindu and Jinnah wished to establish the secular core of his communal demand – regardless of the fact that Jinnah was not known for any fondness for Urdu poetry, and that the two were never together even in the same city – I have no explanation for it. It seems to have developed out of an article  by Luv Puri "A Hindu wrote Pakistan's first national anthem" (The Hindu, June 19, 2005) in which statements were quoted from an interview that Puri said he had done when Azad was almost 85, "days before his death" on July 24, 2004. (The quotations are all in English, and often confusing – at one place Azad’s friends tell him that Jinnah had asked for Azad by name to write a tarana, then a few lines later it changes into “some Urdu-knowing Hindu.” Puri also claims that the poem was broadcast from Karachi, when Azad in 1966 explicitly mentioned the Lahore radio station. Only the original Urdu text can tell us what Azad actually said at the time.)

In a 2012 article in the Jang, Dr Safdar Mahmood wrote that he did not find any archival record of Radio Pakistan that mentions Azad or his poem though he found references to poems by Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi and Zafar Ali Khan. Mahmood quoted Atta Rabbani, the aide-de-camp to Jinnah as saying that "a person named Jagannath Azad neither met Quaid-e-Azam nor had he ever heard this name from Quaid-e-Azam." Mahmood also makes a strong point of the fact that Azad visited Pakistan several times in the 1950s and never made any claim of that nature.

Imprecise Urdu

The problem, to my mind, lies in Urdu, in its occasional impreciseness caused by the habit of so many of its educated speakers – I include myself among them – of frequently thinking in English while speaking in Urdu. It so happens that Urdu has three words – tarana, naghma, and git – that have commonly been used in the context we are concerned with. And Azad had obviously written a poem at least a few days before August 14 that he called “Tarana-e Pakistan,” and, equally obviously, it had been in the possession of the Lahore Radio for sufficient time in order for it to be set to music and broadcast at the historic midnight moment.

Tarana is a Persian word, and thus related also to Sanskrit. John T. Platts, in his highly dependable dictionary (1884), traces it into the Sanskrit root “taru,” and gives as its primary meaning: “Modulation, melody.” He also mentions its use as the name of a kind of song – the well-known genre of Tarana in the North Indian style of classical music. Syed Ahmad Dehlavi, in his equally trustworthy Farhang-e Asafiya (1918, 2nd edition) gives the following:
“Literal meaning, a handsome man; melody, song; a particular kind of song commonly referred to as Tillana.”

Naghma, on the other hand, is of Arabic origin, and its only glosses, in both dictionaries, are the same as the primary meanings of Tarana, i.e. “melody, song.” Had Azad titled his poem “Naghma-e Pakistan,” there would be none of the present confusion. His preference for tarana was simply another example of the influential popularity of the two Taranas of Muhammad Iqbal.

Iqbal's anthems

And when Iqbal had titled his first such poem, “Tarana-e Hindi” (The Indian Anthem) – “sare jahan se accha hindostan hamara, now a popular, ceremonial marching song of the Indian army – he could possibly have had in mind a future independent Indian nation, but, far more certainly, he was not at all thinking of military parades, raising of flags, and other ceremonial occasions where a national anthem is now prominently sung.

When anthems and national songs are mentioned in South Asian contexts, some mention is invariably made to Muhammad Iqbal and his two poems that have tarana in their titles. Khaled Ahmad too brought him up at the end of his essay, bemoaning the fact that Pakistan ignored its “national poet…while choosing its national anthem, but in India, a poem of his, ‘Saare Jahan se Accha,’ is an unofficial national song.” Then Prof Harish Trivedi, in his equally witty riposte titled “Anthems and Ironies,” (The Indian Express, June 24, 2015) made more comments on Iqbal’s poem and also brought in his second tarana, calling it a “revised version” of the first. He also expanded upon Pan-Islamism, Iqbal’s changing worldview, Vande Matram, and Muslim abhorrence of “anthropomorphic deification.”

According to the late Dr Gyan Chand Jain (Ibtida’i Kalam-e Iqbal, ba Tartib-e Mah-o-Sal, Hyderabad, 1988), Iqbal wrote the first tarana poem in August 1904. He was then a lecturer in Philosophy at the Government College, Lahore, where Lala Hardayal, the future revolutionary, was a student. Hardayal set up a Young Men’s Indian Association in opposition to the existing Young Men’s Christian Association at the college, and invited Iqbal to preside over its inaugural meeting. Iqbal agreed, but instead of a formal address, he recited the poem he had expressly written for the occasion. It was so well received, a contemporary report says, that he had to present it a second time at the conclusion of the meeting. Iqbal’s title for the poem was “Hamara Des” (Our Land). Apparently, Iqbal gave the poem its present title when he published his first Urdu collection, Bang-e Dira (1924), when he is known to have extensively revised or edited many poems that he chose to include. (He excluded quite a few of his earliest poems, including an elegy on the death of Queen Victoria.)

In any case, his tarana was an “anthem” only in the most common sense of that word in English: a rousing song identified with some specific group of humans.   The new title, however, placed the poem on an equal footing with another, later – post 1908 – poem, titled “Tarana-e Milli” (The Millat’s – All Muslims’ – Anthem), also included in that collection. It is not a “revised version” of “Tarana-e Hindi” but an independent new poem. Its famous opening couplet reads:
chin-o-‘arab hamara, hindostan hamara
muslim hain ham, watan hai sara jahan hamara


(China and Arabia are ours; India is ours too.
We are Muslims; the entire world is our homeland).

Posterity, sad to say, has largely read the two poems as antagonistic to each other, with the later poem, many claim, cancelling out the earlier, and reflecting, as Prof Trivedi holds, the “Pan-Islamism” that Iqbal allegedly championed after discarding an earlier Nationalism.   To my mind, Iqbal viewed the first poem as a patriotic anthem, while the second poem to him was just as much a rejection of territorial nationalism as it was a celebration of an exclusively Muslim group consciousness. That is made clear by the poem – a fierce denunciation of “Nationalism” – that immediately follows. Its title, “Wataniyat” (lit. Homeland-ism), is followed by an explanatory subtitle: “ya’ni watan ba-haisiyat ek siyasi tasawwur ke” (I.e. Homeland as a political concept).

Iqbal, manifestly, wished to leave no impression that he was against Patriotism; after all, the Prophet himself had championed it. He only wished to reject modern, territorially defined Nationalism that then dominated political scenes across the world, a sentiment he expressed more explicitly many times elsewhere. Consider this couplet from “Khizr-e Rah,” one of his major poems, in which the legendary figure Khizr, his chosen “guide on the path,” lists for Iqbal’s benefit the theoretical concepts that bedevil contemporary world’s thinking:
nasl, qaumiyat, kalisa, saltanat, tahzib, rang
Khwajgi ne khub chun chun kar banae muskirat
,”

“Race, Nation, Organized Religion, State, Civilization, Colour of the Skin –
what wonderful soporifics Capitalism has assembled for you!”

Tagore and Iqbal, had they ever exchanged ideas over a cup of tea, would have quickly found agreement on the dangers of blind Nationalism. Bang-e Dira, in fact, contains two other poems that are of acute relevance in this regard. One is clearly marked as a “national song” – its Urdu title reads, “Hindustani Bachchon ka Qaumi Git.” The non-use of tarana in the title is suggestive of an effort to avoid calling the poem a “national anthem.” The other poem comes immediately after this “national song,” and is titled “Naya Shiwala” (The New Temple). Both were written before 1905. Given the frequent brouhaha concerning some Indian Muslims refusal to sing the famous national song Vande Matram, it is worth quoting one line from the latter poem:
Khak-e Watan ka mujh ko har zarra dewata hai
(Every particle of my homeland’s dust is a god to me).

I doubt if Iqbal would have had had any objection to the “anthropomorphic deification” in Vande Matram as opposed to the history and politics of the novel where the song originally appeared. His thinking on Nations and Homelands may or may not have altered with time – a matter that will forever remain contested – but the fact that Iqbal chose to retain all the four, above-mentioned poems in his very first Urdu collection is a strong reminder that we should think twice before pigeon-holing him in any fashion. Doing otherwise will only be to our own loss.

As for the question, "Was Azad's poem Pakistan's first 'national anthem'?", the answer lies in asking: When and where was a national anthem first sung or played in Pakistan? To my mind, it was when the Pakistani flag was first raised after the Union Jack had been lowered, and when Jinnah took the first ceremonial salute. Someone should find out what happened in Karachi at those moments. From what I remember reading decades back, it was only an instrumental piece of music based on the first stanza of Iqbal's poem “The Earth Welcomes Adam” that begins:
khol ankh zamin dekh falak dekh, fiza dekh
mashriq se ubharte hue suraj ko zara dekh

(Open your eyes, see the earth and the sky;
and glance at the the sun rising in the East).

The music was composed by some unit of the Pakistan army, and it had been asked to do so because Jinnah did not wish to have “God Save the Queen” played at the march past. Let's recall that both India and Pakistan were not then republics, and had only Governors General – formally "appointed" by the Queen.

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