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The Hindu Poet Who Wrote Pakistan’s First Anthem

Jyoti Malhotra
Filed on September 24, 2009

Was Pakistanís architect MA Jinnah communal?

The answer to that question recently led to a major roiling of the Indian political scene, of course, with one senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party being sacked and another senior aide quitting his post. No doubt about it, though, that single question continues to dominate the national consciousness because the answer, in many ways, tells Indians about the state of our own country today.

That’s why a gem of a story by Pakistani journalist Beena Sarwar in an Indian newspaper the day after Eid, about a Hindu poet, Jagannath Azad, who wrote Pakistan’s first national anthem at Jinnah’s request, is such a celebration of the secular and sacred.

The story revolves around Sarwar’s serendipitous discovery in a Pakistan Airlines magazine that Pakistan’s first anthem was really the creation of a Hindu poet. “Since he was secular-minded, enlightened and although very patriotic but not in the least petty, Jinnah commissioned a Lahore-based writer, Jagannath Azad, three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan,” said the article in the airline magazine. Back here in India, soon after the Jaswant Singh controversy over Jinnah broke, the ‘Kashmir Times’ of Jammu reprinted an interview that Jagannath Azad gave a local journalist, Luv Puri, just before he died in 2004.

Turned out that Azad, who was working for a literary newspaper in Lahore in 1947 (he was born in Isa Khel, Mianwali, Imran Khan’s constituency today), was called in by a friend who worked in Radio Lahore on August 9, 1947 — two days before Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, made his path-breaking speech in the Sindh Assembly where he exhorted the people to go back to their mosques and to their temples, because personal faith was subordinate to their roles as citizens of the state — and asked, whether on Jinnah’s request, he would write the new nation-state’s new anthem?

Here is what Azad told Luv Puri in the ‘Milli Gazette’: “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 of my safety…”

When the request came from Jinnah, who wanted an “Urdu-knowing Hindu” to write the anthem, Azad at first demurred, and then agreed. For the next year or so, Azad’s creation was played in Pakistan, but six months after Jinnah’s death, it was buried and forgotten.

According to the PIA magazine article that Sarwar read, “The people and the Constitutional bodies wanted to have a more patriotic and more passionate national anthem that depicted their values and identity to the world.” So Hafeez Jallandri’s submission, with its highly Persianised lyrics, was chosen. As for Azad, he left his beloved Lahore for India in September 1947, but returned the next month. His friends, concerned for his safety, advised him against staying on, so he came back to India — this time for good.

The story doesn’t end here. In the wake of the recent Jaswant Singh controversy, ‘Kashmir Times’ reprinted Puri’s interview of Azad, to which his son, Chander K. Azad, responded: “This was the secularism of Quaid-e-Azam, but the BJP projects him as a fanatic. I think it is the other way around…if the core ideology of the BJP revolves around demonising its neighbours, we are creating more of them. Kasab (the only surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks) is the latest.”

The reason Jagannath Azad’s journey, from Isa Khel to Lahore to Jammu, where the thread has now been taken up by his son, reads like an epic tale is because it resonates across the subcontinent. When all three countries see the crescent moon on Eid, they know it is a sign of both fulfillment and closure. But what of the thousands of divided families who see the Eid moon in different cities across the divided landmass, what is the measure of their joy or grief?

The problem with the on-off peace process between India and Pakistan is that it is far too conditioned by their respective governments. Visas are almost impossible to get, news TV channels are banned in each other’s countries and the hardline generally prevails. National security is a prerogative of the establishment and all those who ask questions are welcome to a gulag of silence.

Jagannath Azad’s story is a small drop in the Indian Ocean, but it has the power to create a ripple that will shatter that silence. The north Indian countryside is littered with stories of journeys like the one Azad made to an alien country called India, then sought to return to his beloved Lahore. Taking the train from the Mughalpura station eastward, or joining the caravan that streamed across the Radcliffe Line into Amritsar… ‘We have arrived in Amritsar,’ is the name of the moving short story written by Bhisham Sahni.

So how can India, or at least a section of Indians, achieve closure from the weals of the past? Chander K Azad, in his letter to ‘Kashmir Times’, agonising over the manner in which the BJP was demonising Jinnah, said: “Till yesterday, I was a staunch supporter of the BJP and have voted for it for four decades…People in India should realise that the partition of India was not as bad as it is played up (to be). Thank Jinnah that the Taleban are in the Swat valley of Pakistan, they would have been on the borders of India otherwise…BJP’s communal overtones will only send it into a tailspin.” Meanwhile, Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah is back on the bookshelves in Gujarat. Perhaps, India’s Supreme Court judgment is a small vindication of the questioning spirit that survives, even if it’s in small does, across the subcontinent.

Jyoti Malhotra is an eminent Indian journalist and commentator based in New Delhi





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