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Jagan Nath Azad: A Poet of Peace

Jagan Nath Azad: A Poet of Peace

He’s a poet and litterateur who walked on both sides of a contentious dividing line, spreading the message of peace and unity. Yet Jagan Nath Azad, a Hindu who dedicated his life to contributing to the corpus of Urdu literature, is known equally for the controversy over Pakistan’s ‘first national anthem’.

Jagan Nath Azad was born on 5th December 1920 in a small town in Punjab province in present-day Pakistan. His father, Tilok Chand ‘Mehroom’, was a noted Urdu poet who was raised alongside Muslims and was a close associate of the visionary Pakistani Urdu poet and philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, also known as Allama Iqbal (1877 – 1938). Young Jagan would often accompany his father to mushairas or poetic gatherings, where he met Urdu greats like Hafeez Jalandhari and helped him develop an interest in poetry.

Tilok Chand 'Mehroom' dressed as a Pathan | Wikimedia Commons

After schooling in Mianwali, Azad moved to Rawalpindi, where attended DAV College and Gordon College. At Gordon College, he was editor of the college magazine, Gordonian.

Soon, he got a job as editor of the Urdu monthly Adabi Dunya, which was published in Lahore. After a few years, he returned to academics and earned a Master’s degree in Persian and Oriental Learning from Oriental College, Punjab University in Lahore. Not long before Partition in 1947, Azad worked spreading the message of communal harmony in Lahore, meanwhile also writing poetry and gradually making a name as a poet.

Staking His Claim

It is popularly believed that Jagan Nath Azad wrote the ‘first national anthem’ of Pakistan, one that was allegedly commissioned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah but was later replaced. The claim to having penned this anthem was made by Azad himself, when in July 2004, Indian author and journalist Luv Puri interviewed Azad, who was then 85 years old and living in Jammu. Azad, who was suffering from cancer, died just days later.

The interview was published in Milli Gazette (Issue dated 16-31 August 2004) and The Hindu (Issue dated 19th June 2005), the two famous newspapers. Azad had claimed it was he who had written Tarana-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s ‘first anthem’ at the request of the first Governor-General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

In the interview, Azad had said, “On the morning of August 9, 1947, there was a message from Pakistan’s first Governor-General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was through a friend working in Radio Lahore who called me to his office. He told me, ‘Quaid-e-Azam wants you to write a national anthem for Pakistan.’ I told them it would be difficult to pen it in five days and my friend pleaded that as the request has come from the tallest leader of Pakistan, I should consider his request. On much persistence, I agreed.”

Azad said he was surprised when his colleagues in Radio Pakistan had approached him. “…They confided in me that ‘Quaid-e-Azam wanted the anthem to be written by an Urdu-knowing Hindu.’ Through this, I believe that Jinnah Sahib wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a Pakistan where intolerance had no place,” he added.

Azad, however, does not name his friends in Radio Pakistan, nor are there any sources to attest to this meeting. Some records like Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan (1954), the official biography of Jinnah written by Hector Bolitho, claim that Jinnah had indeed commissioned a Hindu to write the anthem of Pakistan. In that interview, Azad further claimed that on the night of 14th August 1947 (the day Pakistan observes as its Independence Day), ‘his own’ tarana or anthem was played at the ‘Radio Station Karachi’. 

That’s odd because, by then, there was no radio station in Karachi. On the other hand, that might have been a slip on his part or an error in the interview, for he had mentioned a similar account in his autobiography Ankhen Tarastiyan Hain (1981), in which he called it ‘Radio Lahore’, a radio station that did exist back then. In this account, he says, he heard his ‘own’ tarana on Radio Lahore the night of Independence Day.

On 14th August 1947, he tells us, he was the only Hindu still living in Ram Nagar, the Lahore neighbourhood that was once cosmopolitan.

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, on the night of the 14th of August, I heard from the Lahore Radio ‘my own’ Tarana-e Pakistan.”

 Later, he wrote a complete version of his anthem, which was five paragraphs long and begins with the following lines:

Aye sar zameen-i-Pak!

Zarre tere hain aaj sitaron se tabnak

Roshan hai kehkashan se kahin aaj teri khak

Tundi-e-hasdan pe ghalib hai tera siwaak

Daman wo sil gaya hai jo tha mudaton se chaak

(O, Land of the Pure!

The grains of your soil is glowing today

Brighter than the stars and the galaxy

Awe-struck is the enemy by your will-power

Open wounds are sewn, we’ve found a cure). 

In his autobiography, Azad said, “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.” Later, he repeated this claim in another book Hayat-e-Mehroom (1987).

Even if Azad’s claim is true, the Pakistani government has never officially recorded him as having written an anthem for the country. It is possible that after Jinnah died on 11th September 1948, radical organisations in Pakistan objected to their anthem being written by a Hindu and got it replaced.

Hector Bolitho, the biographer of Jinnah, mentions in Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan (1954), “The anthem commissioned by Jinnah was just one of his legacies that his successors swept aside, along with the principles he stressed in his address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 – meant to be his political will.”

Jinnah giving his speech in the presence of Governor -General Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan

An Official National Anthem

Pakistan didn’t have an official national anthem for many years after Independence. In December 1948, the National Anthem Committee (NAC) was set up to select a new anthem for the country. It was embarrassing when in January 1950, Indonesian President Sukarno became the first foreign head of state to visit Pakistan and there was no Pakistani national anthem to play. That same year, the impending state visit of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahalavi, made it imperative to have a national anthem, and the Government of Pakistan asked the NAC to get one ready without further delay.

On 21st August 1950, the Pakistani government, still without an anthem, adopted a ‘without lyrics’ tune composed by Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla for the national anthem. It was performed for the first time by a foreign head of state, during the visit of the Shah of Iran to Pakistan on 1st March 1950, by a Pakistani Navy band.

Hafeez Jalandhari | Author

It was only four years later, in August 1954, that lyrics submitted by Urdu poet Hafeez Jalandhari, the same poet who had years ago inspired a young Jagan Nath Azad, were selected as the lyrics of the new national anthem of Pakistan. 

Ironically although Jalandhari was considered a devout Muslim, he also wrote poetry in praise of the Hindu God Krishna, a fact ignored by radicals in the country while accepting his anthem. And, thus, after seven years of independence, Pakistan finally got a national anthem with lyrics. It was titled Pak Sarzamin (translated in English as ‘Thy Sacred Land’) and officially broadcasted on Radio Pakistan on 13th August 1954.

Behram Sohrab Rustomji playing Pak Sarzamin. He was a Parsi and the first person to play the melody of Pak Sarzamin. | Author

If Azad’s anthem was called Tarana-e-Pakistan (anthem of the nation), Jalandhari’s was Qaumi Taranah (anthem of the community), the ideas behind both being visible from their titles.

Message of Peace

The religious violence that accompanied Partition forced Azad to migrate to Delhi in 1947. He intended to return to Lahore when the situation improved but never did. In Delhi, Azad was appointed Assistant Editor of the Urdu daily, Milap and a few months later Editor of Employment News, a publication brought out by the Government of India’s Ministry of Labour. 

He subsequently did many stints in editorial positions with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Ministry of Food & Agriculture, Ministry of Tourism Shipping & Transport and the Ministry of Works & Housing. In the 1960s, he became the first Public Relations Officer for the newly created Border Security Force.

Azad retired from the Press Information Bureau, and government service, in 1977. During his decade-long posting in Srinagar, in Kashmir, he forged strong ties with every shade of opinion, ranging from Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Umar Farooq (Kashmiri religious and political leader) to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (first, Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and then Chief Minister). Kashmiris recognised Azad as an unbiased intellectual; a humanist, not ‘an agent of the government’. 

After his retirement in 1977, the University of Jammu appointed Azad as Head of the Department of Urdu. These posts allowed him to spread his literary and academic wings.

Here, he worked on the literature of his father’s late friend and his favourite poet, Allama Iqbal, writing 11 books on him both in English and in Urdu. Over the years, he wrote Roodad-e-Iqbal, Allama’s biography, in five volumes. Sadly, he was able to complete the first two volumes before he died but the manuscripts of the remaining three volumes were destroyed in a flood in 1988, making them impossible to reproduce. To this day, Azad remains the greatest authority on Allama Iqbal and his works.

Prof. Jagan Nath Azad | Author

The University of Kashmir honoured Azad by appointing him Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Learning in 1980 and an Emeritus Fellowship in 1984. He was elected Vice-President of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu (Hind), a national body for the promotion of Urdu under the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 1989, and President in 1993. He held these positions till he died in 2004.

Azad authored over 70 books and travelogues and was also a recipient of several awards. The numerous research articles written about him are a testimony to his impact on the literary circles of both India and Pakistan. Several international events were organised to celebrate Azad’s literature, including the famous Jashn-e-Azad events organised in Abu Dhabi and the USA in 1993 and 1998 respectively.

When the Babri Masjid was destroyed in December 1992, Azad was flying from Jammu to his son’s home in Delhi, when a co-passenger told him about the incident. This news pained him deeply and he wrote a three-stanza poem while onboard. Upon reaching Delhi, he was informed that the mosque had been completely razed. Engulfed in anguish he wrote further stanzas to the poem which he titled Babri Masjid, criticising it to be a blot on the secular fabric of his country:

Ye tune Hind ki hurmat ke aaine ko toda hai

Khabar bhi hai tujhe Masjid ka gumbad todne wale

Humare dil ko toda hai imaarat ko nahi toda

Khabaasat ki bhi had hoti hai had todne wale

(What you have broken is the image of reverence of India

Do you have this idea, you who have broken the dome of the mosque)

For Azad, this destruction harmed not just Islam but also Hinduism. Being a Hindu himself, he feels that this act shamed the whole religion. On an international stage, India lost its reputation of being secular. He writes:

Tere is fael se Islam ka to kuch nahi bigda

Magar ghonpa hai khanjar tu ne Hindu dharm ke dil me

Idhar Hindustaan ka chehra tune maskh kar dala

Udhar boye hain tu ne kaante is ki raah-e-manzil me

(Your deed has not harmed Islam a bit

But you have stabbed a knife into the heart of the Hindu religion

You have mutilated the face of India

you have grown thorns in its path to progress)

Azad was a highly respected name in Pakistan and its literary circle, travelling to the country on several occasions. Throughout his life, he stood as the beacon of secularism between the two countries.

Journalist Luv Puri | Author

In his last interview before death, Azad told Luv Puri: “As a person who has got the love and affection of both Indians and Pakistanis, it would be my last wish to bring the two nations together. As a poet, I want to make a humble contribution by penning a ‘song of peace that is common to both countries. It will be sung by millions of Indians and Pakistanis. It is my wish that one day the people of the two countries will sing the songs of love instead of hatred.”

Ironically, the name of Jagan Nath Azad evokes debate and even controversy, given the discussion over Pakistan’s ‘first national anthem’. But his enduring legacy is one of love and cooperation, a theme that runs through his literary works.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aashish Kochhar is a history enthusiast from Amritsar who studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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