Friday, May 4, 2012

National Anthem 101

News that certain schools in Karachi have done away with the ritual of singing the national anthem every day generated some interesting debate on Twitter--about national pride, the meaning of education, the role of schools and then finally and inevitably the national anthem itself. Predictably the issue of an earlier national anthem by Jagannath Azad was raised. There is something so romantic about the idea of Jinnah assigning the task of writing an anthem for the newly-created Muslim state to a Hindu that I can understand why it has caught on so amongst Pakistan's mostly beleaguered liberals. Add to this Hafeez Jalandhari's (probably well deserved) reputation as a bigoted right winger and there seems to be even more reason to despise the national anthem as yet another manifestation of Pakistan's trenchant religious biases. On the one hand there are the blogs that claim the Jagannath anthem theory to be gospel truth, on the other books have been written to debunk the claim. Till such time as I actually get around to reading the said books, I am obviously in no position to comment, so I shall move on to a tangential topic that arose from 'the anthem debate'--the fact that it is in Persian.

I have heard that one before. Having been born in a house where Urdu is the academic language of the household, it is possible that I find the anthem's Persianized Urdu less difficult than do other kids (or adults), but breaking it down into words and phrases, I feel it can be easily understood by someone with even a moderate command of Urdu. If that excludes those who have studied at English medium schools and have little interaction with formal Urdu for whatever reason, that does not the anthem Persian make.

Many of its words sound Persian because they are poetic words and Urdu poetry's tradition is deeply entrenched in Persian, considering two of its greatest poets (Ghalib and Iqbal) also have whole collections of poetry in Persian. Add to that Urdu's very nature as a language derived from other languages and its ability to easily absorb them, and the claim that the anthem is in Persian becomes even shakier.

So, to the breaking down of the anthem itself. Let's start with the first line:

'Paak sarzameen shaadbaad / Kishwar-e-haseen shaadbaad'

Paak: Commonly used word in Urdu meaning pure.

Sarzameen:  Meaning land. Another fairly commonplace Urdu word.

Shaadbaad: Definitely more Persian-sounding than the others, mostly because of the suffix 'baad', but let's take 'shaad' (meaning happy) first. You might not exactly say 'MayN shaad hooN' while conversing casually with friends, but elders can and do often give duas in this form. 'Beti shaad raho, abaad raho' does not sound linguistically archaic even today (that it ought to become socially archaic in its restricted context of marriage = abaadi is a post for another day). The word shaad, in fact, was quite ubiquitous in pop culture till about a decade ago when people still sat around dholkis to sing songs on mehndis instead of immediately launching into choreographed routines on item numbers. Think 'Hae mubaarak aaj ka din, raat aaee hae suhaani. Shaadmaani ho shaadmaani' to get some idea of the prevalence of the word. In case you were born in the era of the item number, here are Danny Dengzongpa, Tanuja (and that peculiar creature that is is the Bollywood child) proving the point to you:

Having written my house address as C1/10 GOR III, Shadman Colony, Lahore for the better part of my life also makes the word personally familiar for me (and I am assuming many Lahoris). Moving on.

Baad: Like I said, most commonly a Persian suffix but since Urdu is a language influenced by Persian, this suffix is also used in Urdu. Most standard example of this is zindabad, a word any Pakistani even remotely conversant with Urdu would recognize.

Kishwar: Meaning country. Word used regularly in Urdu poetry. Most notable example that immediately jumps to mind is the first shayr of 'Baang-e-Daraa'.

'Ae Himaala ae faseel-e-kishwar-e-Hindustan / Choomta hae teri peshaani ko jhuk kar aasmaan'
The above couplet by Iqbal also highlights another important point in the Urdu/Farsi debate--the Persian (appropriated by Urdu) 'tarqeeb' of joining two words with a zaer to create a compound word, such as kishwar-e-Hindustan, kishwar-e-haseen or azm-e-alishaan. This formation is particularly conducive to poetry, especially poetry that relies heavily on meter and rhythm to create sense and delight (think the ghazal). In the case of the Pakistani national anthem the terseness of this formation allows for the quick marching rhythm that Chagla's tune so handsomely captures.

Also think Ghalib:

Qaed-e-hayaat-o-band-e-gham asl mayN donoN aek hayN / Maut se pehlay aadmi gham se nijaat paae kyoon 

Haseen: Meaning beautiful. Commonly used by Urdu-speakers (as they are called). Less common in Punjab where khoobsoorat is the more everyday usage. Nonetheless, as Urdu as it gets.

Tu nishaan-e-azm-e-alishaan/ Arz-e-Pakistan / Markaz-e-yaqeen shaadbaad

Tu, Nishaan: o_O

Azme-e-Alishaan: Meaning great promise. Beautiful coinage, this. Obviously catchy and meaningful to a whole new generation of Pakistanis as demonstrated in its appropriation by the youth initiative, Azm-e-Alishaan

Arz-e-Pakistan: Arz meaning land. Kurra-e-arz is routine scientific terminology in Urdu today, easily recognizable and understood by anyone who can read a newspaper or watches Urdu news channels.

Markaz-e-yaqeen: Meaning centre of faith.

Markaz = F10 Markaz. Markaz-e-behbood-e-abaadi (don't know why that sprang to mind) and as a Google search revealed even Insaaf Markaz (interestingly doing away with the more Persian coinage Markaz-e-Insaaf which could just have been as easily comprehensible, in my opinion, but may have sounded less awaami). Hence established that to our ears there is a certain formality to the Persian formation and in more homely circumstances most people swap the order of the words for greater ease. That however still allows markaz-e-yaqeen to be as Urdu as it is Persian, just more formal and poetic Urdu.

I like the use of the word 'yaqeen' here, which is more diverse than 'eemaan' (not that eemaan would have fit into the rhythm). Yaqeen can mean religious faith but it can also mean just faith--faith in yourself, in your abilities. So, nice little touch there.

Pak sar zameen ka nizaam / Quwat-e-akhuwat-e-awaam

Nizaam: Meaning system. Easy peasy.

Quwat: Strength

Akhuwat: Unity or brotherhood (slightly tougher one). Still Urdu. Akhuwat and bhaaichaara often used together.

Awaam: Meaning common folk.This word is not just Urdu and Punjabi but I am guessing (hoping) Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi too since its English equivalent common man/commoner is so much less than all the nuances that awaam carries within it.

Combined, this line is a nice little nod to democracy, something ironically the country has always lacked. But the much greater irony is in Hafeez Jalandhari being the writer of these lines, the man who enjoyed a secretary level position in General Ayub Khan's government.

Qaum, mulk, sultanat / Painda tabinda baad / Shaadbaad manzil-e-muraad

Painda: Meaning long lasting. For the Sohail Rana generation this word is no stranger. Reminds me of Mona's tinkling voice singing Hum zinda qaum hayN paainda qaum hayN / Hum sab ki hae pehchaan, hum sab ka Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan/ Hum sab ka Pakistan, during the heyday of propagandist Pakistani milli naghmas--the Zia years.

Tabinda: Roshan. Lit. Lots of girls names in the anthem. I know a Pakistani girl called Tabinda. I know several Kishwars. Many of the words in Urdu are a part of a common heritage that can be traced back to Persian, Arabic, English, even Turkish. All living languages evolve and absorb words from other languages and make those words their own. Once these words get absorbed into a language they become as much a part of the language that has acquired them as they are of the original. That is a basic fact about the evolution of language.

Manzil-e-muraad: Meaning destination of dreams. Lovely.

                    Parcham-e-sitaara-o-hilaal / Rehbar-e-taraqqi-o-kamaal 

Parcham fluttering at Nanga Parbat base camp (taken by Jawad Zakariya

If you have never turned on PTV and heard the the phrase 'sabz hilaali parcham' ad nauseum, then, well...what did you ever do as a child? There's also the ruet-e-hilaal committee and the hilaal-e-ahmar which have helped 'hilaal' remain a commonly understood word. In case it still sounds too obscure and...Persian, it means crescent. 

Rehbar: Leader. Guide. Word common enough for TCF to use in its mentoring program for kids. 

Tarjumaan-e-maazi, shaan-e-haal / Jaan-e-istaqbaal / Saaya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalaal

Tarjumaan: Meaning representative. Standard word in Urdu news. Vazeer-e-azam ke tarjumaan etc.

Maazi: Past

Shaan: Do I need to? A word simple and easily recognizable enough for a major corporation to adopt for its flagship product used by Pakistanis throughout the world. You know, the kinds that speak and understand...Urdu.

Jaan-e-istaqbaal: Ok, now this one is the trickiest. I had always understood it as 'jaan-e-istaqbaal' = istaqbaal karnay ke liye (in order to welcome). Turns out that's not what it is. This actually is the ONE pure accession to Persian in the whole anthem. Istaqbaal, as my father tells me, comes from the root word mustaqbil, so jaan here would mean literally 'the life of the future' or more metaphorically as central to the future.

Saaya-e-khudaa-e-Zuljalaal: Khuda-e-zuljalaal has ended up becoming unintentionally secular thanks to the Persian Khuda having lately been discarded in favour of the Arabic Allah. If Allah is the Muslim God, then Khuda can be understood to be the more neutral term for everybody's God. So, while 'may God's benevolent shadow always stay above our heads' may not be to the liking of the staunchly secularist, by the time this anthem came along the Objectives Resolution had long placed the sovereignty of Allah above all in the Pakistani constitution and so Jalandhari's saying the same in the national anthem is hardly an aberration. By and large, there are nods to faith in the anthem but it neither emphasizes nor blows it out of proportion, and I am grateful for even that much.

So, dislike Jalandhari if you will. He seems a particularly poor hero, particularly placed next to the fiery and romantic Jalib who, in one recording of 'Musheer' rants against the sellout Jalandhari and dedicates his scathing poem to him. But biography and dislike of a person cannot come in the way of objective assessment. And in the objective analysis not only is the Pakistani national anthem in Urdu, it is also a suitably grand one that manages to achieve what all anthems should--the rousing of patriotic sentiment and pride.

Ending with the version I have grown up with and which I never failed to stand up for as a kid. Too jaded to do that now. But despite it all, when I hear the anthem played in a crowd, I still cannot suppress that surge of pride, if at nothing else but at our magnificent poetic heritage.

Addendum: There are a couple of things I want to add. All of the above does not suggest that the anthem's Urdu isn't heavily Persianized, or quite a few words in it difficult enough for many people not to be able to comprehend immediately, especially if they have little grounding in Urdu poetry. But it is to dispel the myth that the intent of the anthem's poet was to write in Persian. Far from it. There is apparently a detailed defense of the anthem against precisely this accusation that Jalandhari himself published in one of the newspapers of the time. I wish it wasn't so hard to scour newspaper archives that old.

Another interesting fact that must have affected choice of words is that Chagla's tune came before the lyrics. Once the tune was approved the Pakistani government ran a nationwide competition for the best lyrics, which Hafeez one. 


Two corrections made in the above post thanks to @airtiza on Twitter


  1. This is brilliant! I understood the anthem but I loved how you've explained each word and the pictorial explanation and some serious wit. (Shad from Shadman and item no one was a favourite). Kudos. Write more often.

  2. Great post Sabahat, something that came up so many times in our family gatherings. Long awaited and well written blog. It will serve as a ready reference for anyone suspecting that our national anthem is in another language!

  3. Thanks for writing this, a great reference.

  4. Nice post sabahat. A must read for 'beleaguered' Liberals.
    Urdu being Lashkari, its only word in Tarana is "Ka". But that's Urdu for us.
    I still maintain that for the masses this tarana is difficult to understand. I wish if they could teach the meaning of it in schools. I also wish that Jaggan nath azaad be given a respectable place in Pakistan's history.

    I must admitt here that I always fail stop myself from standing up when it is played.

  5. I think it says more about the state of Urdu comprehensibility of our current generation than anything else. Most of our elites born in and after the 80's don't understand Urdu as well as an illiterate person.
    But it was refreshing to see your post.

  6. Hands down one of the best posts you've penned, ever! Kudos.

  7. Great post, great for someone who wants to understand the anthem word by word but what I came here looking for was why a certain class of society would find it redundant to sing it every morning? Any thoughts on that?

  8. You deserve a literary standing ovation for this post: simple, comprehensive yet outstanding.
    Thank you for writing this!

  9. Amazing! I love the analogies and the fine perfection of the tiniest of details.

    God bless you.

  10. Shouldn't "Azme-e-Alishaan" be more appropriately translated as "The great resolve"?

  11. What a wonderful post Sabahat. Bhaee wah!

  12. woow so good each and everything and each and every post in you blog..
    u seem to me a blog specialists....good to learn from you...keep it up
    wishing u the best for everything.


    The Debate Continues... ;)

  14. AsSalamu Alaikum.
    I am a Bangladeshi. Somehow I bumped into this blog of yours and liked this post about Pakistani national anthem.

    However, looks like you have missed an important element in your analysis - the Arabic language !! You have failed to mention that many words are actually Arabic, but absorbed into Persian and Urdu.

    Let's make a list:
    Haseen, Markaz, Yaqeen (you will even find it in the Quran - [102:5][102:7]), Nizam, Quwat (remember La hawla wa la quwata....), Akhawat, Awaam, Manzil, Murad, Tarjuman, Mazi, Hal, Istiqbal (if you ever learn Arabic grammar, you will know that Madhi = past, Hal = present and Istiqbal = future, as used to refer to tense of verbs in Arabic :)) and finally Zu al Jalal can be found in Sura Ar-Rahman verse 78 :)

    Anyway, nice writing and nice national anthem. My mother was a little school-girl during the 60's. She fondly remembers this anthem. At that time Bangladesh was with Pakistan, you know :)

  15. awesomee ... helped me in the urdu project

  16. when i came to know this anthem of ours ranks among-st the top three three of the world, it sufficed my pride. such magnificent words and that mellifluous tone.. one can hear it all day..

  17. Impressive. Excellent. Very well explained specially use of idioms and songs is so beneficial. I hope you are a teacher because your students would be so lucky to have you as teacher. Your kids are fortunate, for sure