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The Consensus Poets of Pakistan

Based on a series of posts published on The Republic of Rumi Blog in June-July, 2009
By Khurram Ali Shafique

Hafeez Jallundhri


In the early 1920’s, Urdu literary scene was rocking with an unusual poem, ‘Abhi Tou Mien Jawan Hoon’ (‘For Now I am Young’). The poet, Hafeez Jallundhri (1900-1982) had the approval of Iqbal almost to the extent as if the Poet-Philosopher was preparing this newcomer as his successor. Hafeez, who had not completed his high school, was fired with Iqbal’s idea of finding one’s own voice and therefore he didn’t imitate the master. Instead, he created a new diction of simple and easy words which did not seem profound at first but were capable of bringing out deepest emotions from unknown recesses of soul once they were taken to heart – and they almost always were.

This was in sync with the life cycle of the East which, according to Iqbal, had “opened its eyes after a long slumber.” East was young, and hence "I Am Young" became the voice of the collective consciousness.

This collective “I” enabled Hafeez to write devotional poetry about Lord Krishna which at one point came to be sung by Brahmins in the temples of Benaras (Varanasi) while on the other hand his epic poem about the glory of Islam, Shahnama-i-Islam, received acclaim from Hindu critics of Urdu literature. Pakistan can take pride in the fact that the author of its national anthem also wrote devotional songs for Hinduism while being a poet of Islam at the same time. He was a man of the masses.


National anthem written by Hafeez Jallundhri was recorded in 1954. Eleven singers included an unknown immigrant from Hyderabad (Deccan) who later became one of the best-loved voices in Pakistan. His name was Ahmad Rushdi (surely, you must have heard ‘Ko Ko Korina’).

Lyrics consist of three stanzas of five lines each. The first line introduces an issue and every subsequent line takes us deeper into the layers of the same issue. Hence montage of simple phrases builds up to a climax in each stanza.

Stanza 1

May the Pure Homeland prosper!
May the beautiful country prosper!
You are the sign of high determination,
O land of Pakistan,
May the pivot of certainty prosper!

Italics are mine, to help you see that odd-numbered lines emphasize spiritual aspects while even-numbered lines emphasize earthy aspects. Pure Homeland (line 1), sign of high determination (line 3) and pivot of certainty (line 5) are spiritual realities which have now appeared in the physical form of the beautiful country (2), the land of Pakistan (4).

Stanza 2

Order of the Pure Homeland:
Power of brotherhood of the people;
Nation, land, state –
May they last forever illustriously!
May the destination of aims prosper!

Here again the odd and even lines contrast with each other (odd lines refer to the state while even lines refer to the people) but the most noteworthy point in this stanza is that the second line mentions “the power brotherhood of the people” and the third line dramatically introduces “nation, land, state” as if they are derived from the subject introduced in the previous line, i.e. the brotherhood of the people. Hence the power of this brotherhood becomes manifest: countries die while people live on (according to Iqbal), and hence “nation, land, state” derived from this power “may… last forever illustriously”. The final line unifies these elements in “the destination of aims”.

Stanza 3

Flag with star and crescent,
Guide for progress and perfection,
A reflection of the past, magnificence of the present,
The spirit of the future,
The shadow of God Almighty!

This stanza is entirely about the national flag. Since banners are always carried in front of contingents, the flag can be called a “guide.” Its star becomes symbol of progress (“stars” are commonly used as measures of rating) while its crescent signifies an unceasing quest for perfection (this interpretation of the waxing and waning of moon also comes from Iqbal). Past, present and future unite here to replace the rule of emperors (who were called “the Shadow of God”) with the rule of this banner and all that it stands for. As usual, the contrast between odd and even lines can be seen in this stanza too: odd lines are about things which exist while even lines are about things desired.

Jamiluddin Aali


Two words, “jeevay” (live) and “Pakistan” repeated four times make a complete couplet in one of the most profound poems in Urdu:

Jeevay, jeevay, jeevay Pakistan
Pakistan, Pakistan, jeevay Pakistan

The poet Jameeluddin Aali is one of the greatest living authorities on Urdu language and literature, and wrote forewords on scores of rare classics reprinted under his supervision at Anjuman Taraqi-i-Urdu which he headed at one time. Anthem of OIC (mentioned in a previous post) displays his superb command over Arabicized Urdu but his national songs, such as 'Jeevay Pakistan' are written in simple words and without explicit reference to Islam because Pakistan is not only for Muslims.

'Jeevay Pakistan' can be called the song of Simorgh, the concept presented by great Sufi poet Fariduddin Attar (13th Century): birds pass through seven valleys in search of their unseen king Simorgh, and the thirty survivors find thirty mirrors placed before them – “si” means “thirty” and “morgh” means “bird” in Persian. Each bird seeing its individuality at the same time with others is Simorgh or the collective ego. “I am all of you but still I am more than all of you,” says Simorgh and the voice comes from every bird.

Stanza 1
What diverse melodies are scattered when the bird of heart flaps its wings. Listeners, when they listen, are lilted with a single tune: Pakistan! Pakistan, Pakistan, Jeevay…

Stanza 2
It brought the scattered ones, the separated ones to a common centre. Among so many stars it appeared like a sun: Pakistan! Pakistan, Pakistan, Jeevay…

Stanza 3
Those who suffered, suffered; now it is up to us. One shall we keep our name, one it will remain and one it is: Pakistan! Pakistan, Pakistan, Jeevay…

Music, brilliantly composed by Sohail Rana, brings out a sense of movement and search (Rana once told me that he tried to present all connotations of the phrase “Jeevay Pakistan” separately in the composition: it is prayer as well as determination and journey. Read my interview with Sohail Rana).

Qateel Shifai


'This Is My Song' written by the American poet Lloyd Stone (1912-1993) to the tune of the Finlandia melody from the Finnish composer Jean Sybelius (1865-1957) is one of the best-loved statements of world peace which does not oversimplify the concept:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Pakistan has a close pararllel that reads rather like an inspired adaptation by one of the most popular Urdu poets, Qateel Shifai (1919-2001). It is a poem that was rendered to music by A. Hameed and sung by Mehdi Hasan (watch video on the left for a film clip where the poem has been picturized on Waheed Murad). It can be roughly translated as:

People are uniqiue, but the longing is one and the same:
We all look different but blood is of the same hue.

This attire which you hold so dear, my friends,
It is but a thing to cover the bare realities, my friends,
Otherwise the honor and shame of all here is the same.

Even today I am hearing that song in every city and town,
That can enchant even this indifferent and cruel world,
Each and every song coming forth is striking the same note.

The whole universe is created from the essence of Love:
Ask your heart if you do not believe me,
For the tune and melody of every inner voice is the same.

That every soul is to be held in high esteem,
Hearts should be free of hate, and everyone respected:
In this war to attain that respect, we are all on the same side.

There are many songs about changing the world but what is special about this poem as well as 'This Is My Song' and others of this type is that they don't feed on hatred and violence in order to defy a corrupt world order. At the same time they do not lose touch with reality, nor preach weakness and escapist sentiment. They reinforce patience and hope, and the certainty that moral force will eventually win - there is no way it can lose in the end.

Sehba Akhtar


One of the best definitions of Pakistan comes from the poet Sehba Akhtar (1930-1996): “Pakistan is faith as well as certainty; it is ideology as well as land. In this many-hued world, there is only one way to recognize it: I am Pakistan, and you are Pakistan too.”

We inherit faith from ancestors but we need to find certainty on our own. Likewise, the ideology of Pakistan was handed down to us by Rumi, Attar and Bhittai but we had to acquire a land for it by ourselves. You cannot understand this through any number of debates and discussions unless it comes from within.

Hence again we come upon Simorgh or the collective ego: everyone becoming aware of their individuality at the same time is the Unity sought by genuine Sufis. It is not the otherworldliness of charlatans and hypocrites. It is the oneness of humanity, and Pakistan is the first state in modern history which was founded on this concept.

The poet Sehba Akhtar was the son of Rehmat Ali Rehmat, a contemporary of Agha Hashr Kashmiri. He was born in Sri Nagar, brought up in Amritsar and first visited Karachi with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to attend a gathering organized by students. Later he settled in this city where a beautiful road and a library are named after him. He is widely known as ‘The Poet of Pakistan’.

Masroor Anwar


“O beautiful land! May Allah keep you happy forever,” says Masroor Anwar (“Sohni Dharti, Allah rakhay…”). “May we see you free as long as the world lasts!”

Even if the prayer is granted, how can the poet expect to last that long and “see” it? The simplest answer can be found with Iqbal who believed that individual achieves immortality through loving the collective ego.

The desire to “see” and to be in touch with the beloved beyond this earthly life brings a tone of spirituality to this national song composed by Sohail Rana and aired from PTV in 1970. The subject, “Shoni Dharti”, emphasizes land rather than idea but due to the spiritual emphasis at the very beginning, matter becomes a form taken by the soul of the nation (much like in the National Anthem discussed earlier).

The same is true about the film poetry of Masroor Anwar. Consider the popular love song ‘Akele na jana’. When reinterpreted as a national song, it takes us to a deeper layer of patriotism not accessible through national songs alone: "You are a beautiful feeling through which we found courage to live. You are conviction that never dies in heart; you are hope that springs eternal." This is how a Pakistani would like to feel about Pakistan.

Kaleem Usmani


Poet Kaleem Usmani addresses the youth on behalf of those who have gone before. He says, “We were leaders of the caravan but you are its spirit: we were just the title while you are the tale itself. Keep the gates of hate closed forever to yourselves; hold the flag of this country high forever.”

The national song “Yeh Watan Tumhara Hai,” from which these lines have been quoted in translation is usually regarded as the richest in terms of content and message. Other work of the poet, especially his film songs, revereberate with the same love of life:

These mountain roads will be forlorn,
and the arms of valleys perpetually outstretched
until you lift your downcast eyes and smile.

These lines from 'Khamosh Hain Nazaray' have the same ethos as the national song quoted above, as here again it is the people who bring meaning to the beauty of their landscape.

Incidentally, the song was filmed in Swat, the valley from where millions of people have been displaced recently. Consider the last stanza to be a message from the late poet to all IDPS and those who are trying to help them today:

Do not lose heart, darkness will be gone:
Lights will appear again, again there will be mornings;
Now, light your heart with a ray of hope…


Pakistan can take pride in the fact that the author of its national anthem also wrote devotional songs for Hinduism while being a poet of Islam at the same time. He was a man of the masses.