AS we approach Pakistan’s 75th Independence Day on Aug 14, with crisis bubbles brimming in our hourglass, two icons uplift our spirits. The serene, non-partisan flag was adopted in 1947. The national anthem was musically composed and officially rendered in 1949. But its words were written later to fit the tune; the complete anthem was recorded and officially approved for the first time in 1954. It expresses emotions, thoughts and ideals that reflect a diverse people’s union and solidarity.
Appointed — without my advance knowledge — by the federal cabinet in June 2021 to serve on a voluntary basis as chairman of the Steering Committee for the Re-Recording of the National Anthem of Pakistan, the process of fulfilling this solemn responsibility became, over the past 12 months, a phase of learning, rediscovering and being strengthened by the experience. When the new cabinet took office in April 2022, I tendered my resignation to enable the new government to appoint its preferred choice. To one’s pleasant surprise, one was asked to continue till completion of the work in August 2022. The ministry of information and broadcasting provided crucial, helpful support in every phase.
On the face of it, re-recording famous words and music while ensuring their original sanctity was a straightforward task. As the process unfolded, it became complex and challenging. Instead of inviting only well-known singers as happened 68 years ago, it was now vital to engage the participation of gifted voices from all provinces, regions, religions and communities to authentically represent the whole nation. Though previous recordings strove to be faithful to pronunciation and tonality, they did not meet exactitude and high international standards. State-of-the-art digital technology was essential to precisely capture and reproduce content. A kaleidoscopic new video was needed to mirror the splendid people and their song. One became newly aware of the remarkable brevity of our national anthem: only 80 seconds. Anthems of some other countries are far longer.
Over 600 individuals toiled in myriad ways.
Our 80 seconds’ splendour goes beyond calculated time. Each note of each specified musical instrument — the clarinet, flute, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, drum — painstakingly annotated with sensitivity, craft and brilliance by Ahmed G. Chagla seamlessly synthesises Western and Eastern streams. The sublime text, in just 49 words, with no repetition, written by Abdul Hafeez Jalandhari, in Persianised Urdu, blends the celebration of a beautiful land, pride in heritage and national identity and aspiration for fulfilment and progress with faith in the Almighty to become an inspiring expression of a collective, mass persona.
Working with dedicated committee members was invigorating. Initially comprising 11 members — five officials, six non-officials — when two original non-official nominees withdrew due to unavoidable prior commitments, this writer as chairman used the authority given to him through the ToRs to co-opt new members including eminent musicologists and a prominent figure of the cinema sector from the Hindu community. Thus, the committee became representative of relevant expertise and of all provinces and non-Muslims as well, with 10 individuals on a voluntary basis and six in official capacities, civil and military.
As Pakistan regrettably does not have a permanent national orchestra, the brass bands of the army, air force and navy were made accessible through ISPR’s crucial support. They contributed all the 48 instrumentalists chosen after detailed appraisal of talent and skill, further honed by exacting supervision. Similar rigour was invested in selecting and guiding 155 vocalists, including famous artists, from across the country. Altogether over 600 individuals toiled in myriad ways. A website lists the eminent committee members, vocalists, musicians, film-makers and other specialists who helped achieve distinctive quality. As part of harnessing social media’s potential to optimise participation, the dedicated website will enable sustained access to all related material, including recordings.
Eighty seconds become a nanosecond of the approximately 2.365 billion seconds which clock our 75-year history. Even if we count the anthem’s age from 1954, our song’s duration remains a fraction of a fraction of 2.144bn.
Yet these 80 seconds are timeless, priceless. They survived tumult and turmoil, the wrenching separation of East Pakistan, the agony of multiple failures and injustices. These 80 seconds celebrate our survival against formidable odds, our joys and triumphs. They empower us to retain faith in the future. As we listen to and view the new audio and visual presentations one is confident the next 75 years will bring Pakistan closer to the vision and glory which our national anthem vividly evokes.
The writer is an author, film-maker and a former senator and federal minister.
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2022