An ensemble of instruments prompts me to my feet as I await my trusted guide to take me through the valleys of Naran to the Rivers of Sindh, as I watch the new recording of Pak Sar Zameen Shaad Baad (Blessed be Sacred Land) – our national anthem. It holds me up by my shoulders and helps me dream the dream of patriotism. The dream of a land united, a people in peace and the culmination of the Quaid’s vision.
Hafeez Jalandhari sahab’s original prose for the national anthem was approved by the prime minister’s office in 1954, and it was recorded for the first time that year – some 45 years before I was introduced to it by my teary-eyed class teacher who could not contain her reverence for the anthem nor her rage at my confused expression (I was seven at the time).
“If you ever hear the anthem, you must always stand up and pay your respects to the idea of Pakistan. To the Quaid and to everyone else who made this country possible,” she hissed through pan-stained teeth. But the original recording didn’t hold up to the quality I was used to.
Now, nearly 70 years later, I realise the original, rushed recording of the anthem could not capture the sentiments of the prose, nor the vision of the writer. And it certainly could not explain why my eyes would water every time I heard the words. Perhaps to that end, though without any formal dialogue with me I assure you, the Government of Pakistan sanctioned the re-recording of the national anthem in complete fidelity with the original composition and words. Enlisting the musical talents of 155 vocalists across Pakistan – from the brazen falsettos of Bilal Ali to the powerful hymns of Arif Lohar, the soulful tones of Maria Unera and the raving, surging hip-hop pedigree of Abid Brohi. The ensemble, an amalgam of young and old, modern and contemporary, the present and the future of Pakistan. The task? An admission that we are in fact one people under Sayyai, Khudae Zul Jalal (Symbol of the Almighty’s protection).
Though I observe a safe distance from optimism, lest more heartache befall me, the re-recording reignited my sense of patriotism.
Now, as I bask in the scent of diesel courtesy of the power outages caused by the erratic monsoons sweeping Sindh presently, I wonder: Was the re-recording essential to a deeper understanding of what the anthem is? The manner in which the recording was handled; the portrait of each vocalist adorned in the white and green of the flag, every creed, culture, religion, age welcomed. To their home, their land, the land of the pure? By that sentiment were all of them pure? Was the message, a message of redundancy? Of the fighting, the divisiveness?
Upon the culmination of the re-recording of the national anthem, I understand what it is that affects me so – why it urges optimism and even invites hope.
The anthem is a promise. Our promise to us. To be better. To be more. More than what our colonial masters had envisioned for us. More than what our petty rivalries and ill-fated hate has reduced us to, more than we dream ourselves to be. And for their sins, the recording committee understood that to make this promise mean something. We needed an ensemble of the best of us.
And so it was, 75 years after the birth of Pakistan, a promise was renewed, a promise to re-imagine the land of the pure.
Kazi Akber is a content creator/podcast host based out of Karachi. kaziakber