Remembering Iqbal

April 24, 2022

All the leading vocalists of Pakistan have sung Iqbal. The first vocalists to capitalise on his poetry and name were the qawwals

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hough there is no end to paying lip service to Iqbal it appears that the fervour is subsiding at least at the state level if the cancellation of the public holiday is any indication to go by. Initially, his death anniversary was celebrated by a public holiday on April 21 but then was replaced by the birth anniversary in November as the researchers discovered in due course that that is his actual date of birth but now it is a working day like any other – as if the best tribute to him is following in the footsteps of the father of the nation with the adage: work, work and more work.

All the leading vocalists of Pakistan have sung Iqbal. Iqbal himself was very interested in music and sought sitar-learning classes in the early part of his life. He could also sing and was very close to the musicians of Lahore who helped him build his vocal capacity to recite his poetry. He was hugely popular because of his tarannum and was requested to do it again and again in mushairas. It was indeed sad that in his twilight years, he suffered from a throat ailment that affected his voice and it was painful as eyewitnesses recalled him declining the request to recite quoting his throat condition. Even if he tried, he failed to bring in the intensity and the full-throatedness of his earlier years.

Iqbal’s poetry was a breakaway from tradition. In the musical rendition, the effort to let the lyrics determine the form, has petered out. It is rendered mostly in conventional forms like the ghazal, qawwali, geet, naat, hamd, manqabat and recently the rock and pop genres.

His Saray Jahan Say Achaa Hindustaan Hamara became hugely popular and was sung across the length and breadth of an undivided colonial India. In Pakistan, this composition is hardly sung. In fact, this poem is hardly even mentioned though it was one of his most famous poems in his life time. It is not difficult to understand that it is for the purposes of political correctness that it has been placed on the back burner.

The first vocalists to capitalise on Iqbal’s poetry and name were the qawwals. It was also considered safe and sanitised by the Radio authorities, the main platform for the promotion of music in the first three decades of an independent Pakistan.

Mubarak Ali and Fateh Ali made Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa composed in darbari as one of the standard numbers in their repertoire.

His Saray Jahan Say Achaa Hindustaan Hamara became so popular that even when the decision was taken for the national anthem of an independent India it was up there and given a serious thought along with Bande Mataram till the dice of the final choice was cast in favour of Jana Gana Mana by Rabindronath Tagore.

tradition. In the musical rendition, the effort to let the lyrics determine the form, has petered out. It is rendered mostly in conventional forms like the ghazal, qawwali, geet, naat, hamd, manqabat and recently the rock and pop genres.

According to Ravi Shankar, the lyrics were recomposed by him in the mid-1940s. He found the existing composition to be long and drawn out. It was sung like a dirge and did not have the strength so he composed it in a catchy tune and gave it a brighter look. It was picked up by the All India Radio and became hugely popular after the independence. It still features in local gatherings and Beating of the Retreat Parade in Delhi every year on Republic Day. It is so venerated across the country that Lata Mangeshkar was made to sing it on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of independence in the Indian parliament.

Ravi Shankar was peeved that he was not always given the credit for composing it. Different composers had been given credit for it and he was shocked and saddened to learn on the flap of the cassette brought out by the HMV featuring nationalistic songs by Lata Mangeshkar, instead of the composition being credited to him it was mentioned that it was a traditional composition. He lamented that there was no effective system pertaining to copyright/ intellectual copyright in India.

In Pakistan, Noor Jehan, Medhi Hasan, Fareeda Khanum, Ghulam Ali, Malika Pukhraj, Pervez Mehdi, Naheed Akhter, Asif Javed, Nayyara Noor, Suraiya Khanum, Gul Baghar Bano, A Nayyar, Shabnam Majeed and Rahat Fateh Ali have all attempted valiantly. Contemporary vocalists and groups like Abrar ul Haq, Junaid Jamshed, Hadiqa Kiyani, Jawwad Ahmed. Ali Azmat and Shahzad Roy too has rendered him. Without assigning a value judgment one can say that the compositions and the intonation are a sign of the changing trends in music in our part of the world.

In ’80s, Mahjabeen Qizilbash and Mohammad Ali Shehki sang Nawa-i-Waqt from Payam-i-Mashriq. Asif Javed vocalised Akal Go Aastan Say from Baal-i-Jibreel, a part of Masjid-i-Qurtaba was sung by Akhlaq Ahmed, Ghulam Ali, Mehnaz, Naeem Tahir and Iqbal Bano. Jawad Ahmed sang Tu Abhi Rehguzar from Baal-i-Jibreel and Naheed Akhtar Naghma-i-Sarban along with Ghulam Abbas from Payam-i-Mashriq.

Then there are some more numbers: A Nayyar’s Tuloo-i-Islam, one of the last poems in Baang-i-Dara, Ghulam Abbas’s Tu Aye Aseer-i-Makan, Haqeeqat mein Rooh-i-Abad, and Aye Pak Watan. Tu Aye Aseer-i-Makan by Tarannum Naz, Nigah-i-Faqr by Shaukat Ali, Ya Rab Dil, Zamanay kay Andaz by Junoon, Ya Rab by Shehzad Roy and Maqam Paida Kar by various artistes including Abrar, Humera, Ali Raza, Fariha Pervez and Masooma Anwar.

The late Asad Amanat Ali sang Hai Soaz. Akhlaq Ahmed sang Wohi Meri Kamnaseebi with very supple and measured vocals, Shahida Parveen also sang

Kalam-i-Iqbal on PTV. Aasman by Hadiqa Kiyani comprises a beautiful Persian Poem Aye Chashm-i-Saqi. Sitaron Say Aagay by Parvez Mehdi had a pro-classical touch to it whereas the one by Sajjad Ali had a pop style. Junaid Jamshed gave it a Nasheed touch with a cappella.


The author is a culture critic based in Lahore Iqbal’s poetry was a breakaway from



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