Rarely in modern history has it happened that someone with very meagre formal schooling reached the height of honour, fame and fortune. Those who accomplished this rare feat did so by the virtue of their relentless efforts and talent. Hafeez Jalandhari was one of them.
One of the major Urdu poets of the first half of the 20th century, Hafeez Jalandhari could not reach beyond primary classes at school but he had composed his first couplet at the age of seven. Later, he was to become a household name, hold high posts, be paid high salaries, get awards and have the honour of composing Pakistan’s national anthem, though he had fled school after passing second grade. He was readmitted to two more schools but on both occasions he left without finishing his formal schooling. Reason? He hated mathematics and could not pass its exams. The only subject that attracted him at school was Urdu.
By his own account, at the age of seven Hafeez Jalandhari had a chance to listen to Ghulam Qadir Girami recite his poetry and was inspired. Girami, a native of Jalandhar, was one of the renowned Persian poets of the subcontinent in those days. Hafeez soon composed his first couplet and scribed it in his notebook, which earned him his teacher’s wrath. But Master Gopal Das, another teacher of his at Ariya School, would encourage him. A voracious reader, Hafeez would devour every printed page that he could lay his hands on. He used to read Urdu’s classical literature at an early age.
Gopal Das forced Hafeez to participate in a competitive mushaira (poetry recital session) announced by the government of British India in the wake of the First World War. Hafeez wrote a poem on the topic of war and peace and won the first prize: gold medal and one hundred rupees. It was 1917 and Hafeez was just 17. It was the beginning of a long and successful career in literature, though not without its disappointments and jealousies, as he has mentioned in Baqalam khud, his unfinished autobiography.
After wining another award at another mushaira, Hafeez went to Girami, who was the poet laureate at Deccan’s princely state and happened to be in Jalandhar for a few days. He asked Girami to accept him as a disciple in poetry, as was in vogue in those days to take some senior poet as a mentor; a young poet without such a patron poet was scoffed at and called ‘be ustada’ (one without a teacher, hence untrained and a hoaxer).
Married in his late teens, Hafeez did everything he could to earn a living and that included, according to his autobiography, a job in railways, selling perfumes, tailoring, becoming a contractor, being a porter at railway station, selling flour and even selling one’s own ghazals to new poets who could not compose. In 1919, Hafeez wrote a poem against the British rule and was sent to jail for three months. Once out of prison, he went to Okara and began selling sewing machines, but his heart was in poetry, so it did not work for him either. Back in Jalandhar in 1921, he decided to launch a literary magazine in collaboration with Girami. The magazine E’jaaz was launched but could last only a few months, incurring heavy financial losses.
Desperate, he went to Kashmir, thinking that he would jump off a peak. But Kashmir’s natural beauty mesmerised him and he decided life was too beautiful to be ended like this. ‘Abhi to mein jawan hoon’ (I am still young), he said to himself, the line that later became the recurrent theme in his famous poem with the same title. There he met Hakeem Feroze Tughrai, a literary figure who became his host and encouraged him much. Invigorated, Hafeez went to Lahore and participated in a mushaira where he was much appreciated. The next mushaira earned him a job as editor of Shabaab-i-Urdu and then more magazines offered him editorship.
Lahore in those days was a great literary and intellectual hub (it still is). Here Hafeez befriended many well-known poets, journalists, writers and intellectuals. Two rival literary groups dominated Lahore’s literary scene. One led by Tajwer Najeebabadi and the other by giants like Pitras Bukhari, Abdul Majeed Salik and M.D. Taseer. The latter patronised Hafeez and he shot to fame in a brief period of time. It was remarkable: a little-educated young man comes to Lahore, conquers mushairas and becomes a renowned figure across the subcontinent within a brief span of time.
Government of Pakistan constituted a committee on February 23, 1949, to get Pakistan’s national anthem prepared. In 1954, Hafeez Jalandhari’s lyrics were selected as national anthem of Pakistan among the 723 entries. Though much fake news abounds about Pakistan’s first national, official anthem, it is a fact that Hafeez’s anthem was the first and only anthem approved and rest is myth (for details please see: Who really wrote our first official national anthem? Dawn, July 4, 2011).
Some of Hafeez Jalandhari’s books are: Naghma zar (1925), Soz-o-saaz (1932), Talkhaba-i-shireen (1947), Shahnama-i-Islam (four volumes, 1928-1947) and Chiragh-i-sahar (1974).
Born Muhammad Abdul Hafeez on January 14, 1900, in Jalandhar, Hafeez Jalandhari died in Lahore on December 21, 1982.