Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhay

A Bengali woman’s rendition of Sohni Dharti continues to move Pakistanis today as it cascades out of the darkest pages of our history, when everything — even hope — was lost

Leaders make history and history makes nations. I consider living to see Pakistan’s 71-year Jashne Azadi a special gift of God. On top of this, a former colleague from the Pakistan High Commission — a commodore from the Pakistan Navy serving the mission as head of the Naval and Defence Division during my tenure — made my day by sending me a video-clip of a Bengali Pakistani singer Shahnaz Begum rendering the ever-green Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhey by famous Delhi-born poet Jameeluddin Aali.

The officer’s note was extremely poignant. He wrote (I can’t reveal the Officer’s identity as I did not seek permission to quote him): “Irony of our history is that our top national songs, and most popular motivational songs are all sung by Bengali singers.” Indeed, Jameeluddin Aali’s lyrics sung by Shahnaz Begum were so motivational that during a performance, Prime Minister (PM) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto walked to the stage behind the famous composer Sohail Rana and his orchestra of kids and joined in. Aali Bhai’s lyrics and passionate rendering by Shahnaz Begum were so powerful that they bypassed Hafeez Jullandhri’s composed national anthem in popularity, and remain more popular than the country’s official national anthem to this day.

As we welcome the new Prime Minister Imran Khan and his gigantic commitment to change this country, I urge all Pakistanis to remember this Naghma and keep in sight the goal envisioned by the Quaid. It seems that the PTI Chairman and PM-designate has the same dream. He has started well by seeking new pastures through much needed national reconciliation. Indeed, an all-inclusive approach is needed to clean the Aegean Stables

I could have penned my Jashne Azadi article by going into an undistorted narration of our history, punching holes into General Zia’s imposed version of history and laying bare Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s populist dream of a secular, social welfare state with equal rights for all. But, since I had passed the Sohni Dharti video clip to many youngsters who read me, I got a thought provoking comment from a young teacher of Kashmiri origin.

I produce here the comment as I received from her. “Oh! Interesting stuff! What were Bengalis doing singing in Pakistan, they weren’t the good old East Pakistanis were they?” I thought a fair and unbiased explanation about the perceived notions about our former countrymen was in order.

Since our history has been mutilated by General Ziaul Haq, younger generations will have to be told why national landmarks like Shahrah-e-Suhrawardy or Khawaja Nazimuddin Avenue or Liaquat Bagh are named after people who were not even born in the territory known as Pakistan today. They will have to be told this country’s real history. It was Bengali Muslims who spearheaded the Pakistan movement, backed by the Muslims of the minority provinces. Apart from Sindh, which did vote for Pakistan, the rest of the provinces — including Punjab — did not contribute much to the freedom struggle.

If you look back to December 1906, when the All-India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka, it was Bengalis who spearheaded the Pakistan movement. When Justice Munir as Law Minister of Field Marshall Ayub Khan was asked by his military boss to broach the subject of separation in 1962 to his senior Bengali colleague in the cabinet, it was conveyed to him that East Bengal was the real Pakistan. Furthermore, Bengalis never had any issue with Pakistan or West Pakistanis. It was actually West Pakistan’s feudal class that caused problems between the two units because they opposed parity and majority rule.

Despite this, a Bengali woman’s rendition of Sohni Dharti continues to move Pakistanis today as it cascades out of the darkest pages of our history, when everything — even hope — was lost. In that dismal hour, each and every word addressed to the Creator to keep Sohni Dharti protected, (land of Pakistan) injecting new life into the people of this country, even today.

As we welcome the new PM Imran Khan and his gigantic commitment for change, I urge all Pakistanis to remember this Naghma and keep insight the goal envisioned by the Quaid. It seems that the PTI Chairman and PM-designate has the same dream. He has started well by seeking new pastures through much needed national reconciliation. Indeed, an all-inclusive approach is needed to clean the Aegean Stables.

The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist

Published in Daily Times, August 15th 2018.