Early YearsThe First Great war had ended less than a month ago. King George V reigned over the British Empire and India's independence was still years away. The idea of Pakistan would not be introduced for another quarter of a century (the name being devised by Chaudhary Rahmat Ali in the early 1930s and adopted by the Muslim League in 1940).
The North West Frontier Province, historically a part of the Kingdom of Kabul & Punjab, had been estbalished but would not get 'Governor administered' status till after the Round Table Conference of 1931; and the small town of Isakhel (settled by the Niazi chief, Isa Khan on the bank of the river Kuram in western Mianwali District) had been declared a Tehsil (administrative HQ with Tehsildaar as chief officer).
It was here, in Isakhel, that Jagan Nath Azad, my father, entered this world on the morning of 5 December 1918.
At the time my grandfather, Tilok Chand Mehroom, was a teacher at the local primary school. He had a daughter (Vidya) from his first marriage and had married Asha Devi (my grandmother) after the untimely demise of his first wife.
My father inherited a love of Urdu literature from his father who introduced him to the Urdu alphabet by writing the letters individually on pieces of cardboard and to Urdu poetry via Diwan-e-Ghalib. As they were passing through Kalabagh on their way to Kaloorkote (on account of my grandfather's posting), my grandfather remarked on the vista spread before them: (Paharon ke oopar bane hein makaan). My father promptly completed the couplet with: (Ajab un ki soorat, ajab un ki shaan). He was five years old.
His father's lead & guidance helped his interest in poetry and his creativity to grow. In his childhood he was surrounded with books & literary periodicals which acquainted him with the work of eminent writers like Nazeer Akabarabadi, Mohammad Hussain Azad, Altaaf Hussain Hali & Ismail Merathi. My grandfather would also take him to mushairas that he participated in (the first such event resulted in my father meeting Hafeez Jalandhari for the first time and being given a copy of Hindustan Hamara, which he read, cherished and re-read over the years).
My father had three younger sisters: Shakuntala (who died at the age of two years), Savitri & Krishna.
EducationMy father's education started at home under the supervision of my grandfather. He went to the local primary school in Kaloorkot at the age of five years. The syllabus here included poetry recitals (both English & Urdu), public speaking and drama; and he participated in these activities enthusiastically. There was no high school in Kaloorkote and, so, he went to Raja Ram Mohan Rai High School in Mianwali, from where he passed his Matriculation examination in 1933. At the High School he won an award for his portrayal of Lord Krishna in a performance of Mahabharat.
He attained FA from Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) College (Rawalpindi) in 1934 & BA from Gordon College (Rawalpindi) in 1937. It was in the cultural climate of Rawalpindi that he experimented with prose writing and his academic & literary aptitude continued to flourish.
He returned to education after a period of employment and attained MA (Farsi) in 1944 and MoL in 1945 from the University of Punjab. Achieving 1st position in the college, he was awarded a set of Rabindra Nath Tagore's books.
Lahore: Heaven on EarthAccording to my father, "In Lahore, each individual embellished society and every corner was full to capacity with culture". The city provided him the nourishing atmosphere necessary for his literary work through association with writers of the calibre of Allama Taajvar Najeebabadi & Maulana Zafar Ali Khan; through his work at Adabi Duniya where he came into contact with progressive writers like Krishan Chandra, Hamid Ali Khan & Devendra Stayarthi; and through informal gatherings of poets at Arab Hotel (these included Akhtar Shirani & Chiragh Hasan Hasrat) and of journalists at Nagina Bakery (Ghulam Bari Aleeg & Aashiq Batalvi among others).
He had an early article on Allama Iqbal's poetry published in Humanyun . Mention of Allama Iqbal reminds me that my father always regretted not finding an opportunity of meeting the great man inspite of his best efforts. (Please see Iqbaliyat for more information).
During this period, when Chiragh Hasan Hasrat was appointed editor of Panchayat (a new publication sponsored by the Government of Punjab), he commisioned my father (in preference to the established & other emerging poets) to produce a nazm for the front page of the first issue.
As was customary, my father's marriage to my mother, Shakuntala, in 1940 was an arranged one. I was born the following year and my sister in 1944. The happy union did not last: my mother passed away in 1946. My brother, born during her terminal illness, did not survive her.
In his autobiography (written in 1964), my father refers to events that "may have had a hand in making Lahore so dear" to him but which he "remembers only vaguely now". I am compelled to think that "leaving Lahore" would not be what he was referring to.
From Lahore To DelhiPakistan had been envisaged as a secular state. Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had, presumably in pursuit of this aim, asked my father (a Hindu) to compose Pakistan's National Anthem. Duly written, it was broadcast by Radio Pakistan, Lahore at 12 midnight 13/14 August 1947. (As if in an act of reciprocation, Hafeez Jalandhari's "Ai Watan, Ai India, Ai Bharat, Ai Hindustan" was broadcast by All India Radio, Delhi the next night as the flag of India was unfurled.) Some time before 1947, my father had decided not to leave Lahore, but it was not to be!
He left Lahore on 9 September on the advice of his Muslim friends because of the worsening conditions for minority communities but, unable to stay away, returned within a couple of weeks. His friends Nazish Rizvi & Shaikh Abd-ush-Shakoor did their best to care for him and protect him, but eventually had to say "al-vida" and took him to the refugee camp near Lajpat Rai Bhavan at the end of October.
My sister & I were being cared for by our grandparents in Rawalpindi since our mother's demise. Throughout this period, the family had no knowledge of my father's whereabouts and he, no doubt, was concerned about the welfare of his parents & children. In retrospect, it may be said that we were luckier than many. The family arrived in Delhi without loss of life with help from friends and officials alike. My father secured employment with the daily Milap. Thanks to Mr Ranbir (Editor), the employees also had a roof over their heads at night - sleeping in their offices.
Delhi: A New Country, A New LifeAfter spending a few days as guests of my father's friend, Jamuna Das Akhtar, in Karol Bagh, we moved to our first home in Delhi: in Mori Gate, where my father joined us. I remember the house for its very limited accommodation (one room with a verandah) and the two important events of our lives there: my father married Vimla Virmani (the mother who brought me up) and the news of the death of Mahatma Gandhi.
When Josh Malihabadi was alloted official accomodation, he arranged for his vacant house in Pul Bangash to be made available to us. This was a large house with many rooms, a courtyard and space which, I believe, was for further extension of the house. One room was reserved to accommodate my father's library with facility for his literary work. My two brothers and youngest sister were born here. Guests, including many eminent poets, were frequent. Josh Malihabadi visited often till his departure for Pakistan in 1955. Firaq Gorukhpuri, whenever in Delhi, would stay with us. Literary gatherings were held in the large, two storey high room.
The move to New Delhi in 1957 took us to Moti Bagh with its open environment and panoramic views and from there to Chanakya Puri. The literary gatherings & dinners continued. The arrival of a friend from Pakistan would become an undiscribably emotional occasion. My grandfather's death in 1966 (in Vinay Marg, Chanakya Puri) left a huge gap in my father's life.
Government ServiceIn 1948 my father joined the Government of India's Ministry of Labour. A few months later he applied for, and secured one of the three posts of Assistant Editor (Urdu) with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting's Publications Division. Arsh Malsiani and Balwant Singh were appointed to the other two posts. Josh Malihabadi was appointed to the post of Editor shortly afterwards (he migrated to Pakistan in 1958). The Assistant Editors had the responsibilty for the production of the Division's three monthly publications: Aajkal (Arsh), Bisaat-e-Aalam (Azad) and Naunihaal (Balwant Singh). The last was for children. Hari Chand Akhtar joined the team when the Division decided to start a bi-weekly publication.
My father was promoted to Information Officer (Urdu) in 1955. Subsequently, he served as IO (U) in the Ministry of Food & Agriculture; the Ministry of Tourism, Shipping & Transport and the Ministry of Works & Housing with a brief return to the Ministry of I & B (1964-65). He spent 1967 as a Public Relations Officer with the Ministry of Home Affairs. On promotion to Deputy Principal Information Officer, he joined the Government of India's Press Information Bureau and served in both the New Delhi & Srinagar offices.
He remained in Srinagar on promotion to Director of Public Relations in 1973 and retired from the PIB & the Government Service in 1977.
First Return Visits to Lahore, Isakhel & MianwaliThe first Indo-Pak mushaira (poets convetion) was convened in Lyalpur (Pakistan) in 1948. Three poets from India were invited. Niether Jigar Muradabadi nor Noh Narvi were able to attend. Against advice from family and friends, my father felt drawn to the prospect of seeing Lahore again. The depth of his emotion on being in Lahore again can best be demonstrated in his own words: Asha'ar: Lahore mein kahe gaye
It was a further 32 years before he was able to return to his birth place and childhood home. The opportunity arose in 1980 during his lecture tour of Pakistani Universities. His welcome in Isakhel, after an absence of 55 years, consisted of three events organised in his honour and included recitals of his father's poems by the pupils of Government High School and a visit to the site of his former family home. In Mianwali, he attended a day long function, received an address of welcome and was privileged to hear his father's & his own compositions from local singers Masood Malik and Ayub Niazi.
Jammu & KashmirMy father moved to Srinagar in 1964 on account of his Government service. It is difficult to say with any certainty whether this heaven-on-earth contributed to his creative instinct. He maintained that good poetry comes from the heart, that a poet can be inspired by barren desserts as well as green valleys with snow-capped mountains & waterfalls. What is beyond argument is that his move to Jammu in 1977 and his posting at the University of Jammu provided him the atmosphere and the opportunity to spread his literary & academic wings. It is here that he produced the translation of Allama Iqbal's Javed Nama and undertook the massive task of writing Allama's biography in five volumes.
Public AcclaimAzad's first taste of public recognition came at the age of 12 years when he answered all the History examination questions in verse - extracts from Hafeez Jalandhari's Hindustan Hamara. The press coverage did not include his name but the report of the poetry-loving student spread across Punjab.
With passage of time, his literary work became more and more well-known and with it came recognition in the form of invitations for participation in prestigious mushairas & to deliver lectures at universities across the world and in the form of honours & awards.
We, the family, became aware early that 'papa belonged to the world of Urdu as much as he belonged to us'.
Personality, Beliefs & OutlookAs youngsters, we siblings used to wonder how "papa can manage with so little rest". I believe I can now answer the question in two words: discipline & organisation. My father achieved the heights he did through a disciplined mind and a well-organised life. He followed a strict daily regime that included physical excercise in the mornings and he had the self-confidence that comes from a clear understanding of rights & responsibilities. He passed on the lessons he had learnt from his father to all his children and instilled in them the value of good education.
Thinking back, I am proud and thankful about how I was brought up to "stand on my own feet" - given responsibilities that, normally, fall to sons. His view of "equality" meant no discrimation on grounds of sex, religion or nationality.
The single event that affected my father more than anything else was the partition of India & Pakistan. Before the partition, he worked as personal assistant to the Secretary, Communal Harmony Movement (Lahore) for a time and, when Sir Sikander Hayaat Khan (Unionist Muslim League) published a newsletter, my father travelled around Punjab spreading the word of the League. After the partition he always wished Pakistan well and firmly believed that "political divisions cannot divide the Indian poets from their love of Pakistan, nor the Pakistani poets from their love for India".
Urdu was not his mother tongue (Punjabi was), but the evidence of his love of that language is his poetry & his prose. He considered the development of Urdu to be an essential factor of development of India and the traditions of Urdu to be a national treasure. In a television interview in New York (1983) he urged the United Nations to recognise the validity of Urdu and to adopt it as one of the Organisation's official languages
My father lived an active life. The style of his life ensured his mental and physical agility till the end.