Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Artistic Youth Of Amrita Sher-Gil

There are two methods by which one may understand poet Dr Sir Allama Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal: study what he wrote or dig deeper into the lives of those whom he knew. Emma Wegenast, Atiya Fyzee and Amrita Sher-Gil knew 'Iqbal At Close Range'.

The first two educated ladies turned around Iqbal's poetic head in Germany and England respectively. The third young lady, Amrita Sher-Gil, met Iqbal in Lahore and Paris. She might have taught him a thing or two about art; he in turn could have made her outlook towards art more philosophical.

Amrita's painful story cannot be condensed into a single article. Her pretty picture must be seen within the frame of her colourful family background.

Amrita's father and his first wife

Amrita's father, Umrao Singh Majithia (1870-1954), was the eldest son of Raja Surat Singh Majithia. The Majithia family originally belonged to Majitha village of Punjab. Surat Singh settled in Uttar Pradesh on lands and honorary titles of 'Sir' and 'Lady' given for 'services' rendered to the British.

While Umrao was young, his father died and the boy became ward of the British Court. He attended school at Amritsar and later joined the Aitchison CollegeLahore. The latter institution was created in 1886 by the British to 'educate' the children and relatives of Indian chiefs and was initially called Chief's College. Umrao went on to marry Narindar Kumari, the daughter of Captain Gulab Singh of Atari.

Umrao Singh, Budapest
Aristocratic Umrao was a Sanskrit scholar, amateur photographer, astronomer, carpenter, calligrapher, and yoga practitioner. With his wife Narindar first visited England in 1896, and then again in 1897 to attend the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. As head of the Majitha family, Umrao was privileged to attend the Coronation darbars in 1903 and 1910.

Umrao returned to India with the realisation that he belonged to a subjugated race. Despite having numerous English friends, he preferred seclusion to social glitter, and which resulted in him being mentioned in British secret official correspondence as 'disaffected.' To the British East India Company, Umrao was a person of interest.

After giving birth to four children: Balram, Satyavan, Vivek and Prakash, Narindar died in 1907 .

Umrao Singh's second wife

Maharaja Ranjit Singh once ruled over the Punjab and beyond. Then the British East India Company came along to annex it just as multi-national corporations do today under various pretexts to entire countries.

Ranjit's son, Maharaja Duleep Singh had a daughter named Princess Bamba Sofia Jindan Duleep Singh (1869–1957). When she decided to visit India, she brought along a travel companion named Marie Antoinette Gottesmann-Baktay (1882-1948).

Marie was a Jewess of Hungarian-French ancestry. Internationally connected, she belonged to Budapest's upper class, played the piano, sang well and regularly appeared at lavish parties.

It was Princess Sofia Duleep Singh that Umrao was interested in but upon meeting Marie at the Princess's residence in Lahore, he decided to add some Hungarian whitener to his dark Indian tea. Umrao married Marie in 1911.

In the autumn of 1912, the couple visited Budapest. As World War One broke out, Umrao found himself stranded in an 'enemy' country. Being a man of culture and intellect and married to a Hungarian, he was not interned.
Marie, Budapest 1913

For details about the Majithia family, click HERE

The spirit of a freedom-fighter

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he's not romantic, personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are. —H. L. Mencken (1919)

While condemning bribery today, people of the Indian sub-continent conveniently forget that it was the 'Company Bahadurthat practised classic divide-and-rule by purchasing loyalties of the local elites.

Babu Bandhu Singh was a freedom fighter whom the British East India Company arrested and hanged after the War of Independance of 1857. His lands known as Saraya or Sardarnagar were forfeited and handed over to Umrao Singh's father as reward for 'loyalty shown to the British'.

One could say that in Saraya, Umrao was possessed by the hanged freedom fighter's restless spirit. Freedom started to mean a great deal to Umrao, he sympathised with the India-Germany group and busied himself with conspiring against the British. While other notables of his clan bent over backwards to help the 'Company' prolong its hold over India, Umrao felt he was a nationalist opposed to unjust colonisation.

Leaving the 'Company' of the British

The Germans used the India-Germany group to raise troops to invade India through the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). They chose Raja Mahendra Partap to head the movement. An expedition under Von Hentig was despatched; it carried letters from Kaiser William II to the King of Afghanistan and from the German Government to various ruling princes of India.

In 1915, Raja Mahendra Partap's group travelled to Kabul to win over Afghanistan and have a German-Afghan army take over India. Mahendra Partap was in touch with Umrao Singh who was related to him through the Atari family. From Baghdad, Mahendra Partap wrote a disheartening letter to Umrao Singh. Wishing to boost his friend's morale, Umrao sent Mahendra a long reply.

The Germans had a liaison office at Shiraz. In the winter of 1916-17, the German party had to escape leaving behind all their possessions. In the baggage, the British found the letter Umrao wrote to Mahendra. Hence, the British Intelligence discovered Umrao's links with the revolutionary pro-independence Ghaddar Party whose members were active in Berlin between 1914 and 1917.

The consequences of being anti-British

Umrao's thoughts led him to anti-British activities. This resulted in the British confiscating all his estates in India. He was allowed a relatively modest remittance and debarred from any active involvement in politics. The repercussions of Umrao's political sympathies caused him to become a greater recluse.

Umrao only returned to India in 1921 after the general amnesty had been granted by the King for political offences during World War One. Umrao survived because he was well born, displayed forbearance, was scholarly, and valued life.

Others like Umrao knew that it was not through honesty, diplomacy or Christian ethics that the British Empire amassed wealth. Colonial rule was perpetuated by annexing properties of those who resisted. What was snatched from Babu Bandhu Singh was gifted to Umrao Singh's father and what was taken away from Umrao was rewarded to some other British loyalist. This robing-Peter-to-pay-Paul remained the central pillar of British policy.

When we deeply investigate many affluent families of this region, a most disturbing pattern emerges: 
they sided with the British and enriched themselves at the peoples' expense.

A star is born
Young Amrita sketching a man

Umrao Singh and Marie Antoinette had two daughters, Amrita and Indira. Amrita Sher-Gil was born at noon on 30 January 1913 in Budapest. She was baptised Amrita Antonia, as a Roman Catholic.

The family lived in Hungry for some years until the horrors of World War One unfolded. By 1918, food rationing had started, and Amrita's failing health due to Spanish Flu ('1918 flu pandemic') became worrisome. The flu reportedly killed 100 million people worldwide.

Indira was born on March 28th, 1914. Amrita became very devoted to her new baby sister and gave her all sorts of pet names derived from the animal world. Later she would accuse her parents of giving preferential treatment to Indira:

"I know Indu is your favourite, you do not care for me because I am ugly and I squint". Later, through an operation, her squint was removed and which partly restored her confidence in herself.
Irrespective of initial sibling rivalry, the girls formed a strong bond that would last a life time.

A painter by birth

Amrita showed great talent in drawing and painting since she was five years old. She also began to withdraw into her own world, read books instead of playing with toys, shunned the company of children and preferred adults.

The British, keeping in mind Umrao's nationalistic revolutionary streak, blocked his return to India. He became desperate to move back to India as conditions in Hungary became harsh and uncertain. His brother, who was well-connected with the British, helped clear the path for the return.

World War One ended in 1919. In 1921, after living in Hungary for ten years, the family set sail for India and stopped for two weeks in Paris. Here Amrita was mesmerised by the Louvre Museum's art collection which included Leonard De Vinci's Mona Lisa. She was only eight years old then.

From Bombay, the first family visited Delhi for two weeks and then Lahore for two months where they stayed with Umrao's brother Sunder. After dividing the property amongst his children from the first marriage, Umrao bought a house in Summer Hill (Simla) which he called L'Holme.

The Italian chiseller

Amrita's mother wanted both her daughters to learn playing the violin and the piano. Unable to force Amrita to take up music, she hired Major Whitmarsh to teach her art. He was replaced by Hal Bevan Petman who was thoroughly impressed with Amrita's drawing skills and recommended higher education abroad.

While Umrao was happy to return to India, Marie felt she was far away from Hungary. In 1923, she befriended Giulio Cesare Pasquinelli, an Italian sculptor. Since she spoke fluent Italian, she went on to speak the language of love with the married artist. When Umrao got suspicious she claimed, "He's helping out Amrita with art".

Soon thereafter, the sculptor left for Italy and Marie followed him with the girls to Venice under the pretext that she 'wanted Amrita enrolled at Santa Annunziata' art school.
Amrita in autochrome (Umrao Singh)

While Amrita was exposed to the works of Italian masters, Marie bared herself to the Italian lover. Amrita, being a precocious child, realised the move to Italy was not about art, and vented out her anger at the school which she thought was 'enormous, elegant but hateful.'

After five months, the sculptor got bored with chiselling Marie. When Amrita began drawing nudes, the art school threatened to expel her. With Marie's love and Amrita's art endangered, the three (Indira included) returned to Simla.

Pent up emotions

This dark chapter in young Amrita's life effected her deeply. Instead of becoming a nun she vented it out on religion, especially Roman Catholicism's pompous church ceremonies. While studying at Convent of Jesus and Mary, Amrita wrote to her father an atheistic letter which the Mother Superior used as evidence for expulsion from the school.

From 1924 to 1929, the family visited Benaras, Calcutta, Lucknow and Darjeeling in order to get to know India better.

In 1927 Amrita's Hungarian painter uncle, Ervin Baktay, came to India in pursuit of eastern religions and art. He encouraged Amrita to draw using live models which she did diligently. Using his criticism in a positive way, she greatly improved her drawing skills.

Attending art school in Paris

"All art, not excluding religious art, has come into being because of sensuality: a sensuality so great that it overflows the boundaries of the mere physical". —Amrita Sher-Gil
For further studies in art, Ervin encouraged Marie to send Amrita to Paris ('the Mecca of the art world'). The idea appealed to Marie but Umrao, having tasted trouble in Europe, agreed most reluctantly. From 1929 to 1934, the family lived in Paris for the sake of educating Amrita and Indira.
Amrita: looking French in Paris 
By 1929 Amrita was sixteen years old. Within months she learnt to speak French. Her friends thought she had amazing intelligence and attractive eastern looks.

Paris being the hotbed of artistic activity encompassed every conceivable art-form and expression. Amrita familiarised herself with the works of European painters like Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin. She started training and in 1934 obtained a degree in Fine Arts from the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

The mother again encouraged Amrita to take up music lessons but the child insisted on becoming a painter. The family took up residence near Champs-Élysées where Marie hosted lavish parties that attracted the crème de la crème of Paris. Umrao remained a book-worm and passive; his seclusion would cost the family dearly.

Amrita got tired of the 
realism and precision required for painting nudes. After falling out with her professor she suffered an appendicitis attack, got hospitalised and returned to her studies at the strict Grande Chaumiere institute. From there she migrated to École Nationale des Beaux-Arts where she began to breathe artistically.

From charcoals she soon switched over to painting oils. Professor Lucien Simon, her teacher, thought she would make him proud one day which she did eventually. Each year Amrita won the first prize for portraiture and still-life; her work focused on reality but not Parisian glamour. She won the Gold Medal from the Grand Salon in 1933 and was honoured by being appointed an associate member of the Société Nationale.

Amrita was now accepted in the world of art, she loved the Parisian night-life but also sympathised with the poor who roamed its streets. Amrita's mind was by now fully occupied with Parisian liberalism which led to her body craving for 'forbidden love'. She kept her apartment very open to those she knew; this led to activities that her mother protested against. 

The pot calling the kettle black

"You will think I am self-opinionated but I will stick to my intolerant ideas and to my convictions."
—Amrita Sher-Gil (1934, at age 21)

Amrita attempted to fill her emotional vacuum by becoming reckless in relations with men and even having 'more pure' relationships with women. Women began to appear in her work; they all looked lonely and fearful.

She continued to search for satisfactory relationships with men. Her mother expressed horror reading Amrita's candid admissions about sexuality in a letter. Marie herself was not a paragon of fidelity; she had one more extra-marital affair behind Umrao's back.

Amrita found out and confided in her sister Indira: "Mother is trying to make a scapegoat of me now, as she had done with the Italian sculptor". Both the sisters were on the same page of the sorry subject.

In order to keep the girls busy, the domineering mother took them to theatre and concerts, and arranged gatherings of musicians and writers. Amrita abhorred such gatherings because she felt she was 'being displayed'. She reacted by visiting off-beat and avant-garde theatres with artist friends; this made Marie very unhappy.

Deep down Amrita felt the emerging trends in art, such as 
Dadaism and Surrealism, were dehumanising, mechanical and too technology-inspired. She constantly compared her personal experience in India with what she saw in Paris.

Umrao did not spend enough quality time with his daughters, and the promiscuous European mother's liberalism corrupted Amrita's essentially Indian roots. She felt split between two worlds.

Paris, a city of bi-sexual lovers

Amrita's mother, while being unfaithful to Umrao Singh on two occasions, disapproved of her daughter's Bohemian life style. This led to Amrita writing 
love-letters to cousin Victor Egan in Hungary and secretly getting engaged.
Painting Yusuf Ali Khan (1930)
Wishing for Amrita to marry a wealthy respectable man, Marie found a suitable Muslim music-loving nobleman from the Upper Provinces, Yusuf Ali Khan. She pushed Amrita into an engagement with Yusuf but it only lasted a few months.

On August 25, 1931, Amrita wrote to her mother:
"Yusuf is far from being faithful. He looks at every good looking woman on the street. I'm concerned about a Mohammedan marriage leading to I ending up being one of Yusuf's many wives with no recourse. I am going to decide whether I want to marry him or not and it is me who will say by October the final yes or no".
Only twenty, she failed to ask herself one question: if the act of men-ogling-at-other-women is considered obnoxious behaviour, what do we call women-noticing-men-ogling-at-other-women?

First aristocratic pregnancy

Then quite suddenly, Sikh-Christian-Jewish Amrita broke off from her Muslim fiancé. The overt excuse was they 'had nothing in common'; the covert reason was she was pregnant.

The aristocrat gave her another going away present: a contagious sexually transmitted disease. Victor Egan, with whom Amrita had broken off earlier, came to rescue by curing the disease and aborting the baby in Budapest.

The unwanted pregnancy and abortion made Amrita fearful of being disfigured permanently. As if to avenge what life had hurled at her, she became more wayward, would not commit to a single man, felt 'always in love', fell 'out of love', or 'in love with someone else' before things became serious. After having a series of meaningless affairs, Amrita returned to showing affection towards Victor.

We do not know exactly which demon of sex had taken over Amrita's soul. Was it the Jewish Succubus, the Hindu Yakshini, or was it the Arabic QarinahAlien abductions had not come into the picture in the 1930s.
Maybe the aliens did it to Amrita

Who introduced Iqbal to Amrita?

According to Arif Rahman Chughtai (son of artist Abdur Rahman Chughtai, 1894-1975), it was Umrao Singh who introduced Chughtai to Amrita and which led to her taking up art. Did Chughtai later feel any remorse?

Arif reveals: "Dr Allama Iqbal was also present there and was introduced to Amrita". This event took place in Lahore.

Iqbal was also friends with the founder of the Ahmaddiya sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, with whom he frequently visited Mohkum-ud-Din's bakery on The Mall (Lahore) where they discussed politics and religion with the owner.

Arif mentions: "Amrita used to meet [Jawaharlal Nehru] at Faletti’s Hotel Lahore", and "everybody in Lahore knew of her exploits". Before Victor died, he "broke down and actually confessed to the crime [of poisoning Amrita]. More proof than that is not possible. But in any case the "father [Umrao Singh] did not want to pursue the same to police and court."
Umrao Singh with Iqbal (Paris, 1933)
Vivan Sundaram, Amrita’s nephew penned a book, Amrita Sher-Gil: A Self Portrait in Letters and Writings. He recalls: “When she met Nehru, she wrote to a friend about instant mutual attraction between the two."

The Faletti's Hotel still stands at Lahore. Perhaps the authorities need to identify that special room and affix a plaque which reads: "Amrita Sher-Gil and Indian Prime Minister Nehru slept here".

Iqbal's friendship with Umrao Singh

When British-educated and knighted nationalists were let loose on a confused Indian population, Iqbal grew disillusioned with the state of affairs. His earlier praise in pro-British poems, veiled love for Marxism and romantic poetry changed its tune in later works. Knowing that death was around the corner, he became exceedingly spiritual.

The British intelligence could not have disregarded Iqbal's thoughts and meetings with 'disaffected' Umrao Singh.

Iqbal's acquaintance with Amrita
Jawaharlal Nehru (1947)

In 1933, Allama Muhammad Iqbal met with Umrao Singh and his family in Paris and was photographed by Amrita. He was older to Amrita by 36 years, old enough to be her grandfather. Iqbal also met the family at Lahore. We do not know how comfortable Iqbal was with the 'common knowledge' about Amrita's exploits and sad reputation.

Today's bearded men and hijab-clad women of al-Bakistan ignore some facts: people during the pre-partition era mixed much more freely, respected each other's religions and festivals, and even intermarried. If Islam was not in danger then, how is it in danger now?
Amrita and Indira, 1931-32

Interestingly, Amrita's nephew, Vivan Sundaram defends her thus:

"She was unabashed about the uselessness of giving too much importance to bodily desires. She was eager to know other people’s minds, even if it meant reaching there through their bodies.”

Amrita's Indian soul felt trapped in a European body. She did not learn any Indian language and refused to show any sentiments of anti-colonial nationalism in her work despite knowing Iqbal and Nehru (who wanted socialism at home and capitalism abroad).

While Iqbal's philosophical poetry was becoming too revolutionary, Amrita's life was revolving too fast. She may have become attached to the poet's mind.

Second unwanted pregnancy

By 1934, Amrita was homesick and felt destiny awaiting her in India. She went to see Victor in Hungary but was devastated to find him with another woman. Betrayed and rejected, she indulged in indiscriminate sexual relations and again ended up being pregnant. There was a new twist this time: she did not know who the father was.

Victor again helped her abort the baby which required hospitalisation. Her condition worsened because of internal damage and she felt 'like an apple, all red from the outside but rotten inside'.

Back in India
"I don't in the least consider myself an immoral person. I am not immoral." —Amrita Sher-Gil (in a letter to her father)
Umrao ('Duci') Singh finally returned to India in 1934 to his estate in Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh). At his house in Summer Hill (Simla) he spent most of his time surrounded by books and engrossed in hobbies.

Unhappy with Amrita's decision to return to India, he feared she would tarnish the family's name with her bluntness and shameful exploits. In return, Amrita expressed dismay at her father whom she suspected of unnecessarily 'dramatizing the situation'. She felt India was her 'artistic destiny' and that there was 'so little time' left. Amrita knew her life would be short.

By the end of 1934 Amrita was back not with her parents in Simla but at her ancestral home in Amritsar. She renounced dresses worn by 'those people' (European) and started to wear saris. As if rejecting her European heritage, she even wrote to her mother about her new found love for the sari.

Immersing herself in all things Indian she found amazing subjects wherever she went. She discovered newer techniques while painting the dark, thin and silent Indian subjects.

From Simla, she wrote to Victor:

"In Europe I felt that I have to go away from this kind of greyness and from this strange light in order to be able to breathe. Here everything is natural. There I was not natural and honest because I was born with a certain thirst for colour and in Europe the colours are pale - everything is pale. The colour of the white man is different from the colour of the Hindu and the sunshine changes the light. The white man's shadow is bluish-purple while the Hindu has golden-green shadow. Mine is yellow. Van Gogh was told that yellow is the favourite colour of the gods and that is right."
Iqbal in Paris, 1933 (by Amrita Sher-Gil)
Although the Simla Fine Arts Society Exhibition was her first major show in India, Amrita was unhappy with the judges' choices and the brutality of the art critics. When she refused to accept an award and a cheque, the press clobbered her for arrogance and veiled insult of Indian artistic tastes.
"The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic." —Oscar Wilde

Genius is sorrow's child
“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.” —Oscar Wilde
After experiencing Parisian liberalism, was Amrita bowled over by the explicit ancient reliefs at Khajuraho? Did all that bare art in Indian temples light up the wrong fires in her?

In the follow-up articles we shall attempt to see how Amrita Sher-Gil, until her last day, kept releasing inner tensions through art and with eccentric behaviour.

* * *  End of PART 1  * * *

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017

Coming out soon: "The Fantastic Growth of Amrita"

Further reading
Iqbal At Close Range
Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The Times
Some of Amrita's paintings can be seen HER
E , HERE, anHERE (in pdf format)

No one must misconstrue the information presented here about Amrita Sher-Gil and other persons mentioned as disinformation or insults. All the information was meticulously collected and laboriously edited (after cross-checking) from numerous sources on the internet (without the use of proxy servers in Pakistan). If you feel something here needs to be amended, please email me the suggestions with credible references. Until then, whatever is written here shall be considered correct.

I visited hundreds of web sites while researching for material on Amrita Sher-Gil. While the text includes the 
most important web links (in blue colour), others have been listed below. Omissions, if any, were not made intentionally.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Iqbal At Close Range

One recent winter evening, as it rained heavily in Lahore, I sat down to collect from the internet, rare informal photographs of Allama Muhammad Iqbal.
Photographs pointed to certain names and they in turn led to deeper research.

By the number of clicks on Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The TimesI am convinced that global interest in Iqbal will never diminish.

Thinking or resting?

“My ancestors were Brahmins. They spent their lives in search of god. I am spending my life in search of man.” ―Muhammad Iqbal

School-teachers insist that in this most famous 'official' photograph, the 'poet of the east' was dreaming about Pakistan's creation. The fact is he was resting after a cold fatiguing walk in Paris in 1933. Thinking minds need rest too; the good doctor may have grown tired of philosophy and Persian poetry. After all, how much Nietzsche, Goethe, Hegel and Rumi can one swallow in a lifetime?

This famous photograph was taken by none other than controversial artist Amrita Sher-Gil who died mysteriously in Lahore in 1941. It was taken while Iqbal was visiting Paris. It is said that Iqbal disliked unacceptable photographs of himself being made public.

Love and marriage, like horse and carriage

Any poet bereft of love is unfit to be called a poet, let alone a human being. Iqbal was more than a man who downplayed his talent as a poet. To him poetry helped convey whatever was on his mind, and judging from his works, he had plenty to say both in private and in public.

Globally admired for fusing Islamic and political thoughts with Sufism and eastern nationalism, Iqbal still stands like a giant amongst modern poets. He was a deeply religious person who abhorred mullahs and bigotry from the core of his heart.
Amrita Sher-Gil (not Rekha)

Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot on Friday 9 November 1877. In 1879, infant Iqbal lost his right eye when leeches were applied as a traditional medical treatment. From the few close-up photographs that are available this cannot be confirmed as a fact.

In 1893, only aged 16, Iqbal was married off to a slightly older but a rich Kashmiri girl, Karim Bibi. He had just passed his matriculation (10th grade) then. Early marriages and having loads of children was the norm in those days. The ups and downs of life led Iqbal to marry thrice. He came close to taking the plunge for the fourth time as he adored two 'other' women whom he met in Europe.

The man behind Iqbal's education

Iqbal secured a 2nd Division (276 marks out of 570) in his F.A exams (12th grade) in 1895.

In 1897 he passed his B.A exams (14th grade) with a second Division but stood first in English Literature and Arabic.

In 1898, when Thomas Walker Arnold (1864-1930) moved from the M.A.O. College (Aligarh) to Government College (Lahore), Iqbal was his only student in M.A. Philosophy. Iqbal either failed the exam once in his first attempt or he did not appear at all. By his 21st year, he was a father.

Iqbal in his youth
From 1917 to 1920, Thomas Walker Arnold acted as Adviser to the Secretary of State for India and was Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, from 1921 to 1930. He became the first English editor for the first edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam and was made Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1912. By 1921, Thomas became a knight.

I was lucky enough to find in my father's collection of books, an abridged version of the same book: Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam, published in 1953. It contains material that if reproduced will invite instant death threats to its deceased writers.

Thomas also taught Syed Sulieman Nadvi (1884-1953) and was a close friend of Shibli Nomani (1857-1914) at Aligarh University. In 1909 he was appointed Educational Adviser to Indian students in Britain. That post enabled him to select and groom students expected to be helpful to the British Crown's long-term plans.

The connection between the educators and the educated somehow always ran deep in the British education system. Thomas was also a good friend of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) who asked him to write the book titled: The Preaching of Islam.

Further higher studies

In 1898, Iqbal appeared for obtaining a degree in law but failed the paper on Jurisprudence. Being the only candidate in the subject, in 1899 he secured 3rd Division and a medal in M.A. (Philosophy). He applied for the post of McLeod Arabic Reader at Oriental College, where Thomas was to become the acting Principal.

Having graduated in 1899 from Government College Lahore, Iqbal reported on duty from 5 May for a salary of Rs.74/Annas 14 per month. He would serve this institution in intervals right up to 1903.

By 1900, Iqbal had received considerable recognition for reciting his poem, ‘The Orphan’s Lament’ in the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam.
Thomas Walker Arnold
His request for reappearing in the degree for law without attending the classes was once again refused. His first known paper, ‘The Concept of Absolute Unity’ was printed in The Indian Antiquary.

In 1901, Iqbal was temporarily appointed Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department of Government College for a month for a salary of Rs. 200 per montha fantastic sum in those days. He again got the lucrative position in 1902 at the Department of English till his resignation in late 1908 (at the end of a long leave of absence that started in September 1905).

He wrote a lengthy elegy for Queen Victoria; recited ‘The Orphan’s Address to the Crescent of Eid’ in the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam and temporarily took up teaching English Literature at Islamia College (a venture of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam).

Iqbal received wide recognition from the publication of his poem ‘The Himalaya’ in the first issue of Makhzan, a romantically inclined literary magazine that soon became the main outlet for his poems. He appeared for public service examination for the post of Extra Assistant Commissioner but got rejected on medical grounds apparently due to his defective right eye.

National poet
"Nations are born in the hearts of poets; they prosper and die in the hands of politicians." —Muhammad Iqbal
By 1904 Iqbal had written the Indian National Anthem 'Sarey jahan say acha, Hindustan hamara' and which won him instant national acclaim. The custodians of Pakistan's national zeal always find it difficult to swallow one fact: all founding fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers of Pakistan were Indians; so are most of the octogenarians alive today.

Ask yourselves this: why must hating the past, especially ancient pagan history and India, become a national pastime? To imagine we will snatch back Bangladesh from alienated Bengalis or hoist a Pakistani flag over the Red Fort in New Delhi may create vain hope but realists treat these as cruel jokes worth crying over. 

Iqbal in khussas (Heidelberg, 1907)
By 1906, Iqbal was thoroughly impressed with Kemal Ataturk whose Young Turks movement (backed by the Freemasons) effectively put an end to the Khilafah of the Ottoman Empire. Unflinching support to Ataturk came from the House of Saud whose agents blew up rail tracks to promote rebellion and anarchy. Later attempts to revive this dead Ottoman horse through the Khilfat Movement across India met with utter failure.

Two ladies, one man

In 1907, Iqbal ran into Atiya Fyzee in London and then Emma Wegenast at the University of Munich, Germany. He returned to London after obtaining a PhD in Arabic from Munich to temporarily replace Thomas Arnold as teacher of Arabic during his absence from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University.

It is obvious, without Thomas' support, Iqbal might have achieved success but certainly not such dizzying heights.

Going political

By January 1908, Iqbal had resigned from the post of Assistant Professor at Government College (Lahore) to join the All India Muslim League (London Branch) in July.

He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, and afterwards arrived in Lahore to apply for practice in the Lahore Chief’s Court and to set up an office.

By the year's end he had published 'Political Thought in Islam’, attended the annual session of Mohammedan Educational Conference at Amritsar and joined the delegation of Kashmiri Muslims.

1909 saw Iqbal resume activities in the Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam (Lahore) and elected General Secretary to the newly formed Anjuman Kashmiri Musalmanan.
Development of Metaphysics in Persia (Cambridge)
He reluctantly agreed to teach Philosophy at Government College (Lahore) through special arrangement with the Secretary of State who directed the courts to hear Iqbal’s cases after his classes in the morning. Iqbal took charge of classes on October 12 and continued till end of the next year. Iqbal also joined the editorial committee of Indian Cases Law Reports, a specialized magazine from Lahore.

Becoming poetic
“Look at the evils of the world around you and protect yourself from them. Our teachers give all the wrong messages to our youth, since they take away the natural flare from the soul. Take it from me that all knowledge is useless until it is connected with your life, because the purpose of knowledge is nothing but to show you the splendours of yourself!” ―Muhammad Iqbal
In 1910, Iqbal was nominated Fellow to the University of Punjab and started writing his notebook: Stray Reflections. He married Sardar Begum, but postponed the consummation of marriage.

In 1911, Iqbal recited 'the famous poem 'The Complaint’ (Shikwah) at the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam and presided over the annual session of the Mohammedan Educational Conference at Delhi where he was garlanded by Shibli Nomani on behalf of the Muslims of India.
Laughing at a crying ummah
By 1912 Iqbal was sparing no opportunity to recite poems at various high-profile meetings. His poem ‘An Answer to the Complaint’ (Jawab-e-Shikwah) was used for fundraising for the Turks during the Balkan War.

In 1913, for the third time, Iqbal married Mukhtar Begum from Jalandhar. His previous second marriage to Sardar Begum was also consummated.

1914 saw Iqbal lose his mother, Imam Bibi, and daughter, Meraj Bano.

In 1916, Iqbal complained of kidney pain but continued to write and remain active politically.

By 1919, he was appointed Dean of Oriental Faculty at the University of Punjab and became General Secretary of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam. He attended the joint session of the Khilafat Conference and the All India Muslim League in Amritsar in which Hakeem Ajmal Khan, M. K. Gandhi and the Ali Brothers participated.

In 1921, he visited Kashmir for the first time for about a fortnight to plead a case.

A strict knight at home

By 1923, Iqbal was knighted by King George. In 1930 at Allahabad, he is known to have openly advocated the idea of a separate Muslim state to be carved out of India yet he wrote a letter to the Times of London stating something radically different. Iqbal had changed.

In 1924, Iqbal's son, Javed Iqbal, was born to his second wife, Sardar Begum. His third wife, Mukhtar, died during childbirth in the same month.

Javed Iqbal was called 'Bubba' and 'Jeddy' in two Punjabi poems written by Iqbal on his 5th birthday. Javed went on to become the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, got elected to the Supreme Court, served as a Senator, and saw Iqbal as "a very strict father, as was the custom in those days".

Javed was not allowed to wear western clothing or hats, refrain from buying tailoring cloth that was more than Rs.1 per yard, remain at home after sunset, not watch movies, avoid buying shoes that cost more than Rs 8, and never wear shorts (knickers). Javed and Iqbal's servant witnessed events both of a spiritual and supernatural nature such as claiming to meet famous personalities from the past.

Facing accusations

In 1926, vile accusations were hurled at Iqbal through posters pasted over the walls of Lahore. This was done by his political rival, Malik Din Muhammad, during the Punjab Legislative Council elections. Iqbal did not get mad; he got even by being elected.
Iqbal At Shimla (1922)

The vile tales were later spun further by implicating Iqbal in a supposed murder committed during college days. Those who hate Iqbal always recall this imaginary event.

One may also hear about Iqbal's alleged affection for a singing girl Ameer Begum around 1903. In the same year, Iqbal saw his brother Atta Muhammad, getting arrested on charges of financial corruption. The poet travelled to Quetta to help him out.

The last decade
When truth has no burning, then it is philosophy, when it gets burning from the heart, it becomes poetry. Muhammad Iqbal
In 1927, Iqbal joined the Shafi faction that supported separate electorates for the Muslims, against the Jinnah faction that opposed this idea. The All India Muslim League was ideologically split.

In 1928, after speaking out against injustices inherent in the methods of agricultural taxation, Iqbal visited Delhi for treatment of the kidneys by Hakeem Nabina. Later he travelled to South India for lecturing on reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.

By 1929 Iqbal was delivering lectures on ‘Knowledge and Religious Experience’, ‘The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of the Religious Experience’, ‘The Conception of God and the Meaning of Prayer’. The ruling Nizam of Hyderabad Deccan heard Iqbal speak on the necessity of a deeper study of the Quran. Later his article, ‘A Plea for Deeper Study of the Muslim Scientists’ was published in Islamic Culture (Hyderabad Deccan).

Although Iqbal's name was turned down for appointment as Justice to the Lahore High Court (former Lahore Chief Court), he was conferred at Aligarh with honorary DLitt.

In 1930, his younger daughter Munira 'Bubbi' Bano was born after which he went on a lecture tour. In the same year, his father Sheikh Noor Muhammad died in Sialkot.

Iqbal presided over the annual session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad, suggesting the amalgamation of the north-western Muslim majority provinces of India for a balance of power in the region and renaissance of Islamic thought.
With son Javed Iqbal (1925)
Meetings with leaders and dictators

In 1931, Iqbal met with leaders at All India Muslim Conference, and with others at Bhopal who were called by the ruler of Nawab Hamidullah Khan to facilitate consensus on the issue of joint electorate versus separate electorate. Iqbal being one of the convenors celebrated Kashmir Day on August 14 to support the protest movement in the valley.

Pakistan came into being on 27 Ramadan 1366 Hijrah (the night between 14 and 15 August 1947); this is not a well-known fact. Jinnah announced the creation of Pakistan on 15 August 1947. Odd as it may seem, his estranged daughter, Dina Wadia, was also born between the night of 14 and 15 August (1919).

To attend the 2nd Round Table Conference, he stopped at Delhi and Bombay on his way to London. As the ‘Minority Pact’ was formed, Iqbal dissociated himself from the Conference. He attended a reception at Cambridge and informed the Secretary of State about his decision to leave the Conference.

Iqbal left for Italy where he met the deposed king of Afghanistan, Ameer Amanullah, to whom he had dedicated Payam-e-Mashriq. He delivered a lecture at the Royal Academy (Rome), met with Mussolini, visited Egypt, and then travelled to Palestine by train to participate in the Islamic Conference. After staying at Jerusalem he returned to Lahore via Bombay and Delhi.

In 1932, Javednama was published. To honour the poet, the first Iqbal Day was celebrated under auspices of the Islamic Research Institute, Lahore.

Iqbal presided over the All India Muslim Conference (Lahore) and delivered an address. He asked the Sikh community to see the communal problem in the larger perspective of constitutional progress in India. He left for London via Bombay to participate in the 3rd Round Table Conference where a reception was given by the National League (London). He left for Paris where he met Bergson.

In 1933, Iqbal arrived in Spain and visited Cordoba, Granada, and Seville and delivered a lecture titled ‘Spain and the Intellectual World of Islam’ at Madrid University.

Iqbal returned to Paris to board a ship for India from Venice and arrived in Bombay to return to Lahore. He presided over extensive lectures by Ghazi Rauf Pasha, dissident colleague of Ataturk in Jamia Millia College, Delhi.

He resigned from the All India Kashmir Committee and visited Afghanistan on invitation from King Nadir Shah to advise educational reforms. Sir Ross Masud (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's grandson) and Syed Sulieman Nadvi were also invited. Iqbal was offered Honorary DLitt by the University of Punjab.
At Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Tipu's grave (1929)

Towards the end

In 1934, his fatal illness started after eating vermicelli with curd on the Eid Day. 

He was invited by Oxford University for a Rhodes lecture; Iqbal chose ‘Time and Space in Muslim Thought’ as his topic but it was found unsuitable by the University, and the lecture could never happen eventually due to his prolonged illness. 

He visited Sirhind with son, Javed Iqbal (aged 10) and was elected President of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam. After construction of a new residence ‘Javed Manzil’ started, he visited Aligarh to deliver a lecture and was conferred an Honorary DLitt degree.

In 1935, after the publication of 'Wings of Gabriel (Baal-e-Jibreel), Iqbal presided over extensive lectures by Halida Adeeb Khanum, dissident colleague of Ataturk at Jamia Millia College, Delhi.

It seems odd that while Iqbal was impressed with modern Turkey's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, he wholeheartedly supported the dissident camp. What was he thinking?

Iqbal proceeded to Bhopal for electrotherapy in Hamidia Hospital and consulted with Hakeem Nabina in Delhi on the way back from Bhopal. Construction of his new residence, Javed Manzil, had come to an end now.

‘Qadianism and Orthodox Muslims’ was published in The Statesman (Calcutta) as Iqbal’s rejoinder to the Governor of Punjab’s advice to the Muslims. Iqbal’s statement launched a series of arguments.

The poet shifted to Javed Manzil and soon afterwards his wife, Sardar Begum, died. Iqbal was issued a stipend of Rs.500 per month by Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal. The poet undertook a second trip to Bhopal for electrotherapy and participated in the Centenary of poet Hali (1835–1914) in Panipat.

Iqbal was suspected of being a closet Ahmadi due to his initial reverence for Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian but he moved away from the man's ideology after finding out the truth behind his spirituality and tall public claims. A few members of Iqbal's family, however, remained staunch Ahmadis. In 1936, Iqbal wrote ‘Islam and Ahmadism’ as a rejoinder to Jawaharlal Nehru’s criticism on Iqbal’s previous statement.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Iqbal at Javed Manzil, Lahore.

After getting elected as President of the Punjab Muslim League, Iqbal made efforts to organize a provincial Parliamentary Board for the party through which the League could unite the Muslims of the province.

Iqbal recited the Urdu poem Khudi ka sirr-e-nihan, La ilaha il Allah (Heavenly Tune) at the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam, which turned out to be his last public performance. His last long Urdu poem Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shoora (Satan’s Parliament) has the devil confessing:
Hyderabad Deccan with student's federation
It was I who made the Europeans dream of global dominance.

After Zarb-e-Kaleem was published, an Honorary DLitt was conferred by Dacca University. Iqbal's last Persian mathnavi, Pas Ch Bayad Kerd, was published (coupled with previously published Musafir two months later).
By 1937, he consulted again with Hakeem Nabina as the kidney ailment had turned severe and was affecting both the eyesight and the voice. Even an Honorary DLitt conferred by Allahabad University could not ease his pain.

Iqbal received his last Honorary DLitt degree in 1938 from Usmania University, Hyderabad Deccan. ‘On Islam and Nationalism’ was published in Ehsan, Lahore.

The 'DLitt' honours

All in all, Iqbal was conferred with no less than five DLitt honorary degrees in his lifetime by the University of Punjab, Aligarh Muslim University, Dacca University, Allahabad University and Usmania University (Hyderabad Deccan).

Courage in death

“The highest stage of Man's ethical progress is reached when he becomes absolutely free from fear and grief.” ―Muhammad Iqbal

On the last evening Iqbal was surrounded by close friends. When he complained of pain and was spitting blood, his friend Hakim Muhammad Hassan Qarshi, asked him if he wanted a morphine injection to help him sleep, Iqbal courageously announced, "I don't wish to be unconscious when death comes to me; I want to experience that moment".

The able physician went away but later during the night when he was again sent for, nobody answered the door. Earlier that day, Iqbal recited from Baang-e-Dara' his Urdu adaptation of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Farewell O worldly companions! I am going to my homeland
I am feeling unhappy in this well‐populated wilderness

Trusted servant, Ali Bukhsh was with Iqbal when he complained of chest pain. The same night Iqbal allowed his 8 year old daughter, Munira, to sleep next to him; the child's sixth sense told her that something was about to happen. Early in the morning, Dr. Sir Sheikh Allama Muhammad Iqbal breathed his last on Thursday 21 April in Lahore, aged only 61.
Iqbal's honorary grave at Konya, Turkey


The sad news spread like wild fire in Lahore and thousands gathered for his funeral procession and last rites. Long bamboos were tied to the sides of the charpayi on which his body was laid so that as many people as was possible could carry his body to its last abode.

Iqbal, it was inferred from his poetry, wished to be buried under the shadow of a mosque. His close friends decided that he be buried at the foot of the historic Badshahi Mosque. A great difficulty arose at the time of his burial.

Two funeral prayers were offered, one in the Islamia College ground (Fleming Road) and the other at the Badshahi Mosque. The Chief Minister of Lahore, Sir Sikander Hayat who was in Calcutta, rejected via telegram the proposed burial site. When the public approached the British Governor of Punjab, Sir Henry Duffield Craik (1876-1955), he approved of the burial which took place at night.

Iqbal's mausoleum at Lahore is based on an Afghan-Moorish design. Oddly, an honorary grave of Iqbal exists at Konya, Turkey. Iqbal had great reverence for poet Jalaluddin Rumi (of Mevlevi Sufi Order of the 'whirling dervishes').

Iqbal on western atheism and materialism

While arm-chair philosophers and drawing-room geniuses of Pakistan never tire of advocating imitation of the western idea of 'separation of the church and the state', let us see what Iqbal said on the subject when invited to Cambridge University to participate in a conference in 1931:
Iqbal At Cordoba (1933)
"I would like to offer a few pieces of advice to the young men who are at present studying at Cambridge, I advise you to guard against atheism and materialism. The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic materialism.

I had twenty-five years ago seen through the drawbacks of this civilization and therefore, had made some prophecies. They had been delivered by my tongue although I did not quite understand them. This happened in 1907. ... After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European nations in the separation of the Church and the State." 

Iqbal warned:
Jalaal-e-paadshahi ho ya jamhoori tamasha hoJuda ho deen siyasat se to reh jati hai changezi
And which means:
[Whether it is] the rule of a strict and angry monarch or the circus of politicians [in the name of democracy]When [God's] religion [of a righteous path] is separated from politics [system of government]All that is left is Changezi [barbaric tribal anarchic misrule]
* * * 
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017

Further reading
The Artistic Youth Of Amrita
Allama Iqbal: A Letter to The Times

If I were to list all the references the old-fashioned away right here, this article would be twice its current size. The web links (URLs) have been included in the text. Just click on the words in blue colour and you will reach those other pages that contain either the text used (after laborious editing) or more information. Omissions, if any, were not made intentionally.

Photo of Amrita Sher-Gil
Citizens Archive of Pakistan
An extensive timeline of Allama Iqbal’s life
Photot of honorary grave of Iqbal (Konya, Turkey)
Photo of Cambridge University Ph.D Certificate

No one must misconstrue the information presented here about Iqbal as disinformation or insults. The information here was meticulously collected (after cross-checking) from numerous sources on the internet (without the use of proxy servers in Pakistan). If you feel something here needs to be amended, please email me the suggestions with believable references. Until then, whatever is written here shall be considered correct.