Dr Abdullah Chaghatai

As time passes history is often lost. When people do not write about events in their life, or in the life of the icons of the country, sooner or later facts turn into myths, and more often into a bunch of unrelated facts and figures. So much has been written about the artist M.A. Rahman Chughtai in his life time and afterwards, but the majority of information known today is based on the research of Chughtai Museum itself. Even the previous writers writing about him, knew some aspects and hardly knew more. The dearth of knowledge stands there.

So when Aleena Javed of the University of Punjab called here with a M. Phil topic on Dr Abdullah  Chaghatai, I realized how little is available on Dr Abdullah Chaghatai. The people who knew him are dead, the books he wrote no longer available at usual places, the articles in various newspapers totally  not traceable, and even his grave in Miani qabarastan untraceable by most. The two PTV interviews probably not saved at all. Not even one memorial volume or article on him. And the major reason was that his next generations were least interested in him. The reason he lived in his own house at 15 F Gulberg 2, Lahore, but he had no enormous bank balances to show for his life dedicated to history of Islamic Art and Architecture. And, certainly to the city of his ancestors, Lahore. In real terms his family in materialistic terms thought he wasted his life in needless pursuits.  They were not proud of his heritage is proven by the fact that obviously his library got sold (National Library Islamabad), but the other books, manuscripts, archives, correspondence, certificates, photographs, inscriptional direct copies (of most Islamic buildings in Indian region), real pack loads of material, disappeared in the air. His grandsons sold his shop in Urdu Bazaar for a huge sum. Some material given to kabarias, and his unsold books forsaken to radi walas. Not one family member can be approached to get information. The last living son a heart patient, no longer accessible to others. Can actually speak little. And himself sad at the state of affairs. This was immediately realized by Aleena Javed.
I feel sad in him being forsaken. There is no doubt that he was most dedicated to his subject and spent whatever he had on his mission to write a splendid history of Islamic civilization. All must salute him for that. But he was hot tempered, and made few friends in his life. In this extent his sibling rivalry with his elder brother was phenomenal. He opposed his brother throughout his life, can be understood from the fact, that when President Ayub Khan visited the house of the artist in 1959, Dr Abdullah Chaghatai could fume with rage and wrote against the visit in “Imroze” newspaper. Up to the best of my knowledge he did not talk with his brother for perhaps something like 30 years, a life time indeed. A few days before his death M.A. Rahman Chughtai made a personal request to him to come and pay him a visit and he did, and instead of being friendly and sympathetic, ended up fighting with him again, when he was literally on his death bed. I was a witness to all this and later on when on a visit to London, his son Ahad Chughtai told me a completely false tale, that Chughtai sahib had invited his brother to beg forgiveness for the trouble given to him and his wife all his life. That was indeed very malignant, when I knew better. That was the reason that M.A. Rahman Chughtai in a published book of short stories, ‘Kajal’ , directly accused his brother of always opposing his writings. But the opposition was definitely for a reason. The aim was that M.A Rahman Chughtai was without children and after his death, his property would be inherited amongst others, by Dr Abdullah Chaghatai himself. So, by fate of luck, M.A. Rahman Chughtai did get married and had children, it was a cruel blow to those who were planning otherwise. There was real resentment behind all this for the wrong reasons. In 1938 all three brothers shifted from the Chabuk Sawaran house to the new house, and lived together. But the brother’s marriage in 1944, prompted Abdullah to leave the house in actual disgust,  and went back to his ancestral house in Kocha Chabuk  Sawaran. Later he shifted to the residence in Gulberg, and the calamity fell on the house in Chabuk Sawaran, for a water tap was left open, the water filled the house, and finally the house collapsed one day. There were ancestral relics and things still in the house.

Dedication Kajal 1941

Not that other people who visited him came back enriched. He was reluctant to share books, share knowledge, or even give directions to others. He would borrow books, never to return them. Even Librarian Lahore Museum complained of this. He forcibly took a manuscript from Khalil-ur-Rahman Daudi, never to return. And even some archival material he could sell for peanuts, like the Iqballian letters he sold to Mumtaz Hassan. And,  he could be normally pleasant to some people but he was allergic to researchers, and felt that they were encroaching upon his basic rights. I myself know that he would mislead people who asked for directions to the South, to give them directions to the North. It is a fact, that more often he even misquotes references, so that others may not reach the same point. And sometimes create historical facts and dates, which can be proven in his books even. Not only was he wrong about dates, he could create dates when it suited him. He possessive about his knowledge, and he was never in a mood to share it. The antagonism of researchers like Khalid Mahmood, and Dr Anjum Rehmani is well known, and can be understood by their tirade against him in their writings, which I feel is unfair. He did help them in a way. He irritated Sir Akbar Hydari, Prime Minister of Hyderabad Deccan, and was Persona non Grata to that place for some years. He annoyed Dr Nazir Ahmad of Aligarh terribly for writing about his family. Helping me was unthinkable. Not me. When I asked him to show me a book, he showed it to me in his own hands. I was amazed at this ruthlessness of research on his part. All the more when I shared with him hundreds of my independent findings on common subjects. When I asked him for documents, he said they can never be found. When I found them, he was ever ready to use them with two unplanned articles in “Nawai waqt” newspaper, Lahore; without any intimation to me. It went to the extent that he never gave me a clue to some information he had, although I requested him many times. He died with that valuable information intact. And the finale was that he had his son Abdul Khaliq turn me away at the door, when I visited him, with materials to give to him. The son told me never to visit their house again. The funny part is that after his death after many years, the son came to the museum premises and apologized for that happening (in fact he came many times before his operation). I said nothing and said it was okay. I do not carry grudges on my shoulders. Felt it was sweet of him to do so. I would not even mention same. All forgiven! Like his family members, he is a very honest person. It requires honesty to tell me that the next generation cares nothing about their family past.

But this is getting too long for one blog. I feel that there has to be a few more on him. Just wait for first time revelations on him and his career and his personality. There is no doubt that he was utmost hard working, honest, dedicated to his mission, but so possessive with what he had, that he would die before sharing it with others. Dr Abdullah Chaghatai took pride in spending so many years with Dr Allama Iqbal, but he was not Iqballian in his thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, in the end very sectarian in his views. Allah bless him!  My view is that truth must be told before it gets lost in the annals of history itself. A scholar who was a Master of his subject, became controversial due to petty rivalries of his mind. With a walking stick in his hand, and a red Rumi topee on his head, he always made waves. We pray for him and his soul!


  1. I delivered the news of his brothers death and he made the mistake of thinking the day was 18th January, not 17th.

  2. Dear Pasha sahab,

    Some of these things were unbeknownst to me and I am grateful to you for making this information public and immortal; but I am quite terribly sorry, if my maternal grandfather Mr. Abdul Ahad Chughtai (Architect, Oxon) told you something, he was without a doubt telling the truth. He had nothing to lose and certainly no reason to lie. I cannot imagine him ever telling anything but the truth. For me, he is an inspiration, and it is because of him, I am successful (not trying to sound narcissistic but successful in my own sight) today. I am an engineering researcher at one of the top Semiconductor companies of the world and I have a knack for perfection when it comes to illustrations and engineering drawings – something I picked up from him observing him working on his blueprints on his easel stands/drawing boards. And my mother, Mrs. Riffat Shahid née Chughtai (MFA Punjab) tried her best to carry the legacy forward by painting western art in oil.

    The part about Khaliq is certainly true. I have heard the same tale indeed: turning Pasha back from the door in a fit of rage.

    Thanks very much indeed,

  3. Undoubtedly Dr Abdullah Chaghatai was a man of honour,dignity,patience and as a research scholar as much as i read about him i came to know much more about him and his family. With the help of Sir Arif Rahman Chugtai i completed my thesis on Dr Abdullah Chaghatai ,i am really thankful to him.
    May Allah bless Dr Abdullah Chaghatai!
    The personalities like him are assest for the nation and they should be remebered, it may help us to uplift our knowledge.

    1. Dear Aleena Javed, I am a researcher doing work on a book I believe was written by Dr. Abdullah Chughtai, Sarguzisht-i Khat-i Nastaliq. Would you be willing to speak with me about your research? My name is Megan Robb – you can contact me at . Thank you sincerely and I hope to hear from you.

        1. Would you be able to identify a picture of Dr. Abdullah Chughtai from his time at Mayo School of Art? My grandfather was very good friends with him when they were at Mayo School together. I have a photograph of my grandfather with his friend from early 1900 and am wondering if it could be Dr. Abdullah Chughtai.

  4. mr no man i read your comment it looks … its a family dispute . I know abdul khaliq chughtai he is very decent and pious man and when ever he talked about mr arif he always admire him and prais him ,its very strange to read this? you are not a successful if your mother didnt tell you to respect elders. apna jhagra apna gher tak rekhey.

  5. Mr. Arif Rahman Chughtai,

    I just emailed you the photograph via the email address you provided on April 14, along with some background information on my grandfather.

    Best regards

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