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!




The initial date of the mausoleum (or year of death) is 1008 AH or 1599 AD, and the next one is given as 1024 AH or 1615 AD. A Mughal Prince in 1599, and a full-fledged Emperor in 1615. The sorrow remained fresh for 16 years, and proves that the sentiments of royalty were not fickle and went away with time. Catherine B. Asher writes that:

“The tomb….has several features that depart from those of other Imperial tombs. A central domed chamber follows a familiar plan.”

But what is unusual is that in most mausoleum, standing in the central domed chamber, we see the inside of the dome high up the ceiling. Although the top layer is camouflaged by lower layer, but the inside layer is as curved as the upper one. Here the shape of the lower dome is more Sultanate in style, and the upper dome more bulbous. The later bulbous domes reveal all that. But inside the upper dome is a huge empty space, that we usually do not see in other similar architectural designs. We know that it has been studied by so many professionals, but they have not pointed out this aspect of the design. In my opinion it shows that there was a mausoleum made by the Prince for his wife Sahib Jamal, and later as an Emperor, he had it enlarged in true royal size. The dates seem to confirm that. For 16 years is too long a time for a mausoleum like that to be built under royalty.

Different double dome Sahib Jamal

In 1847 a map was made of Lahore, and at number 42, it shows Anar Kullee. But amazingly at 41, it shows Anar Kullee Nullah, that is the nullah which came from River Ravi was named after Anarkalli. But later on, we have Purani Anarkalli, where we still have an ages old police station, recently restored. And then the modern Anarkalli bazaar, which made the myth of Anarkalli famous in the inhabitants of Lahore. Then the drama writers, film makers, song writers took over the romance of the tale of a Prince with a slave girl (modified from the original that the slave girl was the concubine of his father and mother of his step brother).

The Nullah from river Ravi, the first pathway, and then the new bazaar, who was responsible for all this. Why? We know there was a Bagh Anaran here, full of Pomegranate trees. But these renaming things is certainly a conspiracy of the Gora Sahib in implementing fake history in this region, and there are plenty of examples of this hybrid war through the centuries.




The Punjab was the last to fall in British hands. They had already occupied other areas through ruse and strategy. Came as the East India Company and picked up the whole region through ruthlessness of character. We talk of fifth and six generation wars now, those 5000 or so white visitors knew this beforehand. Debase the region’s concepts and sense of values. One was the cultural onslaught. The list is endless. Royal titles were given for most menial jobs like Khansama, Mahtar, and the like, and the Royal costumes given to the waiters and chowkidars outside their hotels. To undermine the culture and their way of life, iconic persons were put to target. One is the fascination with the story of Anarkalli.William Finch if he ever came to Lahore, never had access to the Mughal Court, all as a trader, he could sit in the bazaar and talk with common people. And he could weave stories of his own. Sigmund Freud has talked of people like him, with repressed sexual fantasies. Writers and film makers spun romantic tales of a Prince with a Slave girl, but that was not what Finch reported in his journal. He talked of a Slave girl namely Nadira, who was the concubine of Emperor Akbar, and father of one of his sons, Danyal Baksh. Prince Saleem, in whose front were the entire beauties of the region, could find no rest, except having an illicit relation with his mother. Can anyone in our culture even believe this concept? Mothers are the most sacred institution in our culture. In no way can we imagine a young Prince being so imbecile to have designs on his mother. But William Finch had a deep-rooted Oedipus Complex and sitting in Bazaar at Tandoors, all he could fantasize was such a relation. And he had the gall to attach it to a monument being built by Emperor Jahangeer to his beloved wife Sahib Jamal. And that thing stuck as an unknown act of self-defilement, sitting alone in his tent at night. It would have eroded with time.


But as men at that time, as well as men of this time or any time, vulnerable to being funded to control their research and viewpoints. Even if we look at things in our most objective way, we find humiliation of graves all the time. (that later)
William Finch records his views as this:
“Passing the Sugar Gonge is a fair Masjid built by Sheikh Fareed beyond (without the town, in the way to the Gardens) is a fair monument for Don Shah’s mother, one of the Akbar’s wives, with whom it is said Shah Selim had to do (her name was Immacque Kelle, or Pomgranate kernel, upon notice of which King Akbar caused her to be enclosed quick within a wall in his moholl, where realized, and the King Jahangir in token of his love, command a sumptuous tomb to be built of stone in the midst of a four square garden richly walled with a gate and divers rooms over. The convex of the tomb he had the willed to be wrought in works of gold with a large fair jointer with rooms overhead.”

Common sense dictates that how can a son have a sumptuous monument built for his mother as a beloved, with carved sentiments of love on it. It would promote the wrath of the people and they would have stoned him at every sight. But Finch is a WHITE MAN whose lies are acceptable centuries after his death. A psychologist told me that actually it shows William Finch as deeply in rooted in his own Oedipus complex. ANGREZ SACH BOLTA HAI. My foot. He needed psychological help and lessons in cultural history of this region. Let us see what Finch says about Islam:
“All this is nonetheless show as such with the King about Christianity he affirming before his nobles that it was the soundest faith and that of Mahomet lies and fables”.

Can you believe Jahangeer saying this in front of his nobles? There would be an immediate uprising in the Court itself. The political gimmick of his nephews embracing Christianity dissolved into air when they came back from Goa.

Now comes the question as to the body (bones) of Sahib Jamal. C. Grey was the first to write the story of Anarkalli, in the Punjab University Historical journal, and points out:
‘When the tomb was converted to a christen church in 1852, the body was removed and reburied the left-hand tower facing the mausoleum where it still remains, not far from the tombstone which ones covered the grave within the building”.

Now a historian like C. Grey writing this, it immediately came to the attention of people in power. Saadullah, the Keeper of Punjab Archives, a perfect gentleman, and a close friend of the Chughtai family, reacted to this sharply. I personally think it got the attention of even the Governor Emerson, who himself was very much interested in literature and history of events in Punjab. (Khan Bahadur title was given by him to Chughtai artist in 1934). A secret order (to avoid British embarrassment) was generated to remove the bones of Sahib Jamal from the left turret of the mausoleum and bury them properly in the middle where they belonged. In 1908 Tahir ud din, later Munshi of Dr Allama Iqbal, during repair of the tomb, had discovered another sarcophagus under 15 feet of the floor level, and both were placed side by side. . And we have a witness to this, that is a Master carpenter Umar Din, who was in his late eighties in 1981, when he was working at the Chughtai Museum. He himself saw the dug center of the mausoleum and saw a wall like construction about 15 feet below the surface (as all Mughal ladies are buried like this). He was probably there to make a coffin for the lady, and had tales to tell, but we were not able to listen to all of them. According to Keeper Archives, Saadullah this was done between 1934 and 1940. It is more possible to be around 1938, but it was not recorded. For in 1938 Dr Abdullah Chaghatai had returned from Paris with a PHD on the Taj Mahal, and gave a copy of his thesis to Saadullah for the archives. For a detailed analysis one would suggest that people should read the article on Anarkalli by Ahmed Nabi Khan, a Superintendent of Archaeology and he terms this as in all ways “Preposterous”.

 Journal of Central Asia Vol III, Number 1, July, 1980. The Tomb of Anarkali at Lahore: Dr Ahmad Nabi Khan.”A careful analysis of the above passage given an unmistakable evidence that the curious stranger who was completely ignorant of the trait and tempo of the local society was casually referring to a street gossip. As he had no correct knowledge of the royalty, and the other historical events, he commits several errors.”
Even C. Grey writes that:”That the European Finch and Terry are unreliable, one making several other errors of fact, and the other never having been at Lahore.”

People will always spin stories about Anarkalli and Prince Saleem, because it is a romantic tragedy and eulogized by writers, poets and film makers. The real Sahib Jamal would in no way look romantic to people. Our culture does not permit the announcement of an illicit relation by writing love sentences on the grave of a mother. But people who favour this have no links with the culture of our country, and are in deep rooted complexes themselves. Imagine a President of Pakistan talking about his Oedipus with his mother. People would stone him to death. There is no need to talk of this preposterous and moronic assumption.

Some other legends:

  1.  A grave in Batala, Punjab, named after Anarkalli (Ilm-ud-din Salik).
  2.  A staircase in Fatehpur Sikri famous for having a wall where Anarkalli was interred by Akbar, and allowed to escape.