Dr. Saeed Akhtar Durrani - By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed


Dr. Durrani earned his MSc degree from Government College Lahore and Ph.D. physics in Radiation Physics from Cambridge university. He served as Director Atomic Energy Centre Lahore for two years from 1963 to 1965. In 1972-78 as principal investigator, he completed his research work on the moon material brought to earth by Russian and American astronauts.

Acknowledging this great work Government of Pakistan awarded him Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Birmingham University DSC degree in 1978. He played a significant role during Iqbal's centenary in 1977 and got Tamgha-e-lqbal. Being president Iqbal Academy UK, he arranged many international conferences on Iqbal's work and message. Besides his two original books on Iqbal his latest success on which the nation is proud of him is arranging the placing of Iqbal's portrait, in Iqbal's old Alma Mater, Trinity College Cambridge, last November. Iqbal is the first Asian whose portrait has been placed among many other western heroes associated with Trinity College Cambridge. I asked him how he combined literature and science , a rather unusual combination? He said: He is happy to be in Lahore once again where he has spent memorable and satisfying years of his life. He pursued his studies at Government College Lahore right from the first year to MSc. From the beginning he was interested in combining the two elements which he seems to has somehow got into his composition. At the College he greatly enjoyed his time. At that time though he was studying in the FSc and interested in science. But all the same he took a great deal of interest in Urdu language and literature. He started writing a little bit for the Ravi, the Government College magazine. With the passage of time he was appointed joint editor of the Urdu section. This reminded him the years 1946-52. He also was the secretary of the Majlis-e-Iqbal so he started writing a little bit of poetry as well. When Qayyum Nazar joined Government College he always encouraged him. He used to write poems on nature. Sufi Tabassum taught him Urdu and Ghalib etc. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Asar was also his teacher; they were all great scholars and left their impact on him. At the same time he graduated in English honours from Government College. He was taught by some of the greatest teachers of this country, like Khawaja Manzoor Hussian and Prof. Siraj-ud-Din and Prof Ishfaq Ahmad, they left great impact en him as for as literature is concerned.

In the field of physics He was also secretary of the Jewel Scientific Society and his predecessor was Prof Rafi Muhammad Chaudhri who was a great scholar of physics and a distinguished scientist. He got him a scholarship from Cambridge University where he went for PhD in Physics. At that time his principal Qazi Aslam used to ask him, "Tell me Durrani which way you like to go in your future life, will you go into science or literature because you seem to be divided equally between the two?" He said "Qazi Sahib there are two possibilities one to make literature his life career and science as a hobby and vise-versa. He said it was almost impossible to take science as a hobby because one cannot do any experimentation without labs. So he decided to take science as his career and literature as his hobby. Did he see any common discourse between science and literature Qazi Aslam asked him. He said" What is common between the two? He replied it appears that the common thing is the gift for imagination and intuitiveness. Even in science though people claim they do things methodically most of the great discoveries of science have come through intuitiveness. Our unconscious mind is going on composing and re-composing and reshaping and re- mixing and it finally presents our conscious mind some conclusion then our conscious mind rejects it or accepts it or puts it back into the unconscious and it keeps journeying until another hypothesis comes to us. So lot of things in science come through intuition. You never can invent new things in science by travelling from A to B methodically. Science also is wandering and creativity is common between them. In literature likewise, he doesn't think one can teach anybody to create great literature. You can teach grammar you can teach through works of other people but what one creates is from within. As Iqbal says, "Life is to make a pearl from your own inner sweat."

Dr. Durrani is writing poetry since long. I asked weather he has any intention to publish his long awaited poetic collection? He said when he was at the GC Lahore, long ago he actually started writing for literary magazines. Those days , he remembered Makhzan, which was founded by Sir Abdul Qadir that had been revived, Mr Hamid Ali Khan was editing it. He started to send him translations because he was the secretary of Sondhi Translation Society, which greatly influenced people like Dr Nazir Ahmad, the principal, and Khawaja Manzoor Hussain used to come and sit with them, and they used to go through and judge each sentence one by one, anyway he learnt a lot about the art of translation. Those days He was interested in short stories from Chekhov and Catherine Mansfield, Bernard Shaw, and Dostoyevsky. He used to translate stories from them for Makhzan. Hamid Ali Khan appreciated his spoken and idiomatic Urdu a lot. At that time he wrote some poetry as well. At the age of 23 he went abroad. Then he stayed abroad except for two years i.e., 1963-65. We can well imagine the situation of a person who lived for more than forty years abroad in alienation, he does not have the time to put together his scattered books of poetry and prose into a form which can be published. He has these translations which could come out as a collection. In fact even now he cannot improve upon them. Similarly at the same time he started writing poetry for Ravi. He wrote poems and Ghazals. About twenty years ago Sehba Lukhnavi asked him" Give me your collection I will do a proper selection and then publish it." Then Dr. Waheed Qureshi asked someone from Sang-e-Meel Publishers "Here is Dr Durrani he will give you his poetic collection for publication. It was really his fault that he could not find the time, He is rather a fussy and finicky person and he does not want to give things to anyone, which have mistakes and need improvement. He thought he will himself find time to improve them. He seemed to be a perfectionist.

Dr Durrani’s book on Iqbal under the title of "Iqbal in Europe" has gained wide appreciation from liberal minded critics and enlightened readers. Why he chose Iqbal for research and revaluation? He told me that it was an accident. It was 1976 and He was sitting in his old college Caius in Cambridge where He has done his Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He was sitting and writing a book on the techniques used in various fields of nuclear Physics. All day long one can't write a book especially on physics. It was bit tiring so he used to visit his friends during rest hours. One of them was lan Stephen, whom he had known from his student days. He was an elderly scholar, actually a historian. He was the editor of the Statesman of India in Calcutta and Delhi and was a very influential man. In 1948 he had a great quarrel with Pundit Nehru on the issue of Kashmir. He said, I would not write the editorial the way the government of India is asking me to write. I will write the other side of the story as well, as it seems that Pakistan has a lot of justification about this issue. He resigned and went to Cambridge and wrote some books on Pakistan. Dr Durrani happened to meet him. He said to him next year is the year of centenary and people are proposing different things. He feels that we should get together and propose the creation of professorship. They agreed and named it Iqbal Chair for Islamic studies. He said let us write a letter to the Dawn in Karachi which they did. They also wrote a letter to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was at that time the Prime Minister. They proposed a chair should be created in Cambridge. This was probably received and while it was happening, in came Zia-ul-Haq and it so happened that the government decided otherwise instead of a chair which required a quarter million pound which those days was about forty lakh rupees, if the Government of Pakistan had given that money to the University of Cambridge the professorship of Iqbal would have been founded which could go for a thousand years without any further expenditure of a single penny Instead of that they said we will create a fellowship. The disadvantage in fellowship is that every year they have to pay the fellow salary and other heavy expenditure. In any case the fellowship was created. So while this was going on Mr. Stephen told Dr. Durrani that he was surprised that he was celebrating the centenary year of Iqbal in 1977 but in the dictionaries of biographies he had seen that the date of birth was 1873. Dr. Durrani said that it was a great controversy and the government had looked into it and decided that year of his birth was actually 1877. He said, "Well as a historian He is not quite satisfied, why don't you look into it. Dr Durrani replied look he is not a historian He is a scientist. It is not his field. But his conversation inspired him to look into the matter. Next month in October 1976 there was a science conference in Munich from where Iqbal got his Ph.D. and he had read in a book in which he had written his bio-data in the beginning of his book, "He was born on the 3rd of Zi Qaad 1294 AH, 1876 AD. Dr Durrani went along to look at his date of birth. Iqbal himself mentioned his date of birth 1876 whereas the government had decided it to be 1877. And then it transcribed that 3rd of Zi-Qaad 1294 Hijri which when converted becomes 9th of November 1877. So Iqbal has made some mistake either in Hijri or in AD. Being a man of science himself when he starts some research he also takes it to its logical conclusion. He went to Trinity College Cambridge which was Iqbal's old college, there in the register of admission (1883 to 1912), it was written "He was born in Muharram 1876." He mixed the Hijri and AD. Then I went to Lincoln's Inn from where he had done his Bar at Law. There he says "He is 29 years old". His passport also showed that his year of birth was 1876. A few years ago he went to Munich where Iqbal stayed for his PhD and there he wrote, "He was born on 10th of July.

In 1977 Anjuman-e-Taraqi-e-Urdu, Birmingham elected Dr. Durrani as president. He said this is the centenary year of Iqbal let us have a meeting on Iqbal. They arranged a great meeting at the University of Birmingham (where He was teaching) in which Ann Marry Schimmel participated as president, Qayyum Nazar a modern Urdu poet and fifteen or twenty other well-known scholars expressed their views. So Iqbal was his second interest. Mr Yahya Syed who was corespondent of Jang London published his articles on the issue of Iqbal's birthday. Later he received letters from Rafi-ud-Din Hashmi, asking why he was publishing these things in Jang London, whereas nobody reads them here. And there are quite a few news you have brought out for the public which nobody knew earlier than that in connection with Iqbal and Cambridge, Munich and Lincoln's Inn. Why doesn't he publishes these articles in Pakistan. So by degrees he collected those essays and published them in his book 'Iqbal Europe Main' (July 1985). In this book there are two things which he particularly pointed about, the date of birth controversy which he covered in the first couple of chapters and he also added a chapter on Sir Thomas Arnold who was Iqbal's teacher, ( Iqbal academy Birmingham which was founded by Saeed Hasan Butt, a great devotee of Iqbal, also arranged a conference on Arnold).

In his book he is proud of his two contributions, one is that for the first time he brought to public notice details about Iqbal's teacher of German language, Emma Wegenast, and also published 27 letters which Iqbal has written to Emma from 1907 to 1933. Except one part which came out in Syed Waheed-ud-Din's book, 'Iqbal in Pictures' nobody knew anything about Emma Wegenast. Atia Faizi gave some remarks about her. These letters which are full of tender sentiments show the soft corner Iqbal had for Emma. Secondly he located Iqbal's PhD thesis in Cambridge University. The question was that Iqbal had been to Germany for three and a half month, How did he managed to write a thesis on the development of Metaphysics in Persia? The second question was why didn't he take his Ph.D. from Cambridge? So on inquiry Dr Durrani was told that Ph.D. in Cambridge started in 1920. This was invented in Germany and very bright scholars were sent to Germany for Ph.D. So this was the only solution for Iqbal to submit his thesis which actually was written in Cambridge, for Ph.D. degree at a, German University. Dr Durrani went to archives department and said you might have a copy of thesis or dissertation on the development or' Metaphysics in Persia by Iqbal. Is there any possibility to trace it out? He searched and within twenty minutes he found it. It was full of dust. This he brought out to public notice that after slight changes in fact with some subtraction he resubmitted it at Munich. Then critics like Farman Fateh Puri, Jagan Nath Azad and Mumtaz Hussain began to ask him, "Did Iqbal tell them that he already got BA degree on this thesis and he is again presenting it?

Dr Durrani’s new book Nawadrat-e-Iqbal Europe Main’ has earned good name for him. It has new details about Iqbal's academic and personal life in Europe. Iqbal Academy Lahore has published it. He has proved in it that Iqbal got his Ph.D. degree from Munich entirely on the basis of his Cambridge thesis submitted for his BA.

Dr Durrani briefed me about the activities of Iqbal Academy in UK. It was founded about many years ago with the help of the Coventry Cathedral which represents intercultural focal point. It is in fact a registered charitable trust based as a register office in Coventry Cathedral. A very famous place where Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims gather and ex-lying inactive after the dea&i of Mr Saeed Hasan Butt in 1983. In fact in 1983 He was also the president of Anjuman-e-Taraqi-e-Urdu Birmingham. That year Sehba Lukhnavi was invited as the guest of honour on Iqbal Day. Unfortunately during that meeting the founder Mr Saeed Hasan Butt had a heart attack, he was rushed to the hospital where he died. So he gained the title of Shaheed-e-Iqbal. After his death this academy remained inactive. In 1986 Dr. durrani was elected its president. He has tried to make it more active and a world body. In the past its sole function used to be an annual dinner and inviting the mayor and so on. Nothing happened in-between. From the time he took over he started to put it on the map. Academy arranged an international conference in November 87 in which eminent scholars discussed the issue of Iqbal and mysticism in English Language. Iqbal's poetry was also recited on the occasion. Dr Ajmal was guest of honour, he delivered an excellent speech on the issue under discussion. Bishop Dr. Michael Nazir, a Pakistani Christian was another speaker. He is Ph.D. in Iqbaliat. He has done his thesis on Asrar-e-Khudi in English from Cambridge. Zia-ud-Din Shakib from London also spoke on that occasion. Next year its proceedings were published by Iqbal's Academy Pakistan under the title of Iqbal and mysticism, containing 250 pages. In November 1988 Iqbal Academy Birmingham also observed Sir Thomas Arnold Day. They thought only they could do a sitting in Britain because his grandson and his whole family lives in Britain. He has written books on Persian miniature and oriental studies. He is best known for his commentaries on literature related to mysticism, particularly in Arabic. In this meeting a German scholar, Christian Throng was one contributor who has done his thesis on Sir Sayyed. He speaks beautiful Urdu. Dr. Durrani spoke on the relationship between Iqbal and Arnold. Apart from that Academy is trying to bring out a couple of books in connection with these conferences. Academy also has some books for children. During last few years it has concentrated to bring out audio cassettes containing Iqbal's Persian and Urdu poetry in the voices of Nusrat Fateh Ali, Muhammad Ali, Samina Zahid, and Ejaz Qaisar. These have been produced by Razi Tirmizi, a great former programme producer of Radio Pakistan. These cassettes are help in spreading Iqbal's message.

At the same time when we Academy was doing Iqbal's centenary business, from the same register of admissions in Trinity College Cambridge, Dr Durrani came to know that Iqbal was living at a place which was quite near the college. This was not known before. lan Stephen again happened to notice that the house is going on sale. He proposed to the new owner who was actually the master of Saint Jones College, and to the city council of Cambridge that they should put up a sign outside this house, because in Cambridge from time to time visitors see written on plates "Here lived Darwin", "Here lived Fitz Gerald" "Here lived Byron" and so on. So the Government of Pakistan put up a plate that "Iqbal lived here in 1905 to 1906". It was inaugurated by Lord Butter who was a very famous teacher of Trinity College. His father was a great friend of Iqbal. He said, I consider Iqbal as a family member and gave Dr. Durrani a great reception. At this reception he asked him to deliver a speech. During this speech he suddenly thought about the great heroes of Trinity college, like Newton, Byron and Tennyson and so on and said he wishes one day you would accept a portrait of another great son of yours which is Iqbal, whom you are remembering today. Lord Butler in his reply said yes we will be very happy to do so if the Government of Pakistan sends us a portrait of Iqbal we will place it. Then Dr. Durrani sent a letter to the Government of Pakistan, Education Ministry and Dr Ajmal but nothing happened. In 1989 Academy had another Iqbal Day at Trinity College, Pakistani ambassador in U.K who belonged to Bhopal's family presided over the function. Dr. Durrani repeated the demand and the host, Sir Andrew Huxley also said we will be happy to place that portrait provided we receive it. Dr Durrani thought he should do this work himself as chairman of Iqbal Academy UK. Academy collected some money then he came to Pakistan on the way to Thailand for a science conference. He stopped at Karachi and asked Gul Jee if he could make portraits from pictures. Dr. Durrani said look Gul Jee if you don't make a portrait of Iqbal, the nation will never forgive you and if you don't make it yourself you will never forgive yourself. If you do make it, the nation and you yourself will be proud of it. He agreed and went to Lahore and got some pictures of Iqbal from Dr Javed Iqbal and made required portrait in which he gave very fine touches. One side of it has a dark gloomy background and the other one is depicting hope, glory and vision. He made a nice painting. He gave it to Dr Durrani while it was still damp with fresh paint at the airport in December 1990. Then academy waited for a good occasion to present it to Trinity College. In the meantime it got it inaugurated at Iqbal Conference Qurtaba in November 1991. This Iqbal Conference was the best in the century.

On 12th of November 1993 after a great deal of further preparation when Dr Durrani talked to Sir Michael Atia, the present master. He is one of the six leading mathematicians in the world today and also the president of Royal Society which is the highest honour you can get in England. And he is one of the OM (Order of Merit) in England. He is a very high personality. He can read Arabic script. He took personal interest in the great function of 12th of November. In which first Iqbal's portrait was inaugurated in a very dramatic fashion. Dr Durrani delivered a speech on its background. Our high commissioner, Khalid Shafi inaugurated it on the behalf of the nation. It was not just Iqbal Academy it was the Pakistani nation that was giving this portrait to the college. After that Sir Michael Atia made a very fine speech of acceptance and said Iqbal has many_ connections with Cambridge and Trinity college, Sir Thomas Arnold , E.G. Brown and Nicholson. Gul Jee made a very emotional speech in which he said that Eastern art has given much to the Western art. The Eastern painters are not getting recognition. They should be recognised by the West. After that they had a wonderful candle lit dinner in the dining hall of the Trinity College. It was allowed to them with the special permission by the college council. This is the hall in which Iqbal used to dine under the gaze of these great paintings of Newton, Tennyson, Byron, JJ. Thompson, and Maxwell. In this meeting dignitaries from Turkey, Bangladesh, and France were also present. Great speeches were delivered by Michael Nazir, Akbar S. Ahmad, Pakistani high commissioner, Iranian ambassador. Bopala Krishna Ghandi (Mahatma Gandhi's grandson who is the director of Nehru Centre). Nehru was also a student of Trinity College. They haven't placed his portrait there as yet. Here they have beaten Indians. Iqbal is the first Asian whose portrait is hanging next to Newton's. It was covered by the world service of BBC Television and Radio, TV Asia.

This ceremony was great in its grace, earnestness and scholarly ambience. We are proud of Dr. Durrani’s personal and national achievements.