Ahmed Ali (writer)

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Ahmed Ali (1 July 1910 in Delhi – 14 January 1994 in Karachi) (Urdu: احمد علی‎) was a Pakistani novelist, poet, critic, translator, diplomat and scholar. A pioneer of the modem Urdu short story, his works include the short story collections: Angaare (Embers), 1932; Hamari Gali (Our Lane), 1940; Qaid Khana (The Prison-house), 1942; and Maut Se Pehle (Before Death), 1945.[2] His other writings include Twilight in Delhi (1940), his first novel in the English language.[1]

Ahmed Ali
Born1 July 1910
Delhi, British India[1]
Died14 January 1994(1994-01-14) (aged 83)
Karachi, Pakistan[1]
Known forone of the founders of All-India Progressive Writers Movement[2]


Born in Delhi, British India, Ahmed Ali was educated at Aligarh Muslim University and Lucknow University; in the latter "having achieved the highest marks in English in the history of the university."[3] From 1932 to 1946, he taught at the leading Indian universities including Allahabad University and his alma mater in Lucknow. He also joined the Bengal Senior Educational Service as professor and head of the English Department at Presidency College, Calcutta (1944–47) and was the BBC's Representative and Director in India during World War II, from 1942–45.[4] Following that, he was the British Council Visiting Professor to Nanjing University, as appointed by the British government of India. In 1948, when he tried to return home after the Partition, K. P. S. Menon (then India's ambassador to China) would not allow it because Ali had not indicated his preferences as a government employee; that is, remain in India or transfer to Pakistan. As a result, he was forced to go to Pakistan.[5]

In 1948, he moved to Karachi.[6] Later, he was appointed Director of Foreign Publicity for the Pakistani Government. At the behest of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, he joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1950. According to custom, tiles were drawn to determine the country of assignment. Ali's tile was blank, so he chose China and became Pakistan's first envoy to the new People's Republic. He established formal diplomatic relations that same year.[2] He also helped to establish an embassy in Morocco.

Literary careerEdit

Ahmed Ali started his literary career at a young age and became a co-founder of the All-India Progressive Writers' Movement along with the writer Sajjad Zaheer who had become well-known by the publication of Angaaray (Embers) in 1932. It was a collection of short stories in the Urdu language and was a bitter critique of middle-class Muslim values in British India.[1][7] In addition to Ali, it included stories by three of his friends; Mahmud al-Zafar, Sajjad Zaheer and Rashid Jahan. This book was later banned by the British Government of India in March 1933.[5] Shortly afterward, Ali and Zafar announced the formation of a "League of Progressive Authors", which was later to expand and become the All-India Progressive Writers' Association.[8] Ali presented his paper "Art Ka Taraqqi-Pasand Nazariya" (A Progressive View of Art) in its inaugural conference in 1936.

Ali achieved international fame with his first novel written in English Twilight in Delhi, which was published by the Hogarth Press in London in 1940.[9] This novel, as its title implies, describes the decline of the Muslim aristocracy with the advance of the British colonialism in the early 20th century.[1]

Al-Quran, A Contemporary Translation (Princeton University Press, Oxford University Press & Akrash Publishing) is his most notable contribution in the field of translation. Approved by eminent Islamic scholars, it has come to be recognized as one of the best existing translations of the holy Quran."[2] Other languages he translated from, apart from Arabic and Urdu, included Indonesian and Chinese.[10]

Awards and recognitionEdit




  • The Land of Twilight (1931)
  • Break the Chains (1932)

Short storiesEdit

  • “When the Funeral Was Crossing the Bridge,” in Lucknow University Journal, 1929.
  • “Mahavaton Ki Ek Rât,” in Humayûn (Lahore), January 1931.
  • Angarey (1932). With Rashid Jahan, Mahmuduzzafar and Sajjad Zaheer.
  • Sholey (1934)
  • “Our Lane,” in New Writing (London), 1936.
  • Hamari Gali (1940)
  • “Morning in Delhi,” in New Writing (London), 1940.
  • Qaid-khana (1942)
  • Maut se Pahle (1945)
  • “Before Death,” in New Directions 15 (New York), 1956.
  • Prima della Morte (1966). Bilingual Italian-Urdu version of Maut se Pahle.
  • The Prison-House (1985)


  • Purple Gold Mountain (1960)
  • First Voices (1965)
  • Selected Poems (1988)

Literary criticismEdit

  • “Poetry: A Problem,” in Allahabad University Studies, vol. XI, no. II, 1934.
  • Art ka Taraqqî-Pasand Nazariya (1936)
  • Maxim Gorky as a Short-Story Writer,” in Lucknow University Journal, 1938.
  • Mr. Eliot’s Penny-World of Dreams (1941)
  • Failure of an Intellect (1968)
  • “Illusion and Reality, the Art and Philosophy of Raja Rao,” in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, July 1968.
  • The Problem of Style and Technique in Ghalib (1969)
  • Ghalib: Two Essays (1969). With Alessandro Bausani.
  • The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (1973)


  • The Flaming Earth (1949). An anthology of selected Indonesian poems.
  • The Falcon and the Hunted Bird (1950)
  • The Bulbul and the Rose: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (1960)
  • Ghalib: Selected Poems (1969)
  • al-Qur’ân: A Contemporary Translation (1984)
  • The Call of the Trumpet (unpublished). An anthology of modern Chinese poetry


  1. ^ a b c d e Profile of Ahmed Ali (writer) on Encyclopædia Britannica Retrieved 31 August 2019
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Profile of Professor Ahmed Ali on paknetmag.com website, Retrieved 31 August 2019
  3. ^ Dr. T. Jeevan Kumar, "Ahmed Ali: A Progressive Writer" in The English Literature Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2014):57
  4. ^ Orwell and Politics. Penguin UK, 2001 on Google Books Retrieved 23 April 2018
  5. ^ a b Introduction by the author, Ahmed Ali, Twilight in Delhi, Rupa Publishing Co., Delhi, 1993
  6. ^ William Dalrymple (1993). City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. HarperCollins. ISBN 000215725X.[page needed]
  7. ^ "Angaaray by Sajjad Zaheer". goodreads.com website. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  8. ^ The Leader of Allahabad, 5 April 1933
  9. ^ Twilight in Delhi, The Hogarth Press, 1940; Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1966; OUP, Karachi, 1984; Sterling Paperbacks, Delhi, 1973; New Directions, New York, 1994; Rupa Publications, Delhi, 2007; Urdu translation, Akrash Press, Karachi, 1963, Jamia Millia, Delhi, 1969; (French) French translation, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1989; Spanish translation, Ediciones Martinez Roca, 1991.
  10. ^ Alamgir Hashmi, "Ahmed Ali and the Transition to a Postcolonial Mode in the Pakistani Novel in English" in Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 33/34, No. 1/2 (1998/1999), p. 256

External linksEdit