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Speech at book launch of Dr Munawar Ahmadís 'The Marvel that is Khalid Iqbal', Ejaz Gallery, Lahore, 15 January 2017.


When I was Principal of Aitchison College, I used to advise the boys during our career counselling sessions to marry whoever their parent told them to marry. They could always get married again. But choose your careers very carefully.

Once you have committed yourself to a career path, you cannot change easily.   Choose engineering, and you have to remain in engineering. You cannot become a doctor. Choose accounting, and you cannot be a scientist. Choose medicine, and you are committed for life.

That may explain why many of us whose artistic ambitions were stifled at an early age chose a second passion.  

Dr Farukh Khan, an eminent urologist, compiled a superb book on Murree during the Raj. I, a qualified Chartered Accountant, found solace in the study and documentation of miniature painting. And why Dr Munawar Ahmed has chosen to write this superb homage to his friend, his mentor, one of Pakistan’s finest painters, and perhaps the most enduring legacy of all – an inspiration to everyone who knew that modest, quiet, lonely individual whom the world knew as Khalid Iqbal.

Khalid Iqbal was fortunate in that he was married only once – to his profession. He lived with painting all his life. Even when he was ill, he remained devoted to his vows, shifting his focus from Lahore’s landscape to still lifes in the interior of his house in Model Town.

Khalid Iqbal was my teacher at Aitchison College in 1951-52. At that time, he was between Forman Christian College and the Slade School of Art in London. He returned and joined the Fine Arts department of Punjab University. He survived there for 9 years with the redoubtable Mrs Anna Molka Ahmed.

In 1965, he along with Miss Qazi and Colin David left - Miss Qazi for the Lahore College for Women, and Khalid and Colin to the National College of Arts across the Mall.   I reconnected with him soon afterwards, during the day when I used to drop in at his room in the NCA for a cup of tea with him and more often than not, Shakir sahib. Khalid sahib’s private hobby was Sikh history and we exchanged information with each other. I still have a copy of Khushwant Singh’s biography of Maharaja Ranjit Singh that contains on its cover a tea stain left by Khalid’s leaking cup.

And in the evening I would catch up with him for art tuition in the studio at the Alhamra building where the Lahore Arts Council now stands.    

I last met him in his Model Town house a week before he died. He was incapacitated. He could not speak, but through his eyes he conveyed that he recognised me. I felt an ineffable sadness. Here was a man who had been determined all his life to maintain his independence should be so utterly dependent on others.

I thought after 60 years of association I knew Khalid Iqbal. Going through Dr Munawar’s brilliantly sensitive book, I was introduced to another, more private Khalid Iqbal who hid behind the hardboard of his public persona.

I never suspected, for example, that he had turned vegetarian. I never knew that his reticence had been brought on by the deaths of two of his brothers. He was the surviving third. What I never knew was the impact he had on generations of his students.

Dr Munawar has quoted Nazir Ahmad – one of Khalid sahib’s later students – who remembered the one quality that endeared Khalid to every generation of pupils who passed beneath his brush:   

‘Khalid Iqbal followed strict principles, but never at the cost of injuring the self-respect of his students.’

Dr Munawar’s exquisite book is more than a tribute to a friend or a technicolour homage to a great Pakistani painter. It is a celebration of a life that gave his own life to so many of us.

I will end, Dr sahib, by repeating a quotation you yourself had borrowed from Cezanne:  ‘I am the consciousness.  The landscape thinks itself through me.’

Neither Cezanne nor Khalid are with us anymore. Their landscapes are, and they think through them to us.

15 January 2017
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