Khwaja Abdul Hamied

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Khwaja Abdul Hamied

Father of indigenous modern pharmaceutical industry of India

Naved Masood*

Today, Indian pharmaceutical industry is the second largest in the world in terms of volumes produced and is among the top six as far as financial turn-over is concerned. This extraordinary success story has two principal authors – “Acharya” Prafulla Chandra Roy who founded the Bengal Chemicals in 1901 and Khwaja Abdul Hameid of CIPLA established in 1935. While after the first few decades of its existence Bengal Chemicals went into eclipse and has since been reduced to manufacturer of some formulation drugs, soaps and other toiletries in the public sector, CIPLA has grown from strength to strength with its current turnover exceeding ` 5000 crores or well over $ 1 billion. Dr Hamied is therefore deservedly regarded as the father of indigenous modern pharmaceutical industry of India. This pre-eminence makes him as one of the most remarkable Indian Muslim of recent times and his life and achievements deserve to be known more widely.

Son of Khwaja Abdul Ali and Masood Jahan Begum, Hamied was born on 31st October1898 in Aligarh in the house of his maternal grandfather Khwaja Mohammed Yusuf. (David Lelyveld in “Aligarh’s first Generation” deals at some length with the accomplishments of Khwaja Yusuf who, apart from being a successful lawyer, had played a pioneering role in introducing indigo plantation and cotton ginning in Western UP. Possibly, Hamied inherited his business acumen and entrepreneurial boldness from Khwaja Yusuf). His father was a maternal nephew of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; it appears that Abdul Ali’s mother was the grand-daugher of Sir Syed’s maternal aunt. Khwaja Abdul Ali was one of the earliest graduates of the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College (MAO College) Aligarh. After initial legal practice he joined the UP Provincial Judicial Service and served in various District of the province before retiring as District and Sessions Judge. His father’s career necessitated Hamied’s early education in various places. He has time and again acknowledged the attention his father paid to his moral upbringing and inculcating high values and positive attitudes.

He joined the MAO Collegiate School popularly known as ‘Minto Circle’ in 1908. A few years later, he was admitted to the famous Islamia High School in Itawa which was then regarded as a center of excellence at school level for children of the Muslim elite and served as a kind of ‘feeder school’ for the MAO College, Muir Central College Allahabad and the Agra College – the three premier institutions of higher education in UP. In 1913 there occurred in Kanpur an agitation against demolition of a portion of a mosque to widen a road and resulted in death of more than seventy Muslims in the Police Firing. His father was then posted in the city and their house was next to the place – he thus became witness to wanton acts of Police cruelty which made him deeply resentful of foreign rule and a strong votary of the freedom movement.

After passing the High School examination from Itawa he joined Agra College for the Intermediate course in Science; on passing this examination he prevailed upon his father to let him join the Leather Training School at Madras as he had developed a strong urge for technical education and running an industry of his own. After one year at Madras while visiting Allahabad where his elder brother was studying in the Muir central College, the University College, he was struck by the fact that his class-fellows were obtaining higher education while he was merely obtaining ‘Practical Training’. This made him abandon the Leather School and join BSc course at Muir Central College Allahabad in 1918. On obtaining a First Class in that course he joined MSc in the same University in 1920. Soon, however, he was caught in the vortex of the Khilafat and non-cooperation movements wherein Mahatma Gandhi and Ali Brothers had given a call for boycott of Government and Government assisted institutions - Hamied with his anti-imperialist state of mind led the boycott in the Muslim Boarding House of the Allahabad University. He left for Aligarh which had become the epicenter of that movement and hundreds of students on walking out of the MAO College were accommodated by the Ali Brothers in a makeshift ‘National Muslim University’ or the Jamia Millia Islamia. Hamied joined that institution as a Reader in Chemistry. He came in contact with Gandhiji, Ali Brothers and above all Dr Zakir Husain with whom he developed a life-long association. He remained in that position till September 1924 and was instrumental in sending Dr Zakir Husain to Germany for his PhD in 1923. He followed Dr Zakir Husain to Berlin next year – his mother had to sell two houses to finance his stay. He obtained his PhD in Chemistry from the Berlin University based on his thesis, ‘Technology of Barium Compounds’. He stayed in Germany for another year gaining practical experience in a number of chemical industries. While in Germany he struck friendship with a young Jewish girl from Poland, Lubow Derchanska, (popularly, called Luba) she was also doing research in Chemistry; the friendship later culminated into a very happy marriage and this writer remembers having seen her in his childhood and youth in Aligarh on several occasions as integral a part of her husband’s extended family as any typical Indian daughter in law.

In any case, he returned to India alone with the assurance that a German doctorate will find him some employment as a prelude to establishing his own Chemical Industry. The urgency for employment was accentuated by the anxiety to be able to marry Luba at the earliest. After several months he managed to obtain employment - as Private Secretary to the Raja of Nanpara! He accompanied the aristocrat on his junket to Europe and was horrified with his wining and debauchery and left the job in disgust in Paris. He went over to Germany and managed to obtain agency for India for a restorative/ tonic called “Okasa”; it was then that he married Luba. He returned to India with the bride and spent many months in Aligarh in the hope that he might get appointment as Reader in Chemistry in the University. This time he managed to obtain agency for German type writers. A little later he also managed to also obtain agency for a popular brand of sewing machines which provided a degree of financial stability and allowed him to set shop in Bombay around 1930; before that he had to keep his wife in Aligarh with his parents and managed his own expenses with the help of a series of small loans obtained from a local money-lender on promissory notes.

He established the Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratory with the acronym CIPLA in 1935 with an initial capital of ` 2 lakhs. The company commenced production in 1937 and faced serious difficulties in marketing its products as the doctors had no faith in indigenous formulations. The rising inventories and mounting wage bills brought the company to the brink of closure; it was only the income from sale of ‘Okasa” that somehow kept it afloat. The outbreak of the Second World War and the consequent disruption in shipping lanes proved to be a blessing for CIPLA – doctors and hospitals had to perforce rely on indigenous products which proved to be equal to the British and European brands in quality. An added impetus was provided by the burgeoning demands of the military.

Two major R&D breakthroughs put CIPLA in the league of manufacturers of original molecules and proprietary medicines. One was the ability of CIPLA Chemists to discover an alternative method of synthesizing Nicotinic Acid Dieththylamide whose original brand was ‘Coramine’. It was then a very important cardio-respiratory stimulant needed to revive patients in a state of shock. Cormine was manufactured in Germany and its availability was a major issue particularly as it was needed to manage military casualties. The alternative method of manufacture made CIPLA a known name internationally. The other breakthrough that had far reaching consequences was the marketing of serpenid an alkaloid of Rauwolfia serpentina the first ‘herbal remedy’ in Allopathy for treatment of hypertension though. The isolation of this alkaloid was achieved by his friend Dr Salimuzzaman Siddiqui FRS who was then working in the Aligarh Muslim University. Though this was soon superseded by its more powerful, purer form, reserpine, it was then a sensational innovation and it made CIPLA known in the global pharmaceutical community. From 1944 onwards the Company has never looked back and the trail it blazed has been followed by thousands of company making India a force to reckon with in the industry. Khwaja Sahib’s eldest son Yusuf Hamied, a PhD in Organic Chemistry who joined the Company in 1966 is a distinguished scientist in his own right and has taken it to new heights after the death of his distinguished father.

Whole time involvement in trade and commerce did not affect his sense of public duty. A relatively unknown chapter in the history of communal politics of undivided India is his election to the Bombay Provincial Legislative Council as an independent candidate from Bombay city Muslim constituency. Mr. Jinnah considered this seat to be his personal fief and he made the victory of his nominee a prestige issue. He invited Khwaja for tea to unsuccessfully dissuade him from contesting and forecast his ignominious defeat. The future ‘Qaid’ personally canvassed for his acolyte giving rise to a general perception that Khwaja Hamied’s defeat was a foregone conclusion particularly as the overwhelming majority of the electorate consisted of Bombay Muslim merchants of Gujarati extraction – only those paying a minimum of ` 15000 per annum were eligible to vote. Even on the day of polling crowds were seen around the camp of his opponent but it transpired that the majority had voted for the budding industrialist from Aligarh. Although this sensational episode is now forgotten it was ‘headline material’ in contemporary Urdu press with clear indications that apart from the very positive image of Khwaja Hamied among Muslims it was the adroit handling of his campaign by his old friend Dr Zakir Husain which tilted the scales so decisively. Surprisingly, in his autobiography A Life to Remember (Bombay, Lalvani 1972) all he mentions is that Dr Zakir Husain ‘happened to be in Bombay on the day of the election!.’ Hamied remained in the Council for two terms upto 1952 and took a truly independent stance on issues concerning industry, trade and commerce, labour relations and above all grievances and apprehensions of Muslims of the Bombay Province. If he could stand up against Jinnah he was equally forthright with Sardar Patel and had many a stand off with the ‘iron man’.

During the days of financial stringency and government hostility in the 1930s he was a steadfast supporter of Jamia Millia and its Vice Chancellor Dr Zakir Husain. This is particularly remarkable as till 1939-40 his own financial status was hardly comfortable and his frequent, handsome subventions to the fledgling institution in Delhi involved a degree of sacrifice of personal comforts. This is all the more remarkable when regard is had to the fact that in the 1930s Jamia was not exactly a favourite of the Government and industries then were highly regulated. From a perusal of Abdul Ghaffar Madholi’s Jamia ki Kahani it is clear that the historical silver jubilee celebrations of Jamia (1946) which was perhaps the only occasion when Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru shared the same platform in a public function was almost entirely financed by the Bombay Muslims and that this financing campaign was orchestrated by Khwaja Hamied.

In the case of Aligarh Muslim University his contributions are of even a more fundamental character and it is a pity that they have not been adequately recognized. Khwaja Hamied was first elected a member of the University Court and the Executive Council in 1938 and barring short intervals these memberships continued till his death in 1972. He was brought into the University governing bodies by Dr Zakir Husain and his supporters. He, however, took a generally objective unbiased stand on all controversial matters. He was instrumental in containing politicization of the campus for a long time; he was ever so vigilant in the matter of recommendations of Selection Committee and with his experience in the world of commerce his advice and assistance was invaluable in obtaining better returns on investments and also in obtaining donations, endowments and sponsored freeships – it must be remembered that till 1947 AMU despite receiving recurring grants from the Government of India was essentially a private University as Government assistance always fell short of actual requirements and balancing income with expenditure was always a tight rope walk. He also played a key role in development of Chemistry Department where he was appointed an Honorary Professor. His help was always available in getting bright students admitted to foreign Universities and enabling research scholars to work at the National Chemical Laboratories in Poona of which he was one of the founding fathers. In course of studying the history of the AMU this writer has had occasion to study proceedings of the Court and the Executive Council of the University over the years; it comes out clearly that in the run up to the independence when Muslim League was going all out to use the students as canon fodder in its campaigns the voice of Khwaja Abdul Hamied was one of reason and sanity. His strongest advocacy for the University was, however, reserved for later when in 1960 the Central Government appointed an Inquiry Committee to look into certain charges the principal being that the University though legally open to all classes, was in fact primarily catering to Muslims. The evidence of Dr Hamied before the Committee was a strong defence of such a policy and he dared the Committee to ask Jawaharlal Nehru as to why he insists that visiting Muslim dignitaries like Kings of Saudi Arabia and Iran were brought to Aligarh to see the University – this argument might appear to be commonplace now but half a century ago it required lot of courage to make such a ‘politically incorrect’ statement. It needs hardly to be added that though he was visiting Aligarh in connection with the affairs of the University on an average six times a year with considerable cost to his business, he never charged the University a farthing on travel expenses or ever asked them to arrange for his boarding and lodging.

Again, it is hardly a known fact that apart from conceiving the idea of establishing a National Chemical Laboratory and doing all the running around for making it a reality, it was Khwaja Hamied who floated the idea and conceptualized the establishment of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research as an umbrella organization to run a clutch of laboratories. He remained a Member of the Governing Body of the CSIR right from its inception till the very last. He was, however, critical in later years of the working of these laboratories as he was firmly of the view that they were not catering to the requirements of industrial advancement – in his view research in pure sciences was best left to the Universities and organizations like the Indian Institute of Science. He strongly pleaded for much of research in the CSIR system being carried out on ‘sponsorship’ basis i.e. funded by the Industry. He was much ahead of his times and the ideas he canvassed in 1940s and 50s have finally been adopted now. As he was intimately involved with one CSIR lab, the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) he could put in action many of his ideas in that organization which became an important testing platform for the developing pharmaceutical industry in the country.

Though there is much that can be written on the multi faceted personality of Khwaja Sahib, this writer would like to round off this presentation with what he considers to be a unique side of his personality. While the acts of charity of Marwari and Chettiar magnates in their places of origin, Central Rajasthan and Southern Tamil Nadu respectively are well known and rural areas in these backwaters are dotted with magnificent, untenanted Havelis and Mansions, one does not see that personal linkage which our protagonist had with Aligarh. He not only maintained a palatial house, Masood Mahal named after his mother, but his personal contacts in the city were phenomenal – and that was in a city where except a few years of his boyhood and a year or so of his post PhD unemployment he did nor spend much time. Most of his days in UP were spent in small towns where his father happened to be posted or in hostels in Itawa and Allahabad. While his parents had settled down in Aligarh and he was frequently visiting them or attending meetings in the University, still how he managed to find time to enlarge his sphere of friends in a matter of few hours once every two months or so is no ordinary feat. In my childhood and youth I remember small shopkeepers, Rickshaw pullers and bakers selling “mutree” biscuits all talking to Khwaja Sahib in respectfully familiar terms. He would often come in for a short while for a marriage in the family of an old servant or for a similar purpose all the way from Bombay. And incidentally, he used to travel between Bombay and Delhi by train as he had an aversion to airplanes as in his opinion they played a largely destructive role. This writer remembers Khwaja Sahib as a jovial person full of warmth and ever ready to cut a joke. He was a family man deeply attached to his parents and several sisters most of whom were in Aligarh. One does not know how religious he was in the formal sense, but he had an unflinching, unshakable trust in God as is repeatedly evident from his autobiography. After God his reverence was reserved for his father who evidently played a very active role in inculcating values of integrity, hard work, truthfulness and empathy for poor. He would often lament that parents of subsequent generations were not spending sufficient time with their children and help them in character building.

How does one round off this piece? One has just tried to write a short piece on somebody who was a scientist, pioneering industrialist, activist in public life, educational administrator, philanthropist and a true gentleman. It is possible that in many societies there will be a few like him and that India and Indian Muslims had the good fortune to have one like him. It would be trite to lament that he is not adequately remembered despite the fact that if India is one place where ‘high end’ medicines of adequate quality are available at easily the cheapest rates, credit should substantially go to someone called Khwaja Abdul Hamied. People with such varied talents and wide interests are not born everyday; it is anybody’s guess as to when we come across such a person again.

*Mr. Naved Masood is an AMU Alum and a senior Civil Servant in Govt. of India and he is based in New Delhi. He can be reached at


1. The author is thankful to Prof Farhan Mujib former Professor, Department of Physics AMU, Aligarh, son of the niece of late Khawja Abdul Hamied, and Mr. Ashok Jaitley IAS (Retired) whose parents and the Hamieds were socially very close. Rest of the material is taken from either his autobiography or personal recollections.

2. This case clearly indicates that dependence on Wikipedia is a very hazardous enterprise – there is a ‘stub’ on Dr Abdul Hamied which indicates that he was born in Katch in Gujarat!

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