Hindustan Community House


This organization, founded by the wealthy Indian Kundan Lal Jalie in 1937, aimed to cater to the needs of Indians in east London, especially former lascars, by offering them low-cost lodging, as well as food and clothing, and helping them to secure employment. Further, Indian doctors volunteered at the centre, providing free medical advice to their working-class compatriots, and English classes were offered, both to workers and to children. The HCH was also a social centre, providing a gramophone and records to enable East End South Asians to listen to Indian music, as well as facilities for games and sport. The HCH was made possible by donations from wealthy Britons, including, reportedly, Edith Ramsay, as well as a Cambridge undergraduate named Thomas Tufton who donated £22,000 after hearing Jalie lecture on the plight of Indians in Britain. The centre was razed in the blitz, and its residents taken first to Tilbury and then to Coventry to find work.

Although ostensibly a social organization, the HCH also had political links. A government surveillance report from 1939 remarks on the Communist and anti-British propaganda being carried out among Indian seamen and pedlars at the organization, and suggests that Jalie encouraged this. Surveillance reports on Jalie also remark on his links with the India League and the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League


Hindustan Community House First Report, April 1940, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

Secondary works: 

Solokoff, Bertha, Edith and Stepney (London: Stepney Books Publications, 1987)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)


This report of the Hindustan Community House outlines its aims and objectives under the headings ‘Food, clothing and shelter’, ‘Medical work’, ‘Employment’, ‘Educational’ and ‘Social’, and acknowledges the financial support and social work that made it possible.

Date began: 
01 Jan 1937

Since the completion of the House, fifty men have lived in it and another fifty have taken meals in it. Indian or English food is available for these men. To enable the fullest use to be made of the House its charges for board of lodging are fixed at the lowest possible figure.

The House has been able to accommodate shipwrecked sailors, and Indians stranded in London.

Two Indian doctors, who have returned to India, attended the weekly clinic and gave free medical advice. The new surgery has been equipped by an Indian doctor. It is open three nights a week for free medical advice and attention. A fourth Indian doctor is in charge.

Two classes in English with an average of fifteen to twenty students were held every week night. These were discontinued on account of the war, but have since been restarted.

A class in English and Urdu for Indian children was discontinued owing to the evacuation of the children.

Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Kundan Lal Jalie


This extract gives evidence of a developing sense of community among Indians in London in the 1930s and 1940s. The involvement of Indian doctors in the House, as well as the English classes and indeed its very establishment by Jalie, emphasize the existence of significant interaction between the Indian working class and middle class in Britain and the transgression of social boundaries by virtue of a shared national and/or ethnic minority identity. The fact that the residents of the House were offered Indian food as well as English food, and that classes were offered in Urdu as well as English, suggests the combination of an accommodation to British culture with a retention of indigenous cultural practices – perhaps a consequence of the fact that this welfare work was carried out by Indians (rather than by the British).


Lord Halifax (attended the opening centre of the HCH), Edith Ramsay (donated money to the HCH and offered advice and help to the Indians who frequented it), Lord Snell (attended the opening centre of the HCH).

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1941
Archive source: 

First Report, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Precise date ended unknown: 

M. Asaf Ali


Born in 1888, Asaf Ali was educated at St Stephen's College, Delhi, and then went to London to study law in 1909. Asaf Ali was a frequent visitor to India House in Highgate, having been met by a resident at Charing Cross. He became close friends with Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (Chatto) and met Madame Cama in Paris. After a couple of weeks of lodging in India House, he then moved to lodgings in Finsbury Park and studied for the Bar at Lincoln's Inn. Just as Jawaharlal Nehru remembers that he did not visit India House during his time as a student, Asaf Ali recalls that he did not meet Nehru when he was studying for the Bar although they were in London at the same time. Asaf Ali was in London when Syed Ameer Ali founded the London Muslim League and attended the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911. He was called to the Bar in January 1912 and returned to India to practice.

In 1914, Asaf Ali returned to England on a Privy Council Brief. Upon his return he met up with old friends and began to frequent the National Liberal Club. He planned a publication of an Urdu literary magazine called Taj from London but the costs were beyond his means. He translated some of Rabindranath Tagore's poems into Urdu and was then introduced to Tagore at a reception at the Criterion organized by Indian residents in London. Having been friends with Chatto, he was introduced to Sarojini Naidu, his sister, and decided to organize a literary dinner for Naidu. He invited a whole host of famous British literary figures and invited W. B. Yeats to chair and propose the toasts. Ali and Naidu would often visit the Poetry Bookshop where Harold Monro organized readings.

In 1914, the British attack on the Ottoman Empire had a large effect on the Indian Muslim community. Asaf Ali supported the Turkey side and resigned from the Privy Council. He saw this as an act of non-cooperation and returned to India in December 1914. Upon his return to India, Asaf Ali became heavily involved in the nationalist movement. He was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1935 as a member of the Muslim Nationalist Party, but then became a prominent member of Congress and was chosen as deputy leader. He was imprisoned in Ahmadnagar in 1944. His wife, Aruna, whom he married in 1928 and was of Hindu background, was a prominent Congress nationalist and socialist.

In 1947, Asaf Ali was appointed Ambassador to the United States, was Governor of Orissa from 1948 to 1952 and was then India's Minister to Switzerland, Austria and the Vatican. He died in 1953 in Switzerland.

Published works: 

Constructive Non-Cooperation (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1921)

Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1888

Aruna Asaf Ali (wife), Robert Bridges, Madame Cama, Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya (Sarojini's younger sister), Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, M. K. Gandhi (through Congress), Edmund Gosse, Syud Hossain, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (met at National Liberal Club), Walter de la Mare, Alice Meynell, Harold MonroSarojini Naidu, Henry Newbolt, Rabindranath Tagore, William Butler Yeats.

Precise DOB unknown: 
Secondary works: 

Raghavan, G., M. Asaf Ali's Memoirs: The Emergence of Modern India (Delhi: Ajanta, 1994)

Other names: 

Mohammad Asaf Ali


65 Cromwell Avenue
Highgate, N6 5HH
United Kingdom
51° 34' 12.9684" N, 0° 8' 29.1084" W
Finsbury Park, N7 6RU
United Kingdom
51° 33' 54.2304" N, 0° 5' 51.4644" W
Date of death: 
01 Apr 1953
Location of death: 
Berne, Switzerland
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 May 1909
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

May 1909 - January 1912; 1914

Tags for Making Britain: 

Ahmed Ali


Ahmed Ali, best known for his acclaimed literary fiction, was born to Syed Shujauddin, a civil servant, and Ahmad Kaniz Asghar Begum in 1910. Ali attended Wesley Mission High School in Azamgarh and Government High School in Aligarh before beginning his studies in 1926 at Aligharh Muslim University where he met Raja Rao and their English poetry tutor Eric C. Dickinson (Ali’s first mentor), and published his first poem in Aligarh Magazine. Just a year later he transferred to Lucknow University, where he published his first short story and graduated, in 1930, with the highest marks in English in the history of the university.

In 1931, Ali gained his MA from the same institution and became a lecturer there. It was in this year that he also met Sajjad Zaheer and Mahmaduzaffar. With Rashid Jahan, the daughter of the well-known advocate of women's education in India, Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah, the three men produced an anthology of short stories titled Anghare ('Burning Coals') which, because of its political radicalism and also, according to some, obscenity, provoked considerable hostility and was eventually banned. In the wake of this controversy, the four writers became involved in the All-India Progressive Writers' Association which had its beginnings in London in 1934 but its first official meeting in Lucknow in 1936. Ali also published his own first collection of short stories, Sho’le (‘Flames’) in that year.

Soon after the inception of the AIPWA, a rift developed within it; Ali disagreed with Zaheer and others about the function of literature within society, arguing that it should not be reduced to political propaganda. He severed his connections with the association, departing for London in 1939 with the manuscript of his first novel Twilight in Delhi. He remained in Britain for just over a year. During this time, he mixed with writers, both Indian and English. Introduced to E. M. Forster by his distant relative Syed Ross Masood, Ali became good friends with him and was introduced by him into London’s literary circles and, in particular, the Bloomsbury Group. He was one of the editors of the magazine Indian Writing, had short fiction published in John Lehmann’s journal New Writing, and was successful in securing a publishing deal for his first novel, Twilight in Delhi, with Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press.

On his return to India, Ali was appointed Director of Listener Research for the BBC, Delhi. In 1944, he left this post and was appointed Professor of English at Presidency College, Calcutta. In the following year, he attended the first All-India PEN conference in Jaipur, with Forster as chief speaker. Later, he founded Pakistan PEN with Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy. In China during the partition of the Indian subcontinent, Ali moved to Karachi in the newly formed Pakistan on his return and began a career in the diplomatic service which took him back to China and to Morocco. He was eventually retired from government service by General Muhammad Ayub Khan’s military regime in 1960, and went on to start up his own business. He was married to Bilquis Jahan and had three sons and a daughter.

During his lifetime, Ali published several more volumes of short stories in Urdu, as well as anthologies of English translations of Urdu poetry, the first anthology of Pakistani writing in English translation, the first anthology of Indonesian poetry in English translation, a study of China’s Muslim population, and his second and third novels (1964, 1985), continuing to produce new works until his death.

Published works: 

‘When the Funeral Was Crossing the Bridge’, Lucknow University Journal (1929) [short story]

‘Mahavaton ki ek Rat’, Humayun (1931) [short story]

(ed. with Zaheer, Jahan, Mahmuduzaffar) Angare (‘Burning Coals’) (1932) [short stories]

Shole (‘Flames’), 1932 [poems]

Twilight in Delhi (London: Hogarth Press, 1940) [novel]

Hamari Gali (‘Our Lane’) (1942) [short stories]

Qaid Khana (‘Prison House’) (1944) [short stories]

Maut se Pahle (‘Before Death’) (1945) [short stories]

(ed.) The Flaming Earth: Poems from Indonesia (1949) [poems]

Muslim China (1949) [non-fiction]

(ed. and trans.) The Falcon and the Hunted Bird (1950) [poems]

(ed.) Pakistan PEN Miscellany (1950) [short stories]

Purple Gold Mountain: Poems from China (1960) [poems]

(ed. and trans.) The Bulbul and the Rose (1960) [poems]

Ocean of Night (1964) [novel]

(ed. and trans.) Ghalib: Selected Poems (1969) [poems]

(ed. and trans.) The Golden Tradition (1973) [poems]

(trans.) Qur’an (Akrash Publishing, 1984; Princeton University Press, 1988)

Rats and Diplomats (1985) [novel]


Coppola, Carlo, ‘Ahmed Ali in Conversation: An Excerpt from an Interview’, The Annual of Urdu Studies, pp. 19, 21-2

Date of birth: 
01 Jul 1910

In this interview, Ahmed Ali recalls his visit to England, focusing in particular on his friendship with E. M. Forster and other writers in the Bloomsbury Group, and describing the events surrounding the publication of his first novel Twilight in Delhi by Hogarth Press in 1940.


J. R. Ackerley, Harold Acton, Mulk Raj Anand, E. M. Forster, Attia Hosain, Rashid Jahan, Beatrix Lehmann, John Lehmann, Rosamond Lehmann, Desmond MacCarthy, Harold Nicolson, George Orwell, Raja Rao, K. S. Shelvankar, Iqbal Singh, Sasadhar Sinha, Stephen Spender, Hasan Shahid Suhrawardy, M. J. Tambimuttu, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Sajjad Zaheer.

Contributions to periodicals: 

New Writing (‘Our Lane’, 4, Autumn 1937)

Indian Writing (extract from Twilight in Delhi, 1, 1940)


Bonamy Dobree, Spectator, 8 November 1940

Maurice Collis, Time and Tide, 30 November 1940

Desmond Hawkins, New Statesman 20, July – Dec 1940


I built up quite a wide variety of friends from various groups: Lehmann’s group, Forster’s group, and there was another was another group of younger poets and writers – there were so many of them, and I was so happy in that world; it was a wonderful world, in spite of the blackout, in spite of its dreariness. It had its own richness, a richness which the bright-lit, neon-signed London of today will never know again.

Lehmann…asked me to come to lunch. I went to lunch and was disappointed that the printers would not print the book as it was. They felt that it was subversive to law and order and, until such-and-such a chapter and such-and-such portions of the novel were deleted, it would not be published.

I was very saddened, but what could I do? Lehmann said, 'Ahmed, I’m so sorry that this has happened. What a wonderful book it is! Why don’t you just delete these portions.' I answered, 'John, I cannot! Nothing can persuade me to cut those sections out of the book; they’re part of a whole. They are the quintessence of the book – the portions dealing with the durbar and comments about the 1857 Rebellion – I could not.'

And even towards the end of lunch Lehmann, who was anxious just to get the book out, kept on saying to cut out the problematic sections. Finally I agreed to one condition: if Morgan Forster says they should be deleted, I would do so. Lehmann agreed. Then we discussed who should send it to Morgan, he or I. I thought that he, as the publisher, should send it to Forster. So he wrote Forster, who responded, 'Unfortunately, you cannot cut out any portion without emasculating the whole.' That pleased me very much but John Lehmann was disappointed. But what could he do! He’d lost the bet, and I had won.

Secondary works: 

Anderson, David, ‘Ahmed Ali and Twilight in Delhi’, Mahfil, A Quarterly of South Asian Literature (now Journal of South Asian Literature) 7.1-2 (1971), pp. 81-6

Askari, Muhammad Hasan, ‘Ahmad Ali ka ek Navil’ (‘A Novel by Ahmed Ali’), Makhzan, Lahore (1949)

Coppola, Carlo, ‘Ahmed Ali (1910–1994): Bridges and Links, East and West’, The Annual of Urdu Studies, pp. 49-53

Coppola, Carlo, ‘Ahmed Ali in Conversation: An Excerpt from an Interview’, The Annual of Urdu Studies, pp. 11-26


This extract demonstrates the immersion of this South Asian Muslim writer in London’s literary circles of the 1930s and 1940s. The apparent ease with which he socializes with this renowned and elite set of writers is suggestive of Ali’s privileged social class and of the way in which class status could cut across barriers of race and religion. Also of interest here is the reluctance of the printers and also of Lehmann (a left-wing editor/publisher) to publish a book whose content could be perceived as anti-British – indicative of the processes of censorship that were at work in the final years of empire. Worthy of note is Ali’s implicit motivation for wanting to retain the problematic sections – his belief that they were integral to the coherence of the novel, rather than a political (anti-colonial) objective. This recalls Ali’s break with the IAPWA on the grounds that this organization was leaning towards a reduction of literature to political propaganda, and relates to questions of how far the work of Indian writers in this period of struggle for independence was shaped by political concerns.

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
14 Jan 1994
Location of death: 
Karachi, Pakistan
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
04 Aug 1939
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

4 August 1939 - September 1949

1954 (travelled through)

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