Portrait of Col. Zalnur Ali Ahmed, the first person from Northeast India to have an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree,. He was one of the personal physicians of the Viceroy of India. This photograph was taken outside Rasul Lodge at Lakhtokia, Guwahati in the year 1928 when he visited Assam for the last time.


Zalnur Ali Ahmed was born on July 19, 1848 at Lakhtokia in Guwahati. His father's name was Khaliluddin Ahmed. The Ahmeds originally belonged to Kacharihat in the then undivided Sivasagar district (now in Golaghat). The family fled to Lakhtokia during the Burmese invasion. Zalnur received his primary education at Gauhati Seminary. India's fifth ICS Anundaram Barooah, Sibram Bora, I.M.S., Kefayatullah and Madhab Chandra Bordoloi were his classmates. While other Muslim boys of his age were not allowed to receive English education, Zalnur was encouraged by his uncle Abdul Latif to pursue his education in English medium. He was a favourite of Francis Jenkins, the then Chief Commissioner of Assam. Jenkins gifted him an English dictionary so that he could gain proficiency in the language. He passed his entrance examinations in 1865 and received a scholarship of twenty rupees. Zalur then got admission into the Calcutta Medical College along with his friend Sibram Bora. In a meeting held in his honour at Cotton College in 1928, Zalnur spoke about what motivated him to be a doctor -" The elder brother of one of my friends named Shekhawat was a doctor. We realized that with knowledge of medical science we could make the blind see again, heal the sick through an operation and like the almighty bring happiness to their lives by curing them of diseases." Initially, afraid of dissection, he later became an expert in it. He passed his L.M.S. in 1870 and received the God-Eve scholarship. Zalnur returned to Guwahati where he practiced for two months before travelling to England. He passed his M.B. from Glasgow University and also received a Doctorate in Medicine; his research work being on dysentery.


Zalnur returned to Assam and worked at Sivasagar where his old friend Anundaram Barooah was serving as the Assistant Commissioner. One night at a dinner party both of them were given a separate table from that of the British officials. Feeling humiliated they left the dinner party. Few months hence Anundaram Barooah left for Bengal and Zalnur Ali Ahmed went to work in the North Western Province. There is another version to this incident. According to this version it was Col. Sibram Bora and not Anundaram Barooah who was with him. Zalnur and his colleague, Col. Bora, were allotted seats at a function in the Shillong Club away from the white guests. The two Assamese officers boycotted the function in protest. The infuriated white officers transferred the two officers to the distant North Western Province. It was in his new posting that Zalnur Ali met Sahibzadi Ruqqaiya Sultan, daughter of the Nawab of Loharu in Delhi. The Nawab of Loharu, Mirza Sir Amiruddin Ahmed Khan Bahadur (1860 - 1937) was a relative of the famous Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan popularly known by his pen name Ghalib. Zalnur worked for many years in the North Western Province and spent his later years in Delhi. When renowned businessman and philanthropist, Bholanath Barooah was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 1914 he was taken to Delhi where he recovered under the supervision of Zalnur Ali Ahmed. 


Zalnur visited Guwahati for the last time in 1928. He was felicitated by the Cotton College Students Union at the Sudmersen Hall. Tears rolled down his eyes as he reminisced about his equally illustrious school mates. He was accompanied by his twenty three year old son Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who later became the fifth President of India. 

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