The House Of Patras

Khaled Ahmed LAHORE, Pakistan
May 13, 1999 (The Friday Times)

Ahmed Shah 'Patras' Bokhari has been celebrated as an educationist, a man of letters, a diplomat, and as one the greatest sons of Pakistan. His brother Zulfiqar Bokhari became Pakistan's greatest broadcaster. But not much is known about the family of Patras, his background in Peshawar, and his descendants.

The following article puts on record additional information about the House of Patras which the readers may find interesting. Ahmed Shah 'Patras' Bokhari (1898-1958) was Pakistan's Permanent Representative at the United Nations from 1951 to 1955. After that, till his death in 1958, he served as an Under-Secretary of the United Nations. He was Director-General All-India Radio in New Delhi before Partition and, after 1947, principal of the Government College in Lahore. He had been a student at the same college, editing its prestigious journal The Ravi and acting in its Dramatic Club. He lies buried in a suburban graveyard in New York.

Not much is known about his family life. The reason for this is difficult to fathom. Some people think that he neglected his family, and they focus on his career at the United Nations to draw this conclusion. From 1951 to 1958, when he served at New York, his wife and children were not with him. Some of his contemporaries have chosen to connect this with a presumed alienation between Patras and his wife and his two sons. They relate this to his intensely ambitious and careerist temperament which neglected friends as well as the family. Let us look into his family life to test this negative testimony against him.

Ahmed Shah Bokhari's ancestors had migrated from Bokhara to Kashmir in antiquity. One ancestor Muhammad Shah was a religious scholar and was considered a saint by his followers. That accounted for the prefix 'pir' to the family name, which was also a part of Ahmed Shah's name when he went to school. Somewhere in the 19th century, the Bokharis moved from Baramula to P eshawar. Ahmed Shah's father Asadullah Shah Bokhari lived in Jehangirpura inside old Kabuli Gate in Peshawar city. His descendants still occupy the Bokhari Manzil where Ahmed Shah grew up. Asadullah Shah (d.1942) married four times after the successive demise of his wives. His eldest son Muhammad Shah (Ahmed Shah's step-brother) joined political service under the British. Step-sister Asghar's offspring lived in Peshawar after her demise; and step-brother Ghalib, who married late, died issue-less; Ghalib had one real sister, Rashida. Ahmed Shah had only one real brother, Zulfiqar Ali, younger to him. It was not a very prosperous home in Bokhari Manzil. 'Pir' Ahmed Shah was a good student at school. He went 'shopping' for chapati and meat every day for his mother. There were no books to read at home. Ahmed Shah spoke Hindko at home because his mother was Hindko-speaking. As he grew up, Ahmed Shah learnt to speak Pushto with great perfection and resorted to it whenever he came across a Pakhtun. Studying Urdu and Persian at school, he could speak and write Urdu from his school days. He was to become a stylist in Urdu during his stay in Government College Lahore and All-India Radio in Delhi, leaving behind humorous 'essays' which became a classic in Urdu literature. His passion was English, which he learnt from the British soldiers, 'Tommies', stationed in the city. He would buy their raddi newspapers and read about England in them. He was so good at English at school that his headmaster asked him to read the welcome address to the visiting chief commissioner Sir Roos-Keppel, the author of the famous teach-yourself Pushto grammar, still the best book on Pushto language. Roos-Keppel's remark, written on his book, was, 'I wish I could speak Pushto as well Pir Ahmed Shah speaks English'. There was no electricity in Bokhari Manzil, which meant that he had to frequently read his 'newspapers' under the street lamp. Ahmed Shah wrote poetry in Persian later in his career, but his Persian was not as good as his brother Zulfiqar Ali's, a fact that he acknowledged all his life.

Zulfiqar was eccentric from the very beginning, rebellious and quarrelsome, an under-achiever in education who was to rise to great heights as a broadcaster. Zulfiqar failed to go to college and graduated in munshi-fazil and adeeb-alim courses. Zulfiqar arose to be Pakistan's greatest broadcaster. He set up the BBC Urdu Service in 1939 and stayed in London through the war years while his family lodged with Ahmed Shah's family. Ahmed Shah must have possessed a consciousness far beyond the level of his immediate surrounding.

After he passed his school with distinction and a scholarship, he preferred to come down to Lahore for graduation. When he arrived in Lahore in 1916, from Islamia College Peshawar, he had only one pair of pants and two shalwars in his suit-case. He began as a Science student but switched to the Arts while in his first year of MSc. He was taken note of by Lahore's Civil & Military Gazette when he became editor of the college magazine The Ravi in 1919 and produced a special number on an old GC teacher, Dr Stephenson. In 1922, he took his MA in English after just one year's study and stood first, after which he was appointed lecturer at the College. This was his creative period. His bilingual excellence is owed to his intensive translation of great books and plays from English to Urdu. He was tall and blue-eyed, had a razor-sharp mind, an equally sharp tongue, and a keenness to go forward in life. Before leaving for Cambridge in 1925 for his Tripos, he left behind in The Ravi some of the most trenchant pieces of prose in English and Urdu written under the pen-name 'Patras', a Persian adaptation of an Arabic rendering of 'Peter'. He first used it as 'Petronius' in The Civil & Military Gazette of Lahore.

He returned from Cambridge in 1927 with a first class first, a rare distinction, whereafter he taught English at Government College Lahore for the next ten years. In Cambridge, he was a close friend of the great critic F.R. Leavis. He had met Bertrand Russel, whose book he had translated into Urdu back in Lahore, and spent some time with him at the Isle of Wight. He must have put off a lot of people accustomed to progressing at a slow pace in life. To some, he definitely came across as an opportunist, which may be a mistaken impression. He was entertaining in conversation, quick on the uptake, witty and articulate. His friends often compared him to Sarojini Naidu who was a friend and somewhat of a match.

Ahmed Shah had married in 1923 when he was a teacher at Government College Lahore under principal G.D. Sondhi. Four years later, in 1927, he published his famous essays under the pen-name of Patras. His wife, Zubeida, was a Kashmiri, a Punjabi-speaking Wanchoo, daughter of a superintendent of police. They had three children: Mansoor, Haroon and Roshan Ara.

In 1939, he was appointed Deputy Director-General of All-India Radio and shifted to Delhi where his home became a kind of salon for the intellectuals of India. His son Haroon Bokhari, disrupting his studies at St Anthony's School at Lahore, went to Delhi when he was ten. He resumed at St Stephen's College where his school-mate was Zia-ul-Haq from Jullundhar, later to become the military dictator of Pakistan. His class-mates at St Stephen's were Birjees Hassan Khan, Zahoor Azar, Iqbal Khan and Gulzar Ahmad Khan - all were to serve in high offices in Pakistan after 1947. Ahmed Shah 'Patras' Bokhari ran All-India Radio from 1939 to 1947. Among the frequent guests at their home were: Aruna Asif Ali, Sarojini Naidu, Abul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Zakir Husain, Somnath Chib (ASB's childhood friend), Meha Masani (later DG, All-India Radio), Majeed Malik, and Faiz Ahmad Faiz. It was at his Delhi home that Haroon first saw Ayub Khan, Pakistan's future military dictator. He called as a junior officer, a major, returning from war and stayed a few days. Later, Ayub Khan, climbing fast on the ladder of power in Pakistan, refused to acknowledge that he had ever stayed in Ahmad Shah's house. When he met Haroon in East Pakistan, he pretended that he had only 'heard of Ahmed Shah Bokhari'.
In 1947, Ahmed Shah got back into education service and shifted from Delhi, where he foresaw communal trouble, to Lahore, to become principal at Government College. He took his Haroon out of his Delhi college and admitted him to GC. (Elder son Mansoor had already passed his BA Honours in English.) Here the Principal's Lodge inside the College premises became the den of select men of letters, often referred to as Zinda-Dilaan-e-Lahore, that Ahmed Shah loved: Imtiaz Ali Taj, Soofi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, M.D. Taseer, Ghulam Abbas, Abdul Majid Salik, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and many others. Because of their Kashmiri connection, the Bokharis always had close relations with the family of Saadat Hassan Manto. Ahmed Shah spoke a theatrically flawless English at College; at home he spoke Hindko and Punjabi with his family.

Zulfiqar Bokhari got married in another Kashmiri family. His wife was the sister of Major Arif Butt of the ISPR. From Enayat, he had three daughters: Parveen, married to Afzal Khan, Chairman OGDC; Zareen, married to Hakim Ali Zardari; and Simin. Zulfiqar Bokhari became the most celebrated boss of Radio Pakistan. He died in Karachi and is buried there. Former Director-General All-India Radio and Controller Broadcasting, Lionel Fielden, wanted to select a director for Delhi Radio station and put together a Selection Board in which he included Ahmed Shah on the recommendation of none other than E.M. Forster. According to Fielden, Ahmad Shah did not know that his brother Zulfiqar Bokhari was one of the candidates being interviewed by the Board. When he realised it, he asked Fielden if he should absent himself from the session, to which Fielden concurred Fielden found his best station director in Zulfiqar Bokhari. He was also greatly impressed with Ahmad Shah and his brilliant conversation. Later when he was to choose his Deputy, he asked Ahmad Shah to leave Government College and join All-India Radio. At this point, Zulfiqar Bokhari warned him not to have two brothers in high posts in the same department. He thought that his brother 'would not be suited to the rough-and-tumble of Broadcasting'. In his own words, Fielden later realised that he had made a mistake and that Ahmed Shah should have stayed back at Government College Lahore to become a great educationist like Dr Zakir Husain: 'His heart was not in Broadcasting'. Fielden was succeeded by Ahmed Shah as Director-General. The rivalry between Fielden and Ahmed Shah has often been referred to. The most important aspect of this 'campaign' against Ahmed Shah has not been mentioned as often. Lionel Fielden was a homosexual (his posthumously published autobiography was titled The Natural Bent) and soon struck up an intimate relationship with Zulfiqar Bokhari.

That Ahmed Shah was a competitive person, impatient to get ahead in life, is also true, but the hostility he faced from his broadcasting boss in India added to his restlessness. Sir Zafrullah Khan was of the view that the ill-health which a took a fatal toll of him at the UN was contracted in these years of tension in New Delhi. In 1946, the Punjab government asked Ahmed Shah to return to Punjab or forgo his lien with the education service of the province. It was a tough decision to make but his British superiors in New Delhi convinced him that Partition was inevitable and that most Muslim civil servants would soon be expected to opt for Pakistan. Ahmed Shah agreed to return and take over the Government College which G.D. Sondhi had left in 1945 and which Dickinson was now about to leave on retirement.
In early 1947, Ahmed Shah moved from New Delhi to Lahore. In 1949, about the time Ahmed Shah became prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan's speech-writer, his two sons Mansoor (in 1945) and Haroon Bokhari (in 1949) joined Pakistan Tobacco Company. Haroon was sent for training to London by his employers. Haroon was appointed chairman Pakistan Television and Radio by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after he came to power in 1971. In this capacity he served till 1977 when his old college-mate General Zia imposed martial on the country. The General was disappointed when Haroon resigned in 1977. After remaining in the wilderness till 1989, Haroon was made chairman of State Cement Corporation by Benazir Bhutto, which was to be his last job.

Mansoor Bokhari, after retiring from PTC, became the owner of EMI. His eldest son Tahir is working in the US; daughter Yasmeen is a senior vice president of Citibank in Pakistan; daughter Saba, fluent in French, is in UNESCO, Paris; and daughter Laleen is in the teaching profession.

Noon Meem Raashid, who was Ahmed Shah's student at Government College in the 1920s, then his junior colleague at All-India India Radio and at the United Nations, commented in an interview that Ahmed Shah stayed 8 years in New York but was never visited by any member of his family. Later, Agha Babar went to the Valhalla Cemetery in Westchester, N.Y, and declared that he had 'discovered' the forgotten grave of Ahmed Shah, implying that even his family didn't know where he was buried. Haroon Bokhari asserts that his father kept constantly in touch with his wife and sons in Karachi, visited Pakistan often while at the UN. When Haroon was in the UK, his father made it a point to visit him there and spend time with him. All his life, Ahmed Shah helped the offspring of his step-brothers and sisters, kept them at his house whenever that was needed, and talked often of living with his sons after his retirement. Ahmed Shah had always sent money home to support his parents no matter where he was employed. His family lived in an official house in Karachi and was supported by him till his death. His wife, who survived him for two years, was provided her own house after Ahmad Shah quit government service and joined the UN. About the question raised by Noon Meem Raashid, Haroon states that his father was an extremely sick man, suffering from diabetes, cancer and heart disease and wanted to stay in New York to get the expensive treatment his ailments required, which he could neither afford nor obtain in Pakistan. Both his sons were employed and were posted in far-flung areas of Pakistan, and his wife, herself an ailing person, was looked after by them. About his father's grave in New York, he states that in 1958 he was serving in East Pakistan when the news of Ahmed Shah's death reached him. He couldn't make it in time to attend his father's funeral in New York. Pakistan's ambassador in the US, K.M. Kaiser, looked after the funeral, bought the piece of land in the cemetery and gave him a good burial. Haroon reimbursed the ambassador and is today a shareholding member of the Valhalla cemetery, receiving regular reports on the maintenance of his father's grave. He is sure that his father would have wanted to be buried in New York. Haroon wanted to design his father's grave-stone and requested Pakistan's leading artist Abdur Rehman Chughtai to prepare it; but when he couldn't, he got it done in New York, inscribing it with Robert Frost's famous lines which he had written to Ahmed Shah as a tribute. He was undoubtedly closest to his father in the family. He recalls that when as a student in London he had gone on a walking tour of Norway he had met an American girl who later applied for a job at the UN through Ahmed Shah, proving through photographs that she had met Haroon in Norway. Ahmed Shah reported this good-naturedly to Haroon in a letter.

Haroon Bokhari, on his return from training in the UK, met his future wife Roshan Aziz in Karachi in 1951 and proposed to her. He had known the family in Lahore. She was the daughter of Mian Abdul Aziz 'Falakpaima', an administrator and a well-known writer of essays in Urdu in Sir Abdul Qadir's journal Makhzan, later published as Falakpaima kay mazameen. The son of a distinguished essayist got married to the daughter of another essayist of renown. Ahmad Shah had received Companion of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1945; Falakpaima was an OBE (Order of the British Empire). The House of Ahmed Shah 'Patras' Bokhari's is intact. Haroon's three sons are well settled in life: Zain is in MCB, Ayaz in Shell, and Ali is in a financial consultancy firm in Washington.

Ahmed Shah left behind very little in writing apart from his Urdu masterpiece Patras kay mazameen. Liaquat Ali Khan's collection of speeches Pakistan: The Heart of Asia was written by him. His speeches at the UN have been compiled by Anwar Dil in his On this Earth Together (1994), a volume devoted to his stay at the UN. Another book - a report on the system of education of Mexico - was published by Syed Babar Ali in Lahore, but failed to attract attention in Islamabad. Haroon Bokhari and Roshan have an apartment in Karachi but shifted to Defence in Lahore some years ago - the city where Ahmad Shah had become famous as a teacher, a man of letters and a wit.