Partyman Patras

Patras Bokhari could have excelled as a writer, had he chosen not to do a variety of things and achieving the best in all of them
By Sarwat Ali,
The News International , 12th December 2004

Ahmed Shah Patras Bokhari was one of the towering figures that Government College Lahore has produced. He was considered to a legendary teacher of English, a great actor on stage and the founder of broadcasting in the subcontinent. At the same time, he was merited as being one of the best humour writers in Urdu and a diplomat who was highly regarded by the international diplomatic community due to his work at the United Nations.

Patras must have cut a very impressive figure, so impressive that people expected so much of him. In Patras' days it was not very easy for a Muslim to achieve the position of heading an organization as important as the radio. Patras had so much talent that his colleagues and junior contemporaries wanted him to be a super achiever in all the fields that he was known to be involved in. Any lesser performance was taken as falling short of those high expectations.

The same theme was played with variation by various people who came in contact with Patras during the course of his very successful life. The most damning criticism however comes from Lionel Fielden, the man who established the radio in the subcontinent and was responsible for the career shift of Patras Bokhari from teaching to broadcasting. Fielden initially liked the man and appreciated his qualities but then there seemed to be a falling out between the two. He criticised Patras for not being focused enough. He was in search of his vocation and was confused between what he wanted to do and where his ambition took him. "...he was much more the don than the impresario, and broadcasting needs the impresario, which his brother was. I did not really want Ahmed Shah to succeed me when my contract finished because I thought, despite his brilliance he was the wrong man for the radio".

But before Fielden it was Iqbal who had been critical of Patras. Before going to Cambridge, Patras went to Iqbal and requested him for recommendatory letters to facilitate his stay in England. Iqbal obviously obliged him and wrote to the people he knew. These person helped Patras but when he came back and went to pay his respects, Iqbal found him to be too demonstratively pedant and overwhelmed by what he had seen and studied during his stay in Europe. Iqbal is said to have written his poem Aik Falsafazada Syedzaday Kay Naam on his disillusionment after meeting the Europe-returned Patras Bokhari.

Agha Abdul Hameed, a devoted student of Patras, who was an Indian Civil Servant and later also worked with him in the All India Radio, was critical of Bokhari for not having devoted his energies to literature. Bokhari had a great flair for the language and his knowledge was phenomenal yet he was not able to write much except Patras kay Mazameen. Hameed lays the blame on the 'tabeeyat' of Patras which was more prone to 'majlis'. "He was a 'majlasi aadmi' and loved to be with people. Perhaps the lonesome existence of a scholar was not in keeping with his temperament".
But this must have caused him dearly because he left very little for the posterity to judge him by. We have only Patras Kay Mazameen and nothing more. Perhaps he had the ability to contribute much more to literature than he eventually did during his very successful career in various fields.

Noon Meem Rashed, first a student and then a colleague of Patras at the radio, is considered one of the pioneers of azad nazm in Urdu. He summed up Bokhari's life in the following words: "...a great man who missed the bus. The buses passed by one after the other, while he kept looking under his feet. For example writing was his forte and among his countrymen he will always be remembered and respected as a writer, rather than as an administrator or diplomat, but he did very little to apply himself seriously to writing and once he sold his soul to the demons of administration and diplomacy, so to say, he found it even harder to satisfy his urge to write".

Anwar Dil, who has written the book which contains all the remarks quoted above, also tends to agree with the assumption that Patras wasted his life in 'halla gulla' and did not sit down to the task of writing and criticism or even theatre for which he also had a natural flair. The same accusation was hurled at M D Taseer but Taseer was not blamed as much as Patras because he did not have the latter's talent.

Patras did make his contribution. He was the rallying figure round whom so many intellectuals and writers of his time revolved. He was the inspiration for Salik, Taseer, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Noon Meem Rashed, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and many others. He provided them the environment where they could be provoked to think creatively by challenging the given stereotypes.

At the radio he performed a similar function where his person was the main attraction that drew people from all walks of life. His magnetism must have helped in establishing radio as an institution. "I was indebted to him for providing me in my early college days, the much needed encouragement and critical appreciation of my work when I was experimenting with free verse. Without his encouragement and appreciation I doubt if I could have brought as much original thinking to bear on my poetry and literary criticism, as I was able to in the following thirty years or so. He was no crusader for or against ideas and beliefs but always stressed upon thought content for poetry. He however insisted that good writing could not come out of a mind fettered in the usual conventional bonds -- religion, moral and political," Wrote Rashed.

Patras was often accused of being too favourably disposed to the students of Government College, Lahore, recruiting them in the organization over and above the rest. This may have been justified on the ground that he was an inspiring figure and students from his alma mater must have come seeking him for inspiration and guidance. Probably they were motivated to work with him in the organisation that he was heading.

His stay as principal of the college for about four years is seen by many as a very vibrant time. It must have been a challenge too because the college had lost a large number of teachers due to partition and subsequent migration of population. He enabled the college to regain its former glory and that must have taken a fair bit out of him. The conjoining of creativity and administration may have appeared a happy marriage on the surface but it must have taken its toll and he must have preferred one over the other on the basis which one of them demanded his immediate attention.