Patras Bokhari - a legend

The News International, Wednesday, November 23, 1994
Prof. Nazeer Siddiqi

Ahmad Shah Bokhari, generally known as Patras Bokhari in the Urdu knowing world, was one of the few legendary figures of Pakistan.  He rose to fame in the pre-partition India.  First he achieved reputation as an inspiring professor of English in the prestigious Government College, Lahore.  He was fortunate enough to have studied at Cambridge University under such eminent professors like I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis, who were impressed by his remarkable abilities.  Probably F.R. Leavis had predicted a very bright future for him.  During his Government College, Lahore days he gained a reputation not only as an ideal teacher but also as a distinguished writer in Urdu.  He tried his hand in many different literary forms in Urdu – for instance, he attempted light essay, wrote literary criticism, translated some of the modern classics of English literature, introduced early Greek philosophy to Urdu readers and undertook polemical writings as well.  But what has sustained his reputation as a writer in Urdu are his light essays which are known as Patras Kai Mazameem (1927).  There was a refreshing originality and delightful humour in those essays.  Such spontaneous essays of contemporary interest were written neither before him nor after him.  Perhaps, Prof. Kanahya Lal Kapoor, who was a student of Patras, emerged as a creative influence of Patras.  But there was an intrinsic difference between the two.  Patras by nature was a humorist while Kapoor by temperament was a satirist.  There were some other representatives of humorous and satirical essays in the field.  For example, there were Prof. Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqi, Farhatullah Baig, Sajjad Ansari, Shaukat Thanwi and others.  But Patras and Kapoor were distinctly different from them.

Before Pakistan came into being, Prof. Patras Bokhari joined All India Radio as Director General.  This was another phase of his reputation as a distinguished administrator in one of the most sensitive institutions of the then British Government.  It was during this period that Patras Bokhari appointed a number of renowned Urdu writers and poets in various capacities, in All India Radio for different stations.  These functionaries included persons like Miraji, Noon Meem Rashid, Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander, Upender Nath Ashk, Shaukat Thanwi and a host of others.  Z.A Bokhari, the younger brother of Patras Bokhari was also ushered into Radio those very days.  Both Bokhari brothers came to be known as Barai Bokhari and Chotai Bokhari.  Chotai Bokhari, that is Z.A. Bokhari, surpassed his elder brother as a radio man.  He was indeed a king of voices.  He could act in a radio drama in several voices simultaneously.  He could perceive the slightest defect in the machinery of Radio.  Before the establishment of Pakistan, he served as Station Director at Bombay, Delhi and Peshawar.  In Pakistan he held the highest post in Radio Pakistan.  Like Patras Bokhari, he was not only an official of the highest rank, he was also blessed with literary gifts.  A very fine poet of Urdu Ghazal as he was, he has left his autobiography in an inimitable style.

Though Z.A. Bokhari was bestowed with many qualities, Patras Bokhari was far ahead of him.  As soon as Pakistan came into being, Patras Bokhari was assigned to serve as the permanent Representative of Pakistan at the U.N.  There he discharged his duties to the best of his abilities and earned the reputation of being a ‘diplomat’s diplomat’, cosmopolitan crusader and the citizen of the world.  His speeches at the UN attracted the largest audience.  His elegant and impeccable speeches in English, interspersed with Shakespearean quotations, were highly enjoyed by the elite audience of UNO.  His native humour was another asset which he employed artistically.  Being a specialist on Shakespeare, he knew how to speak dramatically and charm the listeners with dramatic effects.  Probably he had organized a sort of a theatre at Government College, Lahore where he had trained some of his talented students as actors.  One of his Hindu students whose name I am forgetting at the moment, became a film actor of India-wide fame.  He was at his best in the Urdu film Hum Log.

Patras Bokhari had the honour to accompany Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, on his visit to America as his main speech-writer.  It is said that most of the speeches that deeply impressed the American minds, were written by Prof. Bokhari.  He was a man of transparent clarity in expression and masterly simplicity in language.  He always attacked his subject from an unexpected angle.  He had invariably something new to say.  Not only that he said things in an exquisite manner; he also managed to adorn his writings with thought-provoking substance.

He died at an age (1898-1958) which left his admirers to say in the words of Galib:    What was the harm to you if you had lived a little longer?

What is more unfortunate about his death is that he died in America and his dead body was not brought to his country.  In this way Pakistan was deprived of his physical memorial where his lovers and admirers could go and pay homage to him.

However, attempts have been made to collect and preserve his writings as his immortal memorial.  The late Mohammad Tufail was the first editor to bring out Patras Number of Naqosh in a befitting manner.  It contained condolence message of the great personalities of the world, including that of Hammarskjold, the Secretary-General of UN, with whom Prof Bokhari had the pleasure and honour to work.  Probably Hammarskjold was the only person of Bokhari’s kind, that is, essentially a literary, philosophical and somewhat mystical personality, entangled, like Bokhari, in world politics.  The Patras Number of Naqoosh had several pen-portraits of Bokhari by his close friends, disciples and admirers such as Prof. Sufi Tabassum, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kanahya Lal Kapoor and Prof. Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqi.  It also consisted of a selection of his best essays, translations like R.L. Stevenson’s Markheim, and Galsworthy’s The Apple Tree, his famous speech on Tunisia, some of his critical articles and an introductory essay on the early Greek philosophy.  I wonder if the Patras Number of Naqoosh is available these days.  If not available, it deserves to be reprinted.

Fortunately two collections of Bokhari’s writings have recently appeared – one in Urdu and another in English.  The Urdu collection is the outcome of the labour of Shima Majeed, who has given herself to rediscover and preserve all that is scattered, buried and lost.  Her collection Patras Kay Nasri Afkar (Patras’s reflections in prose) seems to some extent an improvement on the Patras Number of Naqoosh.  It was published in February 1994, and possesses Urdu translations of Bokhari’s several writings in English.  One can’t help wishing that Prof. Patras Bokhari was only a writer, in Urdu and English.  He must have enriched both the languages with his creative and critical writings much more that he was able to do despite his multifarious preoccupations.  He was as fine a critic as a creative writer.

One of Prof. Bokhari’s students, Prof. Anwar Shabnam Dil, has published a massive collection of his speeches and writings in English.  His book entitled On This Earth Together, is one of the most welcome gifts of the current year.

Dr. Aftab Ahmad has rightly said that Prof. Bokhari was many things in addition to being a writer.  Literature was not his entire life.  It was only a part of his life.