Remembering Pitras Bokhari (by Noman Ahmed)

by Noman Ahmed

Professor Ahmed Shah Bukhari - popularly known as Patras Bukhari who died 45 years ago – has made enormous contributions in Urdu literature. He was, undoubtedly, an internationally renowned figure. In fact, from his essays in Patras ke Mazamin it is almost impossible to fathom the depth of his multi-faceted personality. Known commonly for his Urdu satire, he was an inspiring educator, intrepid journalist, insightful critic, an imaginative translator, an able broadcaster, and a seasoned diplomat. These wide ranging fields of interest coupled with his humane nature made him a well sought after figure. Bukhari also contributed immensely towards the development of Urdu.

Born in Peshawar in 1898, he came from a religious noble family. Bukhari's intelligence had caught the attention of his teachers at an early stage. His fine tuned intonation in speech, wide reading and a quest for learning had earned him fame while at school. After listening to Bukhari's recital of a poem at a school function, the British Chief Commissioner of NWFP, Sir George R. Caple, remarked, "It is my desire to have command on Pushto as good as young Ahmed Shah has on English." After completing his high school education from Peshawar, he joined Government College, Lahore.

This institution left a lasting impression on Bukhari's personality. It was here that he met teachers like Professor Watkins under whose guidance he was able to begin his career in writing. He became editor of the famous literary magazine Ravi. He also started contributing to leading journals and newspapers such as the Civil and Military Gazette and soon attained credibility as a writer. The amateur theatre of the college also attracted him and Bukhari was an eager participant in directing, acting and also translating of these plays. Days spent in Cambridge facilitated the blossoming of his intellect. He was able to delve into the core of English literature and was fascinated by the entire environment. Bukhari dutifully shared his experiences and knowledge gained abroad with his countrymen. He strongly advocated the translation of English masterpieces into Urdu. He was himself a translator par excellence with his enormous command on different languages including Urdu, English, French, Persian, Punjabi and Pushto. His works were unique since he understood and could feel the essence and nuances of the text and managed to keep the spirits alive in the translation as well.

After a stint with All India Radio where he injected a freshness of approach into its programs, Bukhari returned to Government College, Lahore as its Principal in 1947. This was a long cherished goal. Clad in the professorial gown, he embarked upon the road to stabilizing the pre-established educational setup of the college. As its principal, he toiled to broaden the scope of its literary activities, which served to stimulate interest in literature amongst the students.

He mobilized the students to venture forth into new activities. The Majlis-i-Urdu was set up as an organization to serve as a nursery to groom the youth with talent studying in the college. Bukhari's innovative effort enabled the students to expand their horizons - both in terms of their expression and thinking - and thus present freely their critique on old and new literary masterpieces.

Punjab was that land where Urdu had every potential to spread its cultural spirit. His confidants in this battle were Faiz, Dr Taseer, Hafeez Jullanderi, Sufi Tabassum, Maulana Abdul Majid Salik and many other native crusaders. The literary journals of Lahore Nairang-i-Khayal edited by Hakim Yousuf Hasan and Karawan can be considered reminiscent examples of the ripened viewpoints of its contributors on this issue. Urdu prospered a great deal when the orbits were broadened and new stars were drawn in.

Bukhari had firm plans to organize a research program to enable Urdu to be used as a language of the academia. He wanted to set up a center where literary treasures as well as works from other fields from foreign/regional languages could be translated into Urdu.

His diplomatic career started in 1949 when he went to the United States and earned recognition for his services rendered as spokesman of his country. In the early fifties when he was sent to the United Nations as a delegate of Pakistan, his speeches reflected his eloquence and profound awareness of crucial international problems. He won the distinction of being recognized as the distinguished spokesman of the Third World.

Dag Hammerskjold, the UN Secretary General, was at that time looking for a team mate in the Information Division. His choice was Bukhari, who was then appointed as the UN Under Secretary General. Before taking charge, Bukhari accompanied Hamerskjold on an important mission to China to secure the release of US Air force staff captured after an incident. While carrying out the routine talks, he successfully coordinated between the two sides to remove pre-existing doubts and to establish the credibility of the United Nations.

In the corridors of the UN Headquarters, he was an amiable person dear to his staff, colleagues and newsmen. They adored his company in informal chats, which were enlivened by his wit and joviality. Even when he was in this top position surrounded by the elite, he still wanted to return to the world of academics and literary works. He had planned to write a comprehensive book about the transformation of theatre and drama in South Asia as a co-venture with Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj. In addition he also wanted to translate the literary works of noteworthy American writers into Urdu after completing his diplomatic term. He also had an offer for a teaching assignment in Columbia University.

But he did not live to realize his plans and died of a heart problem in New York in December 1958. E.M. Foster once said about him, ''Many can shine in the universe but only few can shine from the darkest of eclipses, and Bukhari is one of them."