Citizen of the Word -- Dawn Magazine, August 13, 2006

By Sumera S. Naqvi, Dawn Magazine, August 13, 2006

Citizen of the world

Way back in 1939, Patras Bokhari wrote an article, Hindustani from Madras, in which he said that in order to “extend the coverage of a language to the whole of India, fastidious standards of purism and exclusiveness must receive minor shocks.” By minor shocks, he wouldn’t have meant eventually wiping out either language – Urdu or Hindi. Far from it, he meant peaceful co-existence. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons that led him to earn the title, and so aptly, the citizen of the world.

Further in the article, the Urdu humorist-cum-writer-cum-broadcaster-cum educationist mentioned the books, Hindustani and Hindustani ki Pehli Kitab, then published by the Madras government that “represent(ed) the first concrete shape given to the dream of equipping 360 million people with a common language.” He argued that people apply language according to utility or usage and so a common language should serve that purpose. “The need for a lingua franca is a spiritual one, and, but another aspect of the new national consciousness. The difficulties and the dangers of the task, however great and real they may be, are therefore merely looked upon as a challenge to enterprise and enthusiasm.” I wonder if Patras had lived into this age and written these lines with the same degree of confidence.

I believe he would have. Though it is not required for a humourist to also be an optimist, Patras wrote what he believed. Mein Aik Mian Hoon to mention one, exudes tremendous hope (and humour) on the part of a beleaguered husband hampered by a truculent wife, at all costs. It is one of the most hilarious and vivid pieces in his book, Patras kay Mazameen. Many know Pir Syed Ahmad Shah Bokhari, popularly known as Patras, to be the accomplished Urdu humorist, but he was also a broadcaster of his times and a leading educationist. He joined the All India Radio in 1937 and became the controller general in the year 1940. He became the principal of Government College, Lahore, also his own alma mater, in 1947.

A valuable website developed by his grandson, Ayaz Bokhari, () is a treasure trove of all the essays, writings, insights, biography etc., about Patras and written by him. It holds the following lines on its home page that epitome Patras Bokhari so rightly: “Ahmed Bokhari carried the dual heritage of eastern and western civilization. This gave him an unusual width of approach to those problems of our time with which the United Nations has to deal. He reflected in his personality the possibility of a synthesis of great traditions on which it is the task of our generation to build one world. He also knew in a deep personal sense the difficulties and tensions which must accompany such a process.” In today’s world of crisis and chaos, people like Patras Bokhari emanate freshness and hope through their writings and views.

As researcher and critic, Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui puts it: “Patras Bokhari was a modernist who not only defied tradition but also emerged as a role model of the times he lived for others to follow.” Though the Urdu writers in Lahore have been inclined on defying the classical tradition, trying out new experiments in the language, critics claim that Patras’ style remained quite exceptionally unique and insurmountable. “This was quite a welcome aspect and writers of this time produced unique literature and added tremendous value to Urdu literature under the patronage of Patras Bokhari. It was people like him who encouraged these writers,” he comments.

Another interesting website that carries a compilation by M. Nauman Khan and Ghulam Mohiuddin, is , which sketchily delineates his achievements and biography.

Born in Peshawar on October 1, 1898, Patras Bokhari received his early education there and then went to Government College, Lahore in 1916 where he received his MA degree in English. He also went to the Cambridge University to do his Tripos in English which he passed in flying colours. The years he was principal were considered the golden years for the college as Patras Bokhari transformed it completely, also producing illustrious students like Noon Meem Rashid, Faiz Ahmed Faiz etc. In 1951, he became Pakistan’s first representative and the first Asian as well, “to be appointed deputy secretary-general of communications at the United Nations. He died in 1958 in New York and was buried there.

Though his book, Patras kay Mazameen has been a valuable contribution, and perhaps the only book by him, accrediting him as a unique humour writer, Patras Bokhari had churned out a trove of essays and writings on various topics holding some very significant points of view. His writings, spiced in humour, are also immersed in a liberal use of words and metaphors from Hindi. For instance, his using the word ‘Ieeshwar’ in the essay, “Saweray jo Kal Aankh meri khuli” so fluently speaks of his conviction that they are just part of the same coin.

An interesting feature on the website on Patras Bokhari by Ayaz Bokhari is the background to the pen name ‘Patras’. Bokhari took up the pen name after his dear teacher, Mr Peter Watkins who used to call him ‘Pir’ and pronounced it as “Pierre” in French which is akin to Peter. Bokhari had a keen interest in Greek mythology which led him to take up ‘Patras’ as his pen name as it is derived from Greek for Peter. It also drops a line to educate the ignorant that Patras is not spelt or pronounced ‘Pitras’.

The website developed by Ayaz Bokhari is really a labour of love for his dear grandfather. Though a plethora of websites scroll down the computer screen on typing in the name Patras in the flick of the eye, developed by fans and connoisseurs of Urdu literature, the aforementioned website carries collector pieces on the writer which may not be easily accessible anywhere else, because Ayaz Bokhari has the edge of being part of the family tree. Nevertheless, the websites are a valuable contribution to the computer savvy younger generation on the Net, and also an inspiration for other progeny to follow suit.