Patras Bokhari - Decorated, at last

Dawn, Review, 2003

Patras Bokhari – Decorated, at last

Better late than never! The President of Pakistan conferred the Hilal-i-Imtiaz upon Prof Ahmed Shah Bokhari on the 14th of this month. Patras Bokhari died 45 years ago. He was, undoubtedly, an internationally renowned figure. In fact, from the numerical count of his essays in Patras ke Mazamin it is almost impossible to fathom the depth of the multi-faceted personality of Professor Bokhari.

More than a humourist, as he is commonly known to be, he was an inspiring educationist, intrepid journalist, insightful critic, an imaginative translator, stern administrator, 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.

Besides, his unbiased approach towards Eastern and Western literature, his lifestyle and values had made him a union figure of both the camps. Bokhari also contributed immensely towards the development of Urdu.

Born in Peshawar in 1898, he hailed from a religious noble family. His father, Syed Asadullah Shah, was a close disciple of Khawaja Kamaluddin, a well known Islamic preacher and scholar. Bukhari's intelligence had caught the attention of his teachers at an early stage of his academic life. His fine tuned intonation in speech, wide reading and a quest for learning had earned him fame while he was still at school.

After completing his high school education from Peshawar, he joined Government College, Lahore. The college was run by eminent professors who, besides the routine teaching in class, helped their students groom their personalities by keeping them absorbed in literary and co-curricular activities.

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 programme, 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 critque on old and new literary masterpieces.

Veteran Lahoris cannot forget glimpses of the spectacular forum of intellectuals in the early thirties all clustered around the magnetic personality of Bukhari. Most of these meetings were held at his own residence at McLeod Road. Later under the name of 'Niazmandan-i-Lahore', he led the vigorous literary battle against the 'U-Pians' who considered Lahori writers a grade less than themselves due to their inherited pride in their language. But Bukhari insisted that Urdu could become popular only if extended to each and every corner of the country without any lip 'n' accent bans promoted by the U-Pians. According to him, Urdu possesses enough flexibility to even counter the complex theologies of any alien religion!

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 view points 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 programme of research to enable Urdu to be used as a language of the academia. He wanted to set up a centre where literary treasures as well as works from other fields from foreign/regional languages could be translated into Urdu. Had he remained in the country for some more time, he would have translated his dream into reality and would have progressed towards creating an institution on the pattern of the Usmania University of Hyderabad Deccan.

His diplomatic career started in 1949 when he accompanied Prime Minster Liaquat Ali Khan on his historic visit to the United States and earned recognition for his services rendered as spokesman of the 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 Islamic world. As he had himself observed the sufferings of the subjects of an enslaved country, he could empathize with others under colonial rule.

Mr 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 Airforce 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 the subcontinent 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."