Prof. A. S. Bokhari – Mentor, Boss & Friend

By Bashir A. Khan
27th October 2005

During my career as the Senior Commentator and Incharge of the Urdu Service of Voice of America for the world at New York 1951-1954, I had the opportunity of interviewing some 300 persons of eminence from all walks of life. These included Heads of the States, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Information, UN personalities, Chief Executives of leading multi-national corporations, poets, writers, Noble Prize laureates, celebrities and a cross-section of important people.

One name stands out in my memory who for his qualities of mind and heart and his extraordinarily gifted personality makes a world of difference. And that name is Professor A.S. Bokhari, who wrote under the pen name “PATRAS”.

I met the great man for the first time in Delhi in 1944 through the courtesy of my late brother Riaz Ahmad Khan who was working as an Assistant in All India Radio, where Prof. A.S. Bokhari was serving as the Director General of the organisation.

I remember he gave me an inspiring pep talk on how to be a good student. At that time I was preparing for my graduate degree at the historic Anglo Arabic College, Delhi. In that short discourse, Prof. Bokhari taught me that it is not how you live your years, but how you live your hours. He stressed the importance of the most impressionable period of a student’s life at college and how best to utilise it not only to read the prescribed courses but study and learn and broaden the mental horizons. He taught me a great lesson to first acquire knowledge and then to apply it in practical life. An insatiable passion and a deep love for knowledge was his key message to enable a person to serve humanity throughout his life. What a wonderful man, what a wonderful lesson which has been a guiding light for me all my life.

His 30-40 minute talk did a world of good to me. Not only, I passed my graduate examination with flying colors but obtained a First Class First distinction among over 50,000 students in 1945 - the second Muslim student in the 150 year history of University of Delhi to achieve that distinction. I have remained eternally grateful to Prof. Bokhari for his most valuable advice and motivational guidance. He demonstrated a very special relationship between a teacher and a student, even though, at that time he was serving as the Director-General of All India Radio.

While working at All India Radio, his charismatic personality attracted the most talented people in the organisation. In fact, once he was questioned in the National Assembly for having recruited a large number of employees who had studied at the Government College, Lahore. Prof. Bokhari instantly rose to the occasion and listed one organisation after the other, both in private and public sector where, statistically the proportionate number of ex-Government college students was much higher than All India Radio. His timely statement silenced all his critics.

Three years later, immediately after partition I called on Prof. Bokhari when he took over as the Principal of Government College Lahore. Earlier, I had attended my classes for M.A. English at St. Stephen College Delhi but due to partition could not complete my M.A. degree.

Once again, I received one of the best advices in my career as Prof. Bokhari said that since I had already studied for 2 years under the Oxford-educated teachers in Delhi, my first priority should be to complete my studies for obtaining the M.A. degree in English. I took his advice, and I had the good fortune to be one of his student where he lectured on Shakespeare and other English subjects. These 2 years were the most fruitful and productive period in shaping my intellectual growth & development in 1947-1949.

Immediately after partition when he took over the reins of the principal of the Government College, a wide gap in the teaching and administrative staff that migrated to India caused a serious problem.

Prof. Bokhari, a lonesome person rose to the occasion and he admirably filled up the gap. He brought to bear his full experience of administration acquired during his tenure as Director-General of All India Radio. And as far as the English department was concerned it was never so strong when he along with Prof. Sirajuddin -- provided the most powerful duo of English teachers -- perhaps the best in the subcontinent of India and Pakistan.

Prior to my departure for the states to specialise in the field of communications,
Prof. A.S. Bokhari gave a special certificate of merit which to this day remains one of the most precious treasures of my life.

In June 1950, I had the opportunity to meet Prof. Bokhari in New York when he came as an advisor and speechwriter to our first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in his official tour of America.

We had a very meaningful meeting. He indicated to me that he is being tipped as Ambassador to France. He made no secret of the fact that he was not at all happy as his forte was the English language and knowledge of French language is essential to be an effective ambassador for France. We had a long discussion.

At that time I was doing my M.A. in UN and World Affairs at the University of New York a special course in the department of International Affairs. Dr. Clyde Eagleton a leading authority was my Dean and professor and an advisor to the United Nations.Dr. Eagleton had earned the reputation of having written one of the most celebrated pieces of literacy jurisprudence -- the UN charter. I presented a copy of the UN charter to Prof. Bokhari and made a humble suggestion that there was a unique opportunity for a person of his calibre to be the ambassador of Pakistan at the UN where he, given the chance, could make an outstanding contribution. The idea was sold. He spoke to the Prime Minister.

In 1951, he was appointed the Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

As soon as he took over the job, I arranged for him to be invited to address the English Speaking Union as a speaker at the New York University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the United States. The speakers at the forum included Nobel Prize laureate, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and other notables.

At the end of his brilliant lecture where he received a standing ovation, he met me and said: “Bashir, of course, you were one of my favorite students. I always thought that you don’t come from a rich family. Your brother Riaz worked for me in All India Radio -- a thorough gentleman but a man of modest means. How come you are here? Only children of very rich families can afford the costly education in America”.

I put my hand in my pocket pulled out a few dollars and some change and said: Professor Sahib, this is all I have between me and starvation.

He gave me one of his affectionate looks and a typical smile and said: Tomorrow morning you will report at 12 East 65 St. New York, at my office at 9:00 AM sharp and assume the responsibility of my Public Relations Officer. The incumbent had left and the search for his replacement was in progress in Pakistan. And here was a God-given opportunity for me to serve Prof. Bokhari, and serve Pakistan.

One of my most enriching experiences was working closely for Prof. A.S. Bokhari for nearly one year. During this period our relationship flourished as the shift took place from Teacher-Student to Boss-Employee and then as friends and colleagues.

A daily visit to Lake Success -- that is where UN was located prior to its new and present building on East River, New York.

As Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to UN, the achievements of Prof. Bokhari need several books.

As the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations 1951-54 the achievements of Prof. Bokhari are a shinning example in the most glorious chapter of the nation’s history at the international level.

Everyday driving to the Lake Success and later to the new UN building on East River, Manhattan we would discuss the strategy of how to reconcile two or three Arab delegates who had developed serious differences with their counterparts. Prof. Bokhari, by nature had an egalitarian temperament, and during the journey the old faithful driver Brown in our Buick car would occasionally make his friendly comments. Prof. Bokhari listened to him patiently gave him all the encouragement to express his views.

Due to the extraordinary skill at making the most attractive speeches in various forums in the UN., Prof. Bokhari was elevated to the largest number of Committee Chairman in the shortest possible time.

This achievement was most incredible as there was no brief provided by Pakistan’s foreign office and until the last moment, just before rising on his feet to make the speech he would put his hand behind where I usually sat to enquire if I had received any instructions from the Government on the subject under discussion. Invariably I would touch his hand to indicate that as per the normal practice no brief or instructions were received. Despite no word from the Government, he would make a brilliant speech, receive standing ovation and more often than not earn for the country a good name and nomination as the Chairman of the respective Committee by consensus.

As I recall, it was during the discussion on the Tunisian question in the UN Security Council in April 1952, when Prof. Bokhari, had his finest hour at the United Nations.

I witnessed several delegates who took part in the discussions including China, United States and France. But the real battle of wits took place in the most dramatic fashion when Prof. Bokhari and the distinguished representative of the United Kingdom Sir Gladwyn Jebb locked up in a verbal shooting match that lasted for almost one hour. It was like a “Bait Bazi” or Shikwa and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” style of highly charged dual with slings and arrows emerging from both sides. Sir Gladwyn Jebb had earned the reputation of one of the leading orators at the UN -- a disciple of Winston Churchill crafted in the famous mould of the greatest Prime Minister England had produced.

The ensuring hot debate was finally wrapped up by Prof. Bokhari who had the last word on the subject. He made no secret of his mind-set when he protested that “I am highly disappointed by my friend Sir Gladwyn Jebb, the distinguished representative of the United Kingdom As the accomplished Master of the English language, as he was,Prof. Bokhari said that there are many pleasant things which the distinguished Sir Gladwyn Jebb and I share. Among them are love and respect for the English language. I must bitterly complain that the distinguished representative of the United Kingdom did violence to this common beloved of ours on this occasion”.

And this is how the fierce battle of words ended when Prof. Bokhari made the concluding remark:

“Sir Gladwyn Jebb, with a facility of language for which I envy him, was pleased to call himself a tortoise, and myself a hare, thus accusing me of impetuousness. He concluded that in the British Commonwealth, to which he and I and our countries have the honor to belong, there is room for many kinds of political animals. This is probably true but if in the British Commonwealth there are any ostriches, they are not to be found in my country”.

Sir Gladwyn Jebb who was sitting bang opposite, facing Prof. Bokhari rose to his feet walked towards him, made a bow and said: “Sir, I give up. I surrender. Sir, you are a Diplomats Diplomat”.

It was my greatest pleasure and privilege to be present on the occasion, and listen to the greatest ever Shakespearean type of drama which even Sir Lawrence Oliver would be proud to own. Next day, I brought a copy of the New York Times to Prof. Bokhari which had a 6-column headline:

“Sir Gladwyn Jebb of U.K. calls Prof. A.S. Bokhari, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN - A Diplomats’ Diplomat.”

What a tribute paid to Prof. Bokhari by a man known as the greatest British orator after Winston Churchill at no less a place than the United Nations, at no less an occasion than the meeting of the Security Council. And what an honor for Pakistan.

The series of discussions on Tunisia lead by Prof. Bokhari finally resulted in securing the sovereignty and independence of the country granted by France.

As a befitting tribute to him one of the key highways of Tunisia is named after Prof. A.S. Bokhari.

One of the highest mountains he climbed in his brilliant career was when the illustrious Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold created a highly prestigious position for Prof. A.S. Bokhari and appointed him as Under-Secretary in charge of Public Information. In this capacity Prof. Bokhari demonstrated his full intellectual acumen and extraordinary professional skills as the most powerful communicator in the history of the United Nations to-date.

The grandson of Prof. Bokhari who bears formidable resemblance with his grandpa has asked me to recapture some of the finest moments I spent with him during my close association in three phases -- prior to partition, 1947-9, and 1951 till his death on December 5, 1958. My answer was how do you do justice to a man who was blessed with so many gifts from Almighty Allah and nurtured and polished so many qualities of his mind and heart through his own efforts.

He knew exactly what to say, and how to say it to whatever the audience, whatever the occasion. He was a master craftsman of words a super-power of the English language. His knowledge on a variety of subjects was phenomenal. During my tenure of service with him as his PR officer in 1951 when he was our Permanent Representative to the U.N. one of my responsibility was as follows:

Every Friday evening he would hand over a crate full of books; say 30 or 40 borrowed from New York library. My duty was to return those books and borrow another 30-40 books of which he furnished me a list. At that time every member of the New York Library, the second largest in the world, next to the Library of Congress in Washington, was entitled to draw a maximum of 4 books. The librarian who was PhD in English literature had given very special permission to Prof. Bokhari and there was no limit or ceiling on his withdrawals. Once I asked the librarian out of curiosity, why he had made that solitary exception to Prof. Bokhari. His reply was an eye-opener for me. He said: Every book I loan to Prof. Bokhari is read by him. Not only that he inserts short slips of his comments and leaves it inside the books. I enjoy reading his comments. On most occasions the comments make more sense than the book itself”.

How do you remember a man who had admirers among intellectuals, writers, poets, painters, politicians, diplomats, business magnates, celebrity’s heads of the states and important people across the board from all over the world?

On behalf of Voice of America once I was assigned to visit Hollywood to interview the celebrities. I interviewed several leading actors and actresses of that era including Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Lewis and many other famous names. They all knew Prof. Bokhari and had great love and affection for him. I recall two of the top artists of those times who were so fond of Prof. Bokhari that they took pride in the fact that they had Prof. Bokhari as their pen friends with whom they were in regular correspondence. Two such names stand out in my memory….Greta Garbo and Marlon Brando. These two not only exchanged letters but also gifts, mostly books.   Marlon Brando was a great fan of Prof. Bokhari and he remembered him with great warmth and with tears in his eyes recalled his meetings with Prof. Bokhari with fond memories.

How do you recap a man who had an unassailable integrity, wisdom of Aristotle, the profound knowledge of Plato, a sharp cutting edge of wit, a rich sense of humor, an unfathomable love for humanity -- and yet with all such extraordinary qualities of mind and heart -- an incredible humility and self-effacing modest personality. He met the highest and the lowest at par with his or her opposite number.

How do you explain the charismatic charm of a man whom every other passerby or a motorist who saw him on the streets of New York gave a second look? He had a kind of a face that stood out in millions.

How do you measure the stature of a man whose immense popularity extended even to more than 60% of the working women at the U.N. who officially applied for one hour leave of absence from their respective duty because they did not want to miss Prof. Bokhari’s address scheduled in one of the U.N. Committee session. Usually, Prof. Bokhari’s address lasted from 25 to 45 minutes.

How can you forget a man who wrote “Patras Ka Mazamin” a brief treatise loaded with humour, one of the greatest classic of Urdu literature, which he wrote during one of his summer vacations in the hills.

How do you describe a man who told me that Rabindra Nath Tagore wrote most of his poetry in English and yet he got his Noble Prize for his Bengali poetry translated in several languages including English. And quickly added that all my life I was a student of English, I wrote in English, I taught English, I delivered lectures in English, but I will be remembered for writing a short book in Urdu: Patras Ka Mazamin, Moral of the Story: It pays to write in your own national language if you want to achieve immortality.

How do you honor a man on whose death, eminent people across the world join together to pay glowing tributes to his outstanding versatile qualities? People like Dag Hammarskjold, U.N. Secretary General Prince Aly Khan, successor to Patras, as the Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, A.M. Rosenthal the leading U.S. journalist and at that time the UN Correspondent of the New York Times, President Ayub Khan, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, Lionel Fieldon, his predecessor as Former Director General All-India Radio, Eshtiaq Husain Qureshi, Former Minister of Education, Pakistan, Former distinguished professor of Pakistan Studies, Columbia University, and Vice Chancellor, University of Karachi, N.M. Rashed, the famous poet Sir Gladwyn Jebb, Former Permanent Representative of U.K. at U.N. Henry Cabot Lodge, Former Permanent Representative of the U.S. to U.N, Vijiyaya Lakshami Pandit of India, Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Robert Frost, distinguished American poet, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt known as the First Lady of the World, Marvin Linick Professor Bokhari’s medical doctor in New York 1951-58. His admirers list is unending and ranges people from the highest to the lowest level. His devotees who owed him immense allegiance include his two chauffeurs A.S. Brown when Patras served as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Robert Mason when he served U.N.

My learned professor of Telecommunications at the City College of New York, Dr. Hans Richter the pioneer of avant garde films who bagged the highest number of awards for his film “Dreams that money can buy” considered Prof. Bokhari a highly urbane individual and a friendly soul.

Prof. Bokhari was the busiest man in his 8 years’ stay in New York -- the most sought after man to deliver speeches to a wide spectrum of audiences. From his earliest lecture on Iqbal which originally appeared in The Statesman, Delhi in 1938 to a series of lectures he delivered in New York he covered almost every subject under the sun in his speeches in English.

The incredible man who rose to the highest position in the U.N. as the President of Security Council in April 1952, coming from a third world country and at that time little known in the community of nation -- worked wonders in building one of the strongest international image for his country -- Pakistan.

Among the notables one of his distinguished admirers was Pope Pius XII, who gave
Prof. Bokhari a heartwarming reception when he visited him in the Vatican in April 1955.

In 1957, a senior executive of U.N. died. The funeral was taken to a cemetery in upstate New York, Valhalla (I hope I remember the name correctly). The past and the then present U.N. Secretary-Generals Dag Hammarskjold and Trgvie Lie both were present at the funeral. I also accompanied Prof. Bokhari.

At the end of the funeral ceremony Prof. Bokhari and I were the only 2 persons at the top of the hill where the departed person was buried.

Prof. Bokhari stood in deep meditation with folded hands and closed eyes while the two Secretary-Generals Dag Hammarskjold and Trgvie Lie waited way down at the entrance of the cemetery.

Prof. Bokhari finally opened his eyes gave me a piercing look and made a death wish. His prophetic words were: “Bashir, this is the place where I would like to be buried when I die. It is so peaceful. It is heavenly”.

The God Almighty granted his wish. He is buried exactly at the same spot he desired.

Finally, when we walked downhill, Dag Hammarskjold asked us what took us so long and why we were waiting on the hilltop. I repeated the prophetic words spoken byProf. Bokhari which came straight from his heart. That is exactly the spot where about a year later Prof. A.S. Bokhari was buried.

I consider it my good fortune that I was among many eminent persons who performed his last rites and he was lowered into his grave on December 5, 1958.

Prince Aly Khan, his successor as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the U.N. 1958 to two years later until his death and with whom also I had the good fortune to be associated in PR work paid one of the best tributes at Pakistan House New York on December 6, 1958. His enology is worth its weight in gold.

“Prof. Bokhari’s whole life and work reflected his passion for erasing barriers which unhappily divide our world. With his favourite Urdu poet Ghalib, Prof. Bokhari believed that humanity could be united by true faith of universal brotherhood.

Having drunk at the fountain of spiritual and poetical culture of the East, he had opened his heart to the civilization of the West. In him two elements were so fused as to form one unified integrated personality.

Nothing, therefore, could have been more fitting than that in the final phase of his career it should have been given to him to play a role in the United Nations a role for which, he was so naturally qualified and to which he so deeply aspired.

It was on this world stage that he aided so eloquently with what a great poet has called the liberation war of humanity. It was here that his vibrant voice rang for the highest aspiration of free men.

Pakistan takes pride in her gifted son and rejoices in his work. It says to him as he is about to take his last journey on earth. ‘Well done, the good and faithful servant.’.

Like all things mortal Ahmed Shah Bokhari has passed away. As the Holy Quran says: “There remaineth but the shining countenance of the Exalted and Glorious God”.

I recall the editorial of New York Times, December 7, 1958, a tribute to Prof. Bokhari. “The world today is poorer for the passing of a man who gave us a better insight into what good things are possible in a better future.

So my dear young friend Ayaz Bokhari -- a split image of your grandpa -- when you asked me to recollect some of my finest hours with one of the greatest man I ever met, I found it a mind boggling assignment.

How can you sum up a man who gave a message to your generation to build One World -- the greatest need of the hour today.

No, you cannot sum up such a man. Because he did so much for so many, in so many fields.

A Diplomat’s Diplomat. An intellectual giant. A powerful orator. A fascinating man of letters. A legend in his own life. An icon of icon.

No, you can not do justice in summing up such a man.

All I can say is the by universal consensus he was crowned a CITIZEN OF THE WORLD.

May His Soul Rest in Peace.