The Last Moments of Prof. Bokhari

The Pakistan Times, Lahore, 7th December 1958

By Marcelle Hitschmann

(Our Special U.N. Correspondent)

“He lived to the last minute,” said his doctor.  “He died with his boots on,” said a United Nations official.  Both these persons were very close to Prof. Ahmad Shah Bokhari


His doctor had become his friend and tried as much as possible to slow down Bokhari’s pace, but the Professor, as we all affectionately called him here, -- just refused to declare himself an invalid.  Yet, he had been pretty ill in recent years.  The first coronary thrombosis occurred on August 19, 1953.  Prof. Bokhari was so sensitive about it that he even went to the hospital under the name of “Mr. Brown.” 

The attack left him weak but this did not prevent him from taking on the job of Under Secretary for Public Information, which began even before the appointed date with his historic trip to China with Mr. Hammarskjoeld.


He lived intensely as if nothing threatened him, but every now and then his heart would give way: then he fainted, was put in an oxygen tent, went to bed, and soon after got up and went on living as if nothing had happened.

But during the past year his health deteriorated much faster.  Attacks succeeded each other at progressively shorter intervals.  Several things contributed to this deterioration:  First of course his intense love for life – but also the campaign against him, something inevitable when a man of such brilliance and wit occupies a high post in an international organization.  When the first five-year terms of the Hammarskjoeld administration ended and his Assistants were supposed to resign, they all stayed on, as is customary, for one year.  This period was ending next April and Prof. Bokhari was going to accept a Columbia University post.


Last month he was particularly upset by an Assembly Committee’s investigation of the Information Department.  Being extremely sensitive, he often saw it as an implicit criticism of his tenure.  In fact the fifth Committee had been trying to reduce the budget of the Information Department for years and this investigation was the culmination of several years’ attempt to do this.  When the fifth Committee debate occurred in November it ended in a victory for those who opposed the recommendations of the so called experts.  The job of running that office was left to the secretariat.  Part of this victory was due to strong correspondents’ reaction against recommendations to transform the Information Department into a mere propaganda bureau, and strong objections by
Mr. Hammarskjoeld.

The outcome of the debate satisfied Prof. Bokhari but the strain of controversy further precipitated the crisis.

Without this crisis, he might have lived on, may be six more months, may be two years.  And yet, the attack might have come as it did, even without the recent crisis.  When he faced the truth, from time to time, he would ask his doctor:  “When?  Tell me when?”


Since he got ill at the correspondents’ lunch for Mr. Hammarskjoeld last April, the doctor had succeeded in disciplining him a little:  He stayed in bed after getting an injection which lowered his pressure.  But after getting one the day before he died, and although he knew that going out might harm him, he got up.  The inevitable happened:  He fainted and was brought home in an oxygen tent.  The doctors did the utmost.  He rallied in the evening.  The doctor, who shared with Bokhari the deep love for Shakespeare, asked him whether he would like to him to keep him company through the night.  But Prof.  Bokhari said:  “No.”  The nurse was there anyway.  The doctor, before leaving, said jestingly “Good night, sweet prince”.

At 5.30 a.m. the nurse told the doctor that the patient was getting worse.  At 6.15 a.m. he was dead.  He did not feel himself dying, he had fainted so often.

All of the United Nations Committees, who met on Friday, paid tribute to him and so did the plenary meeting of the Assembly.  Agha Shahi’s voice trembled when he answered the tributes in the first Committee.  Prince Aly Khan, in the plenary session, told the Assembly:  “With his passing the corridors of the United Nations will be a lonelier place.”


The United Nations Information staff, who worked with him, loved him and are deeply affected.  Correspondents who had known him as a delegate, and undoubtedly as the best Pakistan delegate there will be for many years, realized how much intelligence there was under the crisp humorous facade:  They had seen him fight for North Africa’s freedom, against apartheid, and cross swords with the sharpest diplomats, without ever losing.

Under the witty surface there was a serious Bokhari who could drop the mask whenever an emergency arose and plunge deeply into a fight.  But he would keep the mask on, as a protective device, as long as he could afford it.

To your correspondent he had been always a friend and sometimes as helpful as a father.  Pakistan mourns him today and so do I.