Patras remembered by GC

Cultural metaphor
Patras rememberd by GC

Gilani Kamran

It is characteristic of Government College that its hostels have their own students’ magazines.  The New Hostel publishes Patras while the Quadrangle, publishes Iqbal.  The Quadrangle has the distinction that as a student, Iqbal had lived there.  But A.S. Bokhari had no such associations with the New Hostel. He was thus remembered by the inmates of the New Hostel as a matter of courtesy – and perhaps paid tributes to A.S. Bokhari as an Urdu writer. As Professor and Principal, Bokhari Sahib is remem­bered through the Bokhari Auditorium in the college campus, which was built in the days of
Dr. Nazir Ahmad and inaugu­rated by President Ayub Khan on the Centenary of the College in 1964.  As a legend, Professor Bokhari still lives around the corridors of the College. The young students of today look back at him with pride, and take pleasure in talking about him. Thus, watching all this, a neighbouring bookseller has pub­lished Quliyat-e-Patras - Bokhari's prose-writings, which is a favourite book with every young Ravian.

The young Ravians who live in the New Hostel have recently published a special number of Patras to commemo­rate Professor Bokhari. This Patras is­sue is significant as no other magazine in Lahore or elsewhere has so far given any thought to A.S. Bokhari who had been a famous public man, a Principal, and this country's envoy to the United Nations. He died in New York and was buried in the Muslim graveyard there. Though he is known to Urdu journalism as Patras, yet not much about him has ever been written by newspapers.  That shows how the world forgets every man.  It was nevertheless a distinctive feature of the college students that they had remembered Bokhari Sahib and dedicated a special issue of their magazine to his pen-name, Patras.

As is the convention in college magazine, Patras’ issue also has two-sections: English and Urdu. The English section is good in its own way.  It has treated Bokhari Sahib as a man of the past.  And in that perspective, A.S.B. has appeared as a distant figure.  There is a lack of warmth in this section.  Bokhari Sahib emerges as a neutral, sophisticated figure, as a big government servant.  It is an irony of fate that a big government servant dies as a common human being and is clean forgotten by every man, even the government whose policy he had been pursuing during his lifetime.  The Urdu section has on the contrary, treated the memory of A.S.B. as a living thing.  There is warmth in the Urdu section, and as such it has earned a walkover over the English section.  It is more readable, more interesting and far more alive than its counterpart in the magazine.  Editorial effort, however, has been equally expended on the two sections.  But perhaps in the nature of the language, the Urdu part has won distinction.  Nonetheless, the editors of the sections may be complimented for bringing forth a memorable issue of their magazine.

Ahmed Shah Bokhari had appeared under his pen-name Patras for the first time in an article published in The Ravi of January 1921.  He had taken up this name in late December of 1920.

The Urdu section opens with the writings of Bokhari as editor of The Ravi in 1919 – 1920. The present issue has reproduced an extract from Z.A. Bokhari autobiography about the orientation of ASB’s pen-name.  The extract goes as under :

“My brother’s full name was Pir Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari.  Our headmaster (in Peshawar) Mr. Watkins addressed him by his first name ‘Pir’ but pronounced it as ‘Pierre’ as if it was a French word.  Pierre in French stands for Peter, which is Patras in Greek….As a result of this similarity, my brother took up ‘Patras’ as his pen-name.”

Bokhari’s early articles in the Ravi had a sprinkling of what can be regarded as pure humour, which was something new in the writings of the Subcontinent.  As a matter of fact, his humour was the outcome of Charles Lamb’s humorous essays.  The editors of the Patras have particularly emphasized this humour, which brings a sense of pleasurable amusement to the reader.  This high-level humour is a rare thing in writing, and it is also very hard to imitate.  Bokhari Sahib was thus unique in the tradition of literary humour in the Subcontinent.

On the 50th anniversary of the Punjab University in 1935, Professor Bokhari had produced Hamlet and had himself acted as the Prince.  The scene, where Hamlet and Laertes fight beside the dead Ophelia, was regarded as his best performance.  Hamlet was Bokhari Sahib’s favourite play and he always preferred to teach this play to his classes.  He was very fond of literary meetings where a new sensibility was shaped to enrich Urdu literature.  In the 1930s, the weekly meetings of Urdu Majlis were held in Bokhari Sahib’s flat on McLeod Road.  Akhter Shairani was a frequent visitor of this Majlis.

There are very few persons who become a legend and live in the academic folklore of college life.  Bokhari Sahib had been the singular figure who had become a legend and the stuff of academic folklore.  His class-work was mostly conversational; it encouraged the students to think and imagine.  As a matter of fact, Bokhari Sahib wanted to release the creative talent of his students.

The most interesting part of the Urdu section is a selection of Bokhari Sahib’s letters to friends in Lahore.  These letters were written by him during his stay in the United States.  In one of these letters, Bokhari Sahib has given the information: “I have just received a letter by N.M. Rashed.  He has sent me a few tit-bits which are quite amusing.”

The tit bits were perhaps an appreciable link between Rashed and Bokhari Sahib in 1955.  Rashed was then working on Iran main Ajanbi.  Perhaps the above sentence referred to a commentary on Rashed’s new book.  But who knows, Bokhari Sahibs humour was a covering for many things.  He had given a humorous face to life in his multifarious activities.