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Remembering Patras Bokhari (by Moneeza Hashmi)

by Moneeza Hashmi

It was a very long time ago, too long now even to recall how many years have gone by, when a little girl of six or seven, quietly opened the door of her father’s study and saw him engrossed in conversation with a stranger. She crept in silently to get a better glimpse of her father’s companion and although his face was hidden in the shadows of the evening twilight, she remembers clearly his shining back-and-white shoes with a buckle at the side. Her father saw her and smilingly said to his companion, “Meet our younger daughter”. The stranger turned and his face was kind, his eyes sparkling and almost mischievous and his smile crooked. He held out his hand to the little girl and said, “Beti, come here, What is your name?”

The little girl came forward a bit shyly at first but then curiosity got the better of her (as it still does) and as she came closer to her father’s friend, she smelt a most intriguing and alluring perfume that seemed to be enveloping this stranger. It almost drew her to him and she quite informally and unceremoniously climbed onto his lap and settled herself close to this sweet-smelling, shiny-shoes, friendly man. He held her close and continued to talk to her father and she in a few minutes was lulled to sleep by the soft murmur of their voices, the softness of his hands gently tapping her head and the sweetness of his aftershave enveloping her completely. That little girl was me and that sweet-smelling gentle stranger was Patras Bokhari who had come to share a few moments with a pupil he loved dearly, my father Faiz.

Last week while listening to Dr. Anwar Dil speak of Patras Bokhari at the launching of his book, “On This Earth Together” the years suddenly rolled away and I could almost smell that perfume of Bokhari Sahib again. It was still sweet, gentle and so loving – my first impression of that great man called Ahmed Shah Bokhari also known to all lovers of Urdu literature as Patras.

The book launching had been arranged by the Government College, Lahore, in collaboration with the Lahore Arts Council and had amongst its speakers,
Dr. Khalid Aftab, Principal Government College, Haroon Bokhari, son of Patras representing the family, Haneef Ramey, Speaker Punjab Assembly and an old student of Bokhari Sahib and Dr. Anwar Dil, The Editor of the book and a great admirer of the late author, Shoaib Hashmi was the master of ceremonies and host for the evening.

Dr. Khalid Aftab spoke about the contribution of ASB as he was fondly called by his friends in setting the traditions of G.C. The relationship of respect, love and closeness between the students and their teachers was a tradition that went back to the time when he was Principal, Dr. Aftab lamented the fact that today that closeness is very much missing in our educational institutions.

Haroon Bokhari warmly welcomed all the guests who had come to this inauguration of Dr. Dil’s book about this father and lauded Dr. Dil’s effort for putting together such a well researched document.

Hanif Ramey spoke the most and with good reason. He was present not only as an old student of ASB but was also there in the capacity of an old friend of
Dr. Dil’s. And of course as well as being a man of art and literature himself,
Mr. Ramey began by first describing the responsibilities of an Editor of any book. “He is a person who must delve deep into the very heart and soul of any author or his writing to then salvage whatever is most valuable to be included in his book. He is a person who must be closely associated with artistes and writers so as to absorb their creativity when it comes to putting it together in a published form.”

Mr. Ramey described Dr. Dil as one such person who was closely associated for years with great writers, thinkers, painters, philosophers simply to understand and absorb their work and then be in a better position to edit it when the time came. An Editor’s work according to Hanif Ramey, is no less creative or challenging because that person has to select the very best of a person’s works and to do that an editor has to be a person with a clear focus and vision. Dr. Dil, said Mr Ramey was one such person. Speaking of Bokhari Sahib, Hanif Ramey called him a “complete person” – a man who had his roots in Pakistan but was a citizen of the world. He lived too few years in Pakistan but his years at the United Nations first as a permanent representative of Pakistan and then later as Under Secretary Incharge of the Department of Public Information, he made impressions never to be forgotten.

Said Mr. Ramey, “Very few people know that Patras” was one of the first voices raised for establishing a UN agency for the betterment of children’s lives, thus laying the foundation of UNICEF. And then arguing with Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the then President of the US, to include the children of Asia also in this Children’s fund. “He was a man that not only belonged to the times then but a man of the future who was a party to decisions that are still affecting our lives today.” According to Mr. Ramey, three things are bringing the world countries closer together now than ever before. The first is language. “We are all speaking English which is now a universal language. Professor Bokhari was a student and then a teacher of English and in his time one of the best speakers of the language.” The second factor is communication explosion. Today we are a touch button away from communicating with any person across the world. ASB was a man well-versed in the art of communication. Thirdly, wars in the world are forcing us to come closer to each other to avoid conflicts. Bokhari was a strong defender of peace and love. Mr. Ramey ended his speech by praying for more Bokharis and more editors like Dr. Dil to search out the hidden treasures of some of our great thinkers, writers and philosophers.

Dr. Dil spoke very briefly about his almost infatuation with the late Professor Bokhari and how that set him on a long course of discovery which finally culminated in the shape of “On This Earth Together”. He recounted meeting many of ASB’s close friends, admirers, pupils and associates and how their articles and conversations have been included in this book which for him has been a labour of pure love and dedication to the memory of a great man. The book, said Dr. Dil has two parts, the first is a collection of Partas Bokhari’s speeches delivered at the UN during his tenure there (1950 – 1958) and the second part is based on reminiscences of several people about Bokhari himself.

Dr. Dil announces that an international group of scholars has organized a body called Intercultural Forum Corporation which is going to undertake the promotion of intercultural understanding through eduction, training, research and publication. One such activity will be the organizing of Bokhari lecturers throughout the world. He ended his speech by reading out a passage from the Draft of a forward for a children’s book penned by Ahmed Shah Bokhari in 1958.

Quotations from various speeches of Prof. A. S. Bokhari:

“To the children of the world. Isn’t it a pity that nations sometimes go to war with each other and people get killed and homes wrecked and young and old men and women live in fear? Isn’t it a pity that those who are small or weak are sometimes bullied by those who are big and strong and there is no one to stop them and people don’t get just and fair treatment.”

“Isn’t it a pity that some people in all countries and most people in some countries don’t get enough to eat and are often ill and live in misery and die of horrible diseases?”

“We should think together and help one another and not be savage-like animals.”