A Tribute To Bokhari

by Khwaja Manzoor Hosain
Principal, Government, College, Lahore


We meet under the shadow of a grievous national loss. Ahmed Shah Bokhari, one of the most superbly endowed men of his time, has suddenly ceased to exist, leaving an aching void in the heart of every one who knew him. My own association with that glowing spirit went back to 1929. It was his potent charm that impelled me on my return from Oxford to take up a teaching post here so as to be able to share with him some of our common concerns. He had himself not very much earlier come back from Cambridge brimming with the most infectious zest to promote literary studies here. I still cherish undimmed remembrances of those distant days – of the warmth of Bokhari's affection, his finely-tempered darting intelligence, his subtle, often impish humour, his bewitching airs and graces, his passion for the things of the mind and for those who pursue them single-mindedly. He and I were brought together again in 1948 when I finally returned from Aligarh to this college and found him as its Principal eagerly engaged in planning for it a role of wider and more beneficent scope to meet the emerging needs of our newly liberated country, and I particularly remember how close to his heart was a central place for Urdu in a reconstituted scheme of studies. Even after he had moved out into a different orbit – the gain and loss involved in his giving up academic life will not easily be determined – we never quite lost touch. I have a poignant recollection of meeting a ghostly but still unquenched Bokhari on his last visit to Lahore, the hallowed spot of earth in which he was so intimately rooted and which set a tingling sap coursing through his veins. Many of his friends urged this long-lost, sorely missed Joseph to return to his Canaan, invoking the oblique support of a Persian verse of his own:

But this, alas, was not to be.
No organization with which he came to be linked has a greater cause to mourn Professor Bokhari than his old college, for he took from it and gave back to it more liberally than any other member of our fellowship. He spent here and at Cambridge the most joyous and rewarding years of his life. But it was here that he first exulted in the discovery and exercise of his dazzling gifts and cast the spell of his many sided personality. It was from here that his influence radiated far and wide. There was no humane pursuit on which he did not impinge vibrantly. A discriminating scholar, steeped in what is really nourishing in several eastern and western literatures, a most exciting teacher, a writer and speaker of chiseled grace and luminous clarity, a master of the most exhilarating flashes of epigrammatic rapier-like wit, he transfigured everything he touched and quickened every one he came across. His questing spirit with its incessantly renewed energy overflowed into many channels and it was memorable experience to watch its fertilising manifestations, in literary societies and dramatics of which he was the animating centre and in informaltete-a-tete with likeminded people, when the mask or persona which he had a disconcerting way of assuming was put off. His generation owed an immense stimulus to Bokhari's ever unappeased thirst for the fullest intellectual life.

Of his later services to his country and to the world organization of which he was such a notable functionary I will not now speak, for these have been fittingly acknowledged by persons and bodies most competent to assess their worth. I will only say that he never failed to measure up to the challenge of the most difficult situation, and that in any illustrious gathering he always stood out as a man among men. It is, however, by the humane relations of life that a man must finally be valued. Bokhari was acutely prone to the ravages of what Ghalib has called “the anguish of awareness "", but he could also subdue the inner stresses of a highly sensitivized introspective mind and display the riches of an antithetical out flowing nature. No words can better indicate the essential quality of his ardent aspiring spirit than these lines which I borrow from a poet he greatly admired, Yeats:
"That out of life's own self-delight had sprung. The abounding glittering jet".
They may well serve as his epitaph.
May his unquiet spirit find eternal peace!