Word for Word

Daily Times, Sunday, February 05, 2006

WORD FOR WORD: How Ahmed Shah became Patras Bokhari —Khaled Ahmed

When you say Peter, aren’t you reminded phonetically of Urdu ‘path-thar’ (stone)? One is put in the mind of one possible origin when you look at Tagore’s play ‘Pather Panchali’ (song of the road). Is our ‘pathar’ something that you find on the road?

We all know who Patras Bokhari is in Urdu literature. In a website recently launched about him, his grandson Syed Ayaz Bokhari writes about how Patras became Patras. He says Ahmed Shah took it from his teacher, Peter Watkins.

Patras is Peter in English. Ayaz says that I earlier wrote that Patras “is a Persian adaptation of an Arabic rendering of Peter”. I wanted to say that in Arabic the word would be Boutros. It was the name of a brilliant Coptic-Christian secretary-general of the United Nations. In Arabic Peter is Boutros.

Since Boutros-Boutros Ghali was francophone he took the French spelling. It also points to the Arabic pronunciation: pootras instead of pitras or patras. (Replace ‘p’ with ‘b’.) We have problems because our scripts don’t have written vowels.

In our orthography it should come out as Batras just as Pakistan comes out as Bakistan. One wonders if Ahmed Shah ever considered this. After all, the rest of the spelling is pure Arabic. There is even a toay in it!

Ayaz quotes Zulfiqar Bokhari on the subject. “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.”

Ayaz goes on to say: “Ahmed Shah Bokhari was well read in Greek philosophy and had a deep understanding of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. He wrote an article Ancient Greek Rulers and their Thinking which was published in March 1919 in Kehkashan, Lahore. He was 21 years old at the time.

“There is a historic Greek city called Patras, evidence for which suggests it existed as far back as the 3rd century BC. It is the third largest city of Greece, and also the capital of the Achaea region of Greece.

“After the Dorian invasion, a group of Achaeans from Laconia, led by Patreas, established a colony and the city took its name from their leader. It therefore cannot be ruled out that Ahmed Shah Bokhari may have been inspired to adopt this city’s name as his pen name.”

What about the meaning? Peter of course means stone. When you say Peter, aren’t you reminded phonetically of Urdu path-thar (stone)? There is a Sanskrit word for road (path pronounced puth rhyming with English but), which is very much like English path.

One is put in the mind of one possible origin when you look at Tagore’s play Pather Panchali (song of the road). Is pathar something that you find on the road?

Saint Peter’s name was Simon but Christ called him the Rock on which the Christian church would be founded. He thus became Peter. He was also named Cephas in Aramaic which means rock or stone. Some claim that stone in Arabic is the same. I can’t confirm.

In French pierre means stone. In English, words like petrify (turning to stone) carry the same root. The hardness of stone was favoured by all nations, implying strength. Many Englishmen have it as family name: Stone.

It is funny Peter Stone crops up as a name. An early Stalinist deputy was Kamenev from kamen (stone). *