June 2nd, 2018
Lot 16368.Section 177, Pocantino I-B-2, near Actors Fund of America. That is where it was. the place I visited 26 years back for the first time
Today I went to visit Patras Bokhari. His final resting place, I mean. It was after a long time. The last time I could not find my way and got lost in the crowd of graves in the Kensico Cemetery. At that time I was relying on my memory which I thought will lead me straight to the site. I was wrong. So this time I went to the office first.
The first time was in 1992. We had recently moved to Valhalla. I commuted daily through the cemetery to Westchester County Medical Center, where I was doing my heme/onc fellowship. Kensico Cemetery is very scenic, on the hill and always lush green. On his visit from Pakistan, my father in law had expressed the wish to go to the cemetery. He had read in Dawn an article about Patras Bokhari, It mentioned that he was buried in the Valhalla cemetery. We went to the office, and surprisingly the lady who assisted us remembered the events around this death. He worked in the United Nations as the first permanent representative of Pakistan, and later as the undersecretary general of Information and had died in New York. Some Muslim resident had a burial lot and donated it for his burial. It was a lonely Muslim grave in this non-denominational cemetery. The tombstone simply told us that Ahmed S, Bokhari was born in Peshawar in 1898 and died in 1958. And then there is a verse from Robert Frost. More on that later, see below.
After that I had visited it many times for the five years I lived in Westchester County. I had taken my father and his elder brother, who along with Faiz, was a student of Patras at one time. Many in my family and circle of friends visited the grave when they visited us.
Then we moved out and hardly visited the grave as it was out of the way. A few years back on our way back from upstate we tried to visit, but could not find it.
Today, I was in Westchester and was about to go home that I just thought of it. I had time. Why not attempt another visit. And I turned towards the cemetery. In the office a lady was able to locate the record and drew me the way on a map. It seemed to be a different area than I thought. I took the map and went to the graves. I spend one hour in a rather hot day by NY standards but could not find it. The area was mostly ‘inhabited’ by Chinese and Parsis which tombstones in Mandarin and Farsi. I had to go back to the office and they realized that they had sent me to section 77 instead of section 177. Now I did find the grave.
The cemetery is kept well. But the tombstone was a bit out of ink. There was a sign of ‘Extra Care” next to the grave. I spend some time, paid my respects and went back. His death anniversary was, I realized a couple of weeks back.
Growing up, his name was hard to miss. I remember reading his essasys , Patras Kay Mazameen ( Essays of Patras). A few of them were in our Urdu course. Remember one, kal sawary jo meri aankh khuley”.
Hailing from Peshawar, he and his brother made it to Dehli and the All India Radio. I heard a lot about him from my uncle and later learnt from NM Rashid's writings about the way he was as a teacher and an acting instructor. He was a peculiar person.
There is an interview with Prof Anwar Dil. On Patras Bukhari, he had a long association, initially in GC Lahore as his student, later a coworker with him in AIR Dehli and then in UNO in New York. We learn that Patras was very finicky, aloof and a private person. He was a theatre artist and performed often in the reproductions of English plays in GC College. He delved too much into the work of the government to the detriment to his literary life. Rashid thinks that Patras would have left a bigger legacy in literature had he not been a government employee. With Patras, it seems there were similarities although there were differences. Both had Urdu as a second language, both were anglophiles and worked for the government, British India and then Pakistan. Both were what we may label today as elitist.
Kensico Cemetery is home to many famous people. There is a cell phone tour of famous individuals buried there, http://www.kensico.org/cemetery-map/#KenCemMaphttp://www.kensico.org/cemetery-map/#KenCemMap
But Patras in not one of stops on the tour. Someone, perhaps the Pakistan Consulate should look into it.
On his tombstone is a couplet by Robert Frost who wrote it for Patras. In his letter, posted on the website dedicated to Patras Bokhari, Frost writes on April 19, 1957;