Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Bokhari Brothers and Lionell Fielden

December 25, 2016
This summer on a visit to the grave of Patras Bokhari, I spent some quite time at his grave.  I reflected about the lives of two Bokhari brothers and an amazing character of his times Lionell Fielden.  This piece was the outcome of that exercise.   Good time to pay tribute on the death anniversary month of December of AS Bokhari and birth anniversary month of January of ZA Bokhari. 

Bokhari Brothers
Hamid Hussain

Ahmed Shah Bokhari and Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari were scions of Peshawar.  Both brothers were very talented, had multiple interests and excelled in their chosen fields.  Bokhari brothers are associated with the history of broadcasting in India. 

Radio service in India was started in July 1927 as a private and amateur venture when Bombay radio station was established.  This was the birth of Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) about seven months after establishment of British Broadcasting Company (BBC).  This private venture ended in a failure and company was liquidated in 1930. 

In August 1935, Lionell Fielden arrived in India on loan from BBC to start Indian broadcasting.  When radio arrived in India, no one knew about the importance of this new invention. In 1935, Marconi Company offered a radio transmitter and fifty radio sets to Indian government but no one was interested in it.  Central government asked provincial governments if anyone was interested in the offer.  Governor of North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) Sir Ralph Griffith accepted the offer.  He chose a young recent Oxford graduate Muhammad Aslam Khan Khattak in-charge of this project.  Later, Fielden organized Indian broadcasting on a professional level and soon radio became the main instrument of information and entertainment.

Ahmed Shah Bokhari (25 October 1898 – 05 December 1958)

Ahmad Shah Bokhari was educationist, writer, broadcaster and a diplomat.  He was born in a lower middle class family in Peshawar city. He completed his early education in Peshawar.  He learned English by reading old English newspapers collected from soldiers stationed in Peshawar.  After completing his maters in English from prestigious Government College Lahore, he started teaching at his alma mater. He went to Cambridge and returned back to Government College.  In 1936, he was offered the job of Deputy Controller Broadcasting of All India Radio in New Delhi.  In 1940, he became the Controller (in 1943, the designation was changed to Director General) and served at this post until 1947.  In Delhi, towering personalities of the time were frequent visitors to his house.  Ahmed’s guest list included Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Abul Kalam Azad, Zakir Hussain and Faiz Ahmad Faiz.  In 1947, he became principal of Government College Lahore. His residence in Lahore attracted famous writers and poets. M.D. Taseer, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Sufi Tabassum and Ghulam Abbas frequently visited his house in Lahore.  In 1951, he was appointed Pakistan’s permanent representative to United Nations (UN). In 1954, he became Under Secretary Information at UN and served at this position until his death in 1958. His simple small house in New York was full of books and he had a wide circle of friends from diplomatic and literary society. 

Ahmed Shah and American poet Robert Frost (Picture from Website about Ahmad Shah Bokhari.  http://patrasbokhari.com

He is buried at Kensico cemetery at Valhalla New York.  This summer when I visited his grave, I was gratified that he could not be buried at a better place.  He is buried at a picture perfect serene place and surrounded by graves of numerous artists.  Many stage, television and film actors, opera singers, writers and poets including famous composer Sergei Rachmaninoff are buried at Kensico cemetery. On his tombstone are inscribed words of his American poet friend Robert Frost, “Nature within her innermost self divides to trouble man with having to take sides from iron tools and weapons’.

A.S. Bokhari’s grave at Kensico cemetery New York.  Photograph by Hamid Hussain, 14 August 2016.

He wrote Urdu prose with pen name of Patras Bokhari and is known by his pen name.  He published a small collection of short stories but it was a masterpiece and gave him a place in the ranks of famous Urdu writers.

Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari  (01 January 1904 - 12 July 1975)

Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari popularly known as Z. A. Bokhari was younger brother of Ahmad Shah.  He was the rebellious one and didn’t attend college.  He completed oriental courses of munshi fazil and adeeb alim.  He was employed in the office of board of examiners in oriental languages of General Staff branch at army headquarter at Simla. Board of examiners evaluated British officers who completed native language courses.  In Simla, Bokhari became friend of ADC to Governor of Punjab.  When Lionell Fielden came to India to start broadcasting, this ADC referred Bokhari to him.  Lionell appointed him assistant station director at Delhi. In 1937, Bokhari went to England for training.  In 1940 Malcolm Darling of BBC hired Bokhari at the recommendation of Fielden.  Bokhari was in charge of Indian section of the eastern service of BBC in London.  He covered Second World War in Europe and returned to India in December 1944 to become station director at Calcutta.  After independence in 1947, he served a long career in broadcasting in Pakistan.  He served as director general of Radio Pakistan.  In 1967 he became general manager of Karachi television station. He was also a poet and also wrote a book on classical music. 

Z. A. Bokhari as BBC Home Guards at Bedford College, 1941. (Picture from Imperial War Museum).

Lionell Fielden had great influence on the lives of both brothers.  Fielden is an amazing character for his time period.  He was member of British aristocracy, a relative of Viceroy Lord Linlithgow and personal friend of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.  He was raised on a Surrey family estate and educated at Eaton but became rebel at a very early age. He was closely associated with E. M. Forster and J. R. Ackerly.  His experience in First World War when he fought at Gallipoli made lasting impression on him.  He was intelligent enough to see the gross negligence of military high command and developed disdain for authority.  He passed the civil service examination but was so irked by his interview at Foreign Office that he denounced the Balfour Declaration and told his interviewers that Britain had sold out the Palestinian Arabs to Jews.  In 1927, he landed at BBC when it was established.  In 1935, he came to India on loan from BBC to start broadcasting service in India.  He was an outsider and frequently clashed with authority.  He settled in Italy where he was involved in renovating old buildings damaged during Second World War.  He died in 1974 in Italy.

There was lot of speculation about relationship between Lionell Fielden and his young Indian protégés.  The relationship was not a normal superior and subordinate or even a friend.  Lionell was a homosexual and though he admitted this fact later in his memoirs, there was enough evidence from his behavior that this subject was talk of social circles in India and London.  Lionell was member of a group of young British men and women disillusioned with the slaughter of First World War.  Many were writers, intellectuals and a number of these men and women were homosexuals.  It is an open question whether they were naturally inclined or this was one of the symptoms of rebellion against an established order.  Official British circles and traditional aristocratic elites called these folks having ‘loose morals’.  In India, Indian police special branch was keeping a tab on Fielden.  One police official brought some intercepted letters to show to Fielden what was being talked about him.  True to his character, Fielden refused to look at the letters stating that it was inappropriate to look at private correspondence.

It is important to understand social conditions of India in 1930s to comprehend why Fielden generated controversy both among British and Indians.  British interaction with Indians was mainly in official context.  There was not much social mingling between two communities although there may be few exceptions.  British would unwind only in the presence of fellow countrymen at exclusive civil and military clubs.  Fielden crashed on the scene breaking all the rules.  He avoided British social circle and interacted with Indians of different social backgrounds.  Indians had not interacted with British in such informal, friendly and relaxed environment.  Many Indians developed genuine respect and admiration for Fielden even if there was no sexual aspect to the relations. Official British circle was aghast at Fielden’s non-adherence to social norms as well as personal indiscretions. 

Fielden also faced criticism from Indian circles.  Fielden had personal relations with Congress leaders and polarized politics of the time meant that some Muslim League leaders were critical of his work.  Fielden had surrounded himself with newly educated urban Muslim youth.  These young men saw Persianized manners of old Mughal court and Urdu as a refined cultural heritage.  This prominence of Urdu in emerging broadcasting arena aroused anger of Hindu nationalists who saw old Indian Hindu cultural heritage as true beacon for emerging nationalist India.  They constantly criticized Fielden for giving preference to Urdu as the expense of old Sanskrit arts and literature. Fielden’s five year stay in India was full of all these clashes at different levels.

Z.A. Bokhari’s own memoirs in Urdu provide enough evidence that he had special relationship with Fielden.  Bokhari was close to Fielden and took care of his personal chores and in charge of his household.  Bokhari went to meet Fielden at Cecil Hotel in Delhi for the interview. He narrates his first meeting with Fielden that when he entered the room, Fielden was naked only in his underwear.  Fielden told him that it was too hot and that he should also take off his coat. Bokhari states that ‘this meeting was like love on first sight’ and that ‘after few minutes it felt like we knew each other for long period of time’. Fielden hired Z.A. Bokhari but Bokhari’s boss a Colonel at army headquarters at Simla refused to let him go to Delhi.  Fielden wrote to Viceroy Lord Willington to remove all hurdles and brought Bokhari to Delhi.  Fielden then took Bokhari to his house and summoned his own tailor to measure Bokhari and ordered six suits for him.  When Bokhari went to London for training, Fielden’s tailor in London stitched Bokhari’s suits.  Bokhari describes Fielden’s dress on his first day of work ‘silk pants, half sleeve open collar see through shirt’.  Bokhari was seriously injured after a fall in a blind well.  When he woke up, he saw his room filled with flowers and Fielden crying.  Later, Fielden took him to the hill station of Almora to recuperate where they spent a lot of time together and in the company of famous scientist Boshi Sen.  Bokhari writes about that time together at Almora that ‘my heart was attracted towards Fielden like a magnet’.  Fielden had gout problem and Bokhari narrates that while in London at one time Fielden suggested to him that ‘let’s resign and settle down in an Italian city’.  

Fielden hired a number of young and handsome Indian men in their early twenties when he came to India to start broadcasting service.  Fielden in his autobiography recounts the disappointment when faced with choosing his personal bearer from two old men.  He wrote, ‘Had I not pictured to myself something so vastly different?  Slim, intelligent youth, with eyes of gazelles, worshipping me with silence but so effective service’? In his memoirs, Z.A. Bokhari describes the physical features of his colleagues.  He calls Sajjad Sarwar Niazi ‘dashing’ and goes on to describe him having ‘fair skin, sharp features and thin rose petal like lips’.  Israr-ul-Haq Mejaz is described as having ‘long black hair, salty complexion and thin waist’.  Agha Ashraf (grandson of famous Urdu writer Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad) had ‘salty complexion and white teeth that were blinding the vision’. These are unusual expressions for male colleagues and suggest special attraction. 

Mohammad Aslam Khan Khattak who was in-charge of first radio transmission project in N.W.F.P. narrated in his memoirs that he was offered the post of deputy director general in Delhi under Fielden.  He states that ‘I went to Delhi for a look and found the people, who had taken over broadcasting, nauseating’.  He didn’t elaborate what he found ‘nauseating’ but he may be referring to twenty something youths in matching silk suits surrounding Fielden.  Khattak instead opted for Indian foreign commercial service.

Z.A. Bokhari with Risaldar Major Muhammad Ashraf Khan IOM, IDSM of RIASC  in England 1940

A.S. Bokhari was an educationalist, broadcaster, writer and diplomat.  Z. A. Bokhari was an amateur theatre actor, poet and broadcaster. Bokhari brothers were a very talented duo who excelled in their chosen fields and left a mark on the pages of history of India and Pakistan.


  • Z. A. Bokhari.  Sarguzhust (in Urdu). English translation of extracts used in the article is by the author.

  • Khalid Ahmed.  Pakistan Behind the Ideological Mask (Lahore: Vanguard), 2001

  • Raza Rumi.  Reclaiming the Legacy of ZA Bokhari.  The Friday Times, 14 October 2014

  • Joselyn Zivin.  Bent: A Colonial Subversive and Indian Broadcasting.  Past and Present, No: 162 (February 1999), pp. 195-220

  • Lionell Fielden.  Natural Bent (London: Andre Deutsch), 1960

  • Kanchan Kumar.  Mixed Signals.  Economic and Political Weekly, May 31, 2003

  • Mohammad Aslam Khan Khattak.  A Pathan Odyssey (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 32)

Hamid Hussain
December 23, 2016

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