Friday, November 14, 2008

Pitras to his son ....

Ahmed Shah "Pitras" Bokhari, the eminent Pakistani author of humorous Urdu short stories, and man of letters, wrote this to his son Haroon ("Rooney") while he was studying in England. Pitras's genius and candour was by no means limited to Urdu alone: My Dear Rooney,
I sent off a cable to you when I received your most vivid letter & the 'Presto' photograph. Didn't the Presto remind you of "fatafat foto" - it did me. Your letter was delightful & reassuring as it clearly showed that you liked being where you were & doing what you were doing. This is the best tonic you can have for life ahead of you. Do you know that between this letter of yours & your previous letters one could feel the difference of several years of maturity, as if merely by the fact of launching upon a career of your own & by being in different surroundings away from home, you had added many years of maturity to your being.
Within a week I'll be sending you a draft for 40 or 50 pounds, so that your bank account looks a little richer and you have less anxiety about possible emergencies. Luckily you have known a great deal about England from books, magazines, etc, etc & directly from persons who have lived there, including such travelers as me & uncle ZAB. I am sure therefore that you would not have had the same strange & sometimes baffling reactions about your environment that I had, for example, when I arrived at Victoria Station, London in 1926 with no one to meet me there & heard unintelligible cockney from the railway porter for practically the first time in my life -- also when I didn't know whether a taxi would or would not be beyond my means, or whether I should or should not speak to a woman. You know all that it is important to know & have seen more of life than I had seen at your age. Nevertheless parents have an incurable habit of giving good advice, in season & out of it, even when it is not needed. It arises from affection and from protective desires & from anxiety for your welfare, born of love. Let me therefore give way to this incurable habit, & if you find my advice superfluous, as I sincerely hope you will -- I am sure you will -- you can ignore it forgivingly -- that is to say without being irritated by it. I will make it as brief as I can. First of all, a very simple piece of advice -- avoid breaking the law. I don't mean resist the temptation of committing a murder or robbing a bank. Your life is not heroic enough to have such monumental desires, as you haven't had the ample opportunities that are provided by having been brought up amongst hoodlums & gangsters. But one is always liable to break laws in little things. One had better avoid that in foreign countries. It is bad manners for a foreigner to enjoy the hospitality of a country & then break a queue or traffic rules or rationing regulations or evade taxes. It is also suicidal; for you'll find that if you break a law the consequences will depress you more in a foreign country away from home than if you broke the same law in Lahore. Deep down being civilized, we are always afraid of breaking the law & it is no use surrounding ourselves with avoidable fears specially in another country where these fears are likely to be large.
Secondly, women. This is not a delicate subject. I am not going to speak about the "delicate" side of this matter. There is nothing concerning that aspect of which you do not know or which your good senses, good breeding & decent values will not guide you in. And if you do not have the good values, one or a thousand letters from me will not give them to you. All that I wish to say is that when you meet women, you are bound to show off a little -- we all tend to do so, more or less according to the amount of vanity & the amount of desire to appear good & great in addition to being good or great. But do not try to impress women or for that matter anyone with your money. This is vulgar & besides can have disastrous consequences purely from the worldly point of view. Do not transform what can be a very pleasant experience into a vulgar or an expensive hobby. It is like smoking-- it is a mildly sinful, expensive & supposedly soothing activity, but there is a difference between smoking & chain smoking; also between smoking & taking drugs like opium. The next two or three years are important in your life. On them depends how comfortable your life as an individual or as the husband of a wife or the father of children will be in years to come.
Keep these 2 or 3 years reasonably free from entanglements that may be too big for you to handle. Emotional upheavals -- no one can help or condemn, but alas they have social consequences. These latter come up against the hard facts of life. If you would like to lead a life of pure emotions, caring neither for whether you starve nor for whether you are socially acceptable -- you would be a great man, & for me to advise you would be to insult you. But till you are sure that you have their measure of greatness, you will need all the caution & forethought that mediocre, average men, which most of us are, need for ordering their pretty undistinguished lives. Thirdly, as time goes on, your letters to us will be come less & less frequent & also more & more brief. It will be a sign, not of callousness, but of an expanding horizon & a change in perspective. But two things I will still like you to do. Do write regularly to Mummy -- however brief the letters. You are more important to her than she is to you. Also with the years her need of you will grow greater, your need of hers less. Therefore be kind & considerate. Her demands will be urgent to her, but not great or difficult to fulfill.
Also keep in constant touch with Mansoor. Do not let his friendship wither away for want of feeding. If he was only your brother, he could some time or other become a nuisance in life. But luckily he is also a very good friend & a friend is never, never worth losing. Besides, you are going to work in the same firm for many years & it will be comforting to both of you to retain the bond you have. As for me, write to me when you feel, whether it is for money, for advice, for consolation or for mere fun. Your letters will always be welcome to me & I don't think I'll ever fail to understand your point of view or to sympathize with you or to love you, whatever your joys or your pains may be and however right or wrong you may be. In your work, you can only use the intelligence & the character you possess. I cannot add to them by exhortations. But as one who has been a 'boss' in one way or another for many years, let me tell you that what bosses like & have a right to demand is that their employee should be above all, reliable. Not only your bosses but your friends have the same right to demand reliability of you. Your foolishness, your inefficiency, your weaknesses can all be overlooked by your friends & even viewed with affection if they feel that for moral values you can be absolutely depended on -- that you will not let them down. Bosses expect the same thing. However big the machine, & the organization and however impersonal their relations in & with that machine, they are after all human beings. Thank God that the highest pitch of a large-scale industrialization has not yet killed that fact. Above all, do not, if you can help it, create a crisis in your life -- that's all.This letter has almost become like Polonius's speech to Laertes. I am too close to it to see whether it is full of clich├ęs & as pompous as Polonious's string of wise sayings was. But I am not afraid of exposing my pompousness to you, if I have it in me. You & I have been friends for many years -- you have been a jolly fine companion to me & I do not mind if I reveal my worst weaknesses to you. I am sure you will forgive them, and at the worst will smile at them with understanding & affection. I am studying the Mexican system of education, on behalf of our government. A large part of the Mexican population is illiterate & backward, but since the Mexican revolution of 1910, there is a great stirring of the soul in this baffling & picturesque country & their struggle to rise and redeem their cultural soul are fascinating and inspiring. This will take me right up to the end of June. After that I'll probably go to London -- to broadcast on Pakistan on the national & international network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation & to give a lecture or two at the McGill University at Montreal. All these are in response to invitations received. Thereafter, back home through London of course. And who knows I may steal time to look you up in Liverpool or you to look me up in London. I'll keep you fully informed of my movements & plans.Mummy asked me to send you some clothes from here. I'll be sending you money instead, as clothes rationing is off in England -- sending stuff from here is expensive and complicated. A little later you might give me a picture of how you stand financially, so that I send you a steady supply of filthy lucre according to your needs. I was going to say that I am not rich, but you know how rich or poor we are. What you may not know fully I that, nevertheless, at all times we should be not only ready but delighted to treat your needs as the most paramount in the family. Bless you and wish you the best of luck. Have a good time -- I am using good in the Greek sense. The Greeks had the word 'kalos' which meant three things at once -- the great, the good & the beautiful -- for in their great wisdom they realized that all three were inseparable.With best of love,Affectionately,
AbbaP.S. Keep your Urdu alive. Ask Mansoor to keep you supplied with an occasional book or magazine. This is important.

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