Meeting a showman

By Kazim Alam

“Nasty things can happen to all of us. There is no rule of nature that these so should be experienced by evil persons only”, wrote Naeem Bokhari in response to my letter after a mob of frustrated lawyers thrashed him on the premises of a Rawalpindi court for writing an “open letter” to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

On my request, he invited me over for a rendezvous at his host’s flat in Clifton where he was staying over a weekend.

It was a Sunday morning. My heartbeat raced as I was about to meet in person the man I have admired since early childhood for his liveliness and unruffled demeanour. “Come on in, beta”, I heard a kind voice as a domestic help took me into his room.

Naeem Bokhari was sitting cross-legged in a nightdress on the bed with newspapers lying around him. He held a book (probably of poetry) in his hand and was smoking Benson. He looked hardly 35-40 and appeared as fit as a fiddle (later he told me he was 60). I presented him with a copy of Diwan-e-Ghalib and being a person with a firm grasp on the art of talking, he kicked off the conversation with asking me to read to him two of my favourite couplets from the diwan.

From thence, he led the course of discussion and I couldn’t realise how the 90-minute meeting came to an end.

I asked him questions about his childhood, parents, siblings, education and friends, Government College Lahore (GC), politics, poetry, religion, judiciary and his profession. He said his father was one of the three Muslim doctors of pre-partition Lahore. His family lived just outside the old city and his mother would take him to Data Durbar every Thursday to inculcate a sense of spirituality in him.

Unlike many people of his time, Naeem’s father, who he referred to as doctor sahib, sent his children to English medium schools. That was the reason he attended the renowned Sacred Heart School and did BA (English Literature, Political Science) from Government College Lahore with distinction, whereas his three sisters went to Kinnaird after matriculation.

He said he had lived a blessed life and thoroughly made the most of it. “If one thing didn’t go well with the people at large (in reference to the public outcry over his “open letter”), one shouldn’t be unthankful to his God”, he said. I deliberately avoided this topic because; one, it’s unpleasant and two, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories about Naeem Bokhari’s “connivance with the intelligence agencies” in the sacking of the chief justice. He recalled many of his old friends, both in and outside the judicial circles, and shared his encounters with senior judges and advocates.

During the conversation, he remarked off the cuff that perhaps the time had come to write about the people from a cross-section of society he met during his lifetime. I think he must pursue this idea and give the experiences of his multi-faceted life the shape of a book.

This was not a meeting that I planned to write about. Rather, it was a personal matter — a meeting between a celebrity and his fan. The undue criticism from every Tom, Dick or Harry levelled at Naeem Bokhari prompted me to write about the man who can best be described as a pure soul and a beautiful mind with a perfect smile.

Interestingly, those who dislike Naeem Bokhari have strange reasons for it. When I told my colleague, who is one of them, about the kindness and geniality of Mr Bokhari, he literally compared him with Adolf Hitler who was photographed on several occasions while kissing little babies and caressing children. Hitler and Naeem Bokhari? Not a realistic comparison.

Similarly, another chap I know hates Mr Bokhari because the latter considers himself a “lady-killer”. Huh! Give me a break.

We have become a people with zero tolerance for disagreement. No more do we feel ashamed about silencing dissent by inflicting violence on it. In Bill Vaughan’s words, “If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity”.

The writer is a staff member. Email: kazim.alam@thenews.com.pk

(Printed on the editorial page [pg 7] of The News International on Tuesday, December 11, 2007, under my own byline).

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