Excerpts from Random Musings By Alaf Khan-V

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Excerpts from Random Musings
By Alaf Khan-V
Khyber Medical College and Lady
Reading Hospital (1972 ---- 1996)

The 23 years of life in these two institutions were a gardening interlude for planting, pruning, grooming and harvesting a generation of young professionals. Lecturing to the undergraduates and teaching them at the bedside were elating moments. Molding young House Officers and grilling the Registrars felt like nursing the rose bushes and pruning the apple trees. Clinical teachers bear an awesome responsibility. It is their duty to make sure that half-baked “Registered Medical Practitioners” (RMPs)are not unleashed on the blindly-trusting public. Medical teachers cannot impart skills and ethics through lectures; they have tolive them daily in their personal as well as professional lives. Scores of lectures on ethics can’t replace a single ethical action by a role model. Preaching piety in the lecture room is futile if greed and lies are not reined in outside the classroom. So often goes unheeded the Quranic warning: Believers! Why do you say that which you do not do? Greatly disliked by Allah is that which you utter but do it not (Al-Quran 61: 2 & 3). 

It is a spiritual joy to see these young men and women blossom, flower and fruit as specialists in one discipline or another, within the country or abroad. 


Dr. Alaf Khan

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The Medal

The British are perhaps the most tradition-bound people on earth. They have an ancient system of Honouring some of the monarch’s subjects on New Year's Day and on the Official Royal Birthday every year. The recipients belong to diverse fields of life. They include industrialists, business tycoon, politicians, singers, actors, judges, comedians, musicians, sportsmen, academicians, civil servants, church officials, and military personnel. A few eminent scientists and health caregivers are also included for good measure. The Awards are ranked from the lowest to the highest, e.g. OBE, MBE, CBE, CH, Knight, Life Peer, etc. The legendary Beetles were honored, not for their musical talents but, for earning precious foreign exchange for the country. The famous Mr. Butlin was a business tycoon who ran a chain of holiday camps in the country for working-class families. That profitable enterprise earned him a Knighthood in the Royal Honor List. Sir David Frost and Sir David Attenborough got their well-deserved Knighthoods for their broadcasting and journalistic excellence. Sir David Attenborough is an environmentalist and philanthropist of exceptional caliber. His lifelong endeavor for the survival of human species merits a lot more than a Nobel award. There are perhaps some cases of lobbying, string-pulling and canvassing but, as a rule,Honors go to deserving persons rather than persons chasing Honors. 

We, in Pakistan, have inherited the British legacy, but with a difference. Unlike British citizens, the glory seekers here pull all accessible strings, exploit every available political clout, employ the forces of friendship, utilize family links and “donate” to various funds in the hope of receiving a Presidential Award of one category or another. One such hopeful posted his oft-printed photograph and autobiography on Facebook with the embarrassing plea: Long overdue for Sitara-e-Imtiaz or Pride of Performance. Share if you agree. This Facebook post is attributed to some pseudonymous lady in his hometown. It is sad how some respectable citizens resort to such lowly devices in pursuit of one of theseMedals. 

The recipients’ names are announced on the country’s Independence Day (14th August) every year. The actual conferment by the President, or by the Provincial Governors on the President’s behalf, takes place on the ensuing Republic Day (23rd March). I have repeatedly gone through the embarrassing experience of writing greatly spiced testimonials on behalf of friends who were desperate to be nominated for one such Award. One famous friend, Dr. AAZ, had authored several books and wrote a daily column in a national newspaper. He knew of my close friendship with the late Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. One day AAZ bulldozed me into phoning Mr. Qasmi and asking him to write a note to the then Federal Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Ejaz Rahim, for listing the gentleman for the Pride of Performance medal. Ihanded the phone over to my friend to himself explain his requirement to Nadeem Qasmi. In the end, Dr. AAZ was a bit disgruntled when he received the lower-ranking Tamgha-i-Imtiaz instead of the Pride of Performance.He registered his displeasure by staying home and sending his wife to the Governor House to receive the award on his behalf. No one cared then, and no one remembers now, what class of Medal he received. Thecase of another close, and ambitious, friend was too complicated, too personal and too embarrassing to dwell on here. I had personally discussed this at length with the NWFP Governor (Justice Usman Ali Shah) and again with the Federal Cabinet Minister, Barrister Javed Jabbar. Javed examined the case in detail and told me my friend could never be considered for any Award. And he gave me very cogent reasons for saying so. My friend perhaps still keeps hoping that the Medal shall someday fall into his lap. Optimism is certainly an asset, but it becomes a malady beyond a point

All this would make sense if such an Award could enhance one’s professional skills or monthly income, raise the IQ of one’s children, lengthen one’s lifespan by a single day, or increase the affection and respect one receives from one’s friends, students, and colleagues. Hundreds of these Medals are buried in the graveyards up and down the country. The Islamabad graveyard perhaps stores the largest collection of Presidential Medals of all grades. Many had probably earned their Medals for their support of our successive dictators. These considerations have made me harbor an abiding distaste for the annual replay of this farce.


A few years after my retirement, I received an unexpected letter from the Provincial Chief Secretary, Mr. Ejaz Qureshi. The Provincial Selection Board, under his chairmanship, had nominated me for the Pride of Performance. Enclosed with the letter was a proforma for recording my CV. Prof. Nexndd Gazuk Kahn and Prof. A.W. Janisbada were the alternative nominees #2 and #3 respectively. I returned theproforma blank to the Chief Secretary with something like the following note:---

I am grateful for your kind consideration. Kindly convey my gratitude to the other members of the Selection Board as well. It may sound boastful, but I am already laden with a goodly number of medals. A surge of joy and pride overwhelms me every time a young man or woman runs up to me in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, New York, Chicago or Detroit and says, ‘Sir, I was your student, House Officer, Trainee Medical Officer or Senior Registrar’. Every such encounter means more than the highest Presidential Award. Kindly bestow this Medal on one of the two alternative nominees. Prof. Nexndd Gazuk Kahn is the second senior-most teacher in KMC. Prof. A.W. Janisada, though much junior, pioneered cardiology in this province. Both of them deserve to be recognized officially and publicly. You and your colleagues may choose either one of the two.

Copies of this letter were sent by Registered Post to both the alternative nominees. The Award went to the senior professor. I congratulated him on hisHonorwhen we met some months later. ‘You know Alif Jan, I don’t know how it happened. It was such a surprise’,he lied with amazing ease.‘Was it really a surprise?’. I asked him with a tinge of disgust in my tone. ‘I had sent you a copy of the letter that I wrote to the Chief Secretary. I had also sent you a greeting note from the USA in August when you had, prematurely, published your nomination in the press. Now you say it was such a surprise’.

Some faces are congenitally immune from showing embarrassment. Here was one such face.

The same colleague was morbidly conscious of salary grades in the service hierarchy. He would not shake hands with someone a notch below Grade-20 on the Basic Pay Scale (BPS), but would gleefully embrace you and kiss you on your left cheek if you were in Grade 20 or above. One day I called on him to greet him on his safe return from Hajj. I was then an Associate Professor in BPS 19. I extended my right front paw to shake his. He clasped his hands behind his back and excused himself by saying Son, I just washed my hands’ (بیٹے میں نے ابھی ہاتھ دھو لئے ہیں).

I was promoted to full Professor in BPS-20 on 1st January 1980. We encountered each other on the College grounds a few days later. He threw up his upper limbs in the air to assault me with his trademark embrace, plus his customary slimy kiss on my left cheek. I folded my hands behind my torso and said, ‘Sorry, sir; I have not washed my hands since yesterday’ (معافکریںمیںںےکلسےہاتھنہیںدھویےہیں). Again, no sign of embarrassment on his face nor anything verbal. My sarcasm had gone waste once again.

Those who consciously display their superiority are generally victims of inverted inferiority complex. The truly superior are usually not conscious of their divinely endowed gift. To them, it is like their fingers and toes like anyone else’s.

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