Life at Khyber Medical College and Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar


 An Excerpt from SilentMusings

Life at Khyber Medical College and
Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar

By Dr. Alaf Khan

Those 23 years 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. Moulding young House Officers and grilling the Registrars was much like pruning the rose bushes and trimming the apple trees. Clinical teachers bear an awesome responsibility. It is their job to make sure that half-baked Registered Medical Practitioners (RMPs) are not unleashed on the blindly-trusting public. It was a 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

Shortly after my retirement, I received a letter from the Provincial Chief Secretary, Mr Ejaz Qureshi. The Provincial Selection Board, under his chairmanship, had nominated me for the presidential medal of Pride of Performance.  Enclosed with the letter was a proforma for listing my resume.  Prof. Nxnd Amlm Nahk and Prof. W. Sahibzada were listed as alternative nominees # 2 and # 3 respectively.  I returned theproforma blank with the following note to the Chief Secretary:

“I am grateful for your kind consideration. Please also convey my gratitude to the other members of the Selection Board. It may sound boastful, but I am in fact already laden with too many medals. A feeling of immense joy and pride overwhelms me when some young man or woman runs up to me in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, New York, Dallas or Chicago and says, Sir, I was your student / House Officer / Trainee Medical Officer / Senior Registrar.  Every such encounter means more than the highest Presidential Award. Kindly bestow this Award on one of the two alternative nominees. Prof. Nxnd Amlm Nahk is the second senior-most teacher at KMC. Prof. W. Sahibzada pioneered cardiology in this province. Both of them deserve to be recognized officially and publicly. You and your colleagues may choose one of these two teachers.” 

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 after the formal bestowal of the Award on 23rd March. 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 touch of a slur in my tone. I had sent you a copy of my letter that I wrote to the Chief Secretary. I had also sent you a greeting letter from the USA on your Award when you got it prematurely published in the Press before the official conferment. You were kind enough to thank me on a preprinted, impersonal, card. Now you say “it was such a surprise”.

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

The same colleague was morbidly conscious of Grades in the service hierarchy.  He would not shake hand 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 have just washed my hands(Bait-e, main nai abhee haath dho liy-e hain).  I was promoted 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 hands since yesterday.   Again, no sign of embarrassment on his face, nor anything verbal. My sarcasm had gone waste.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After our marriage in June 1972, my wife and I lived in a rented single-bedroom apartment in Nishtarabad. Within four years we had our three boys. Why such haste? you may ask. Well, my wife and I were both 36 years old when we got married. It seemed prudent to speedily contribute our quota to humanity before our ageing systems stalled. Our landlord demanded that we double the rent or quit. Perhaps he thought our three little kids should also pay as much as their parents did. With three small boys, equally small salaries, and virtually no private practice, we were not sure of our next abode. The late Fateh Khan Bandial was our Provincial Chief Secretary. One day he brought his sick little daughter to me. In the end, he thanked me in somewhat flattering words: "I had her seen by a couple of pediatricians and a physician. None of them took her history at such length, nor was she examined in such detail". He asked if there was anything he could do for me. "Yes Sir, there is. We are under threat of eviction. A senior professor has been living in a colonial-era bungalow for over two decades. He has shifted to his own new house in University Town long ago but is still retaining the MES bungalow for his evening private practice. Could you allot that bungalow to us and ask the gentleman to vacate it soon?". "Will do it tomorrow", said Mr. Bandial. And unlike most bureaucratic tomorrows, this one did come the next day. Soon we were the occupants of that vast 9 Dabgari Gardens with two huge lawns hedged by blossoming orange trees. It was a typically colonial era layout built for some high official of the Raj. Our three boys and their many friends had a great time cycling, wrestling and playing cricket and football in those lawns. It never occurred to them to pause and thank Her Majesty Queen Victoria for this legacy of her Raj, Prof. J. H. Hutchinson for grooming me in Paediatric, and Mr Bandial for his instant favour.

The extra six months with J. H. Hutchison in Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children was paying handsome dividends. On one occasion I encountered a graceful lady in the hallway of Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar where she was the Chief Guest at a medical seminar. At her warm handshake, I blurted out my name ˜Alaf Khan, Madam”.  "How can I forget you, Doctor Sahib! My son Asfandyar is now a sturdy young boy. He was a baby when I brought him to you. I had consulted a few pediatricians and physicians who had given him several different medicines. You thought he had croup and gave him some simple antihistamine in small doses for five days. He hasn’t seen a bad day since". The lady was Mrs. Shaheen Sardar Ali who was our Minister of Health at the time. She went back to her job as a Professor of Law at a British university. Once again it was an occasion to remember with gratitude the Paediatric giant and my mentor, J.H. Hutchinson of Glasgow.