Excerpts from Silent Musings


 Excerpts from Silent Musings

by Prof. Alaf Khan

Bye bye bonnie Scotland

My future brother-in-law, Malik Arif, sent me from Pakistan an advertisement in late 1969 that read: ---

Applications are invited from suitably qualified persons for the posts of assistant professors and senior registrars in general medicine and in obstetrics & gynecology in various medical colleges of West Pakistan. applicants from abroad may apply on plain paper within four weeks.

My CV was in the post the next day. The Kohati girl (Lala Rukh), who was second best in NWFP in the Matric examination in 1953, had passed her MRCOG examination and was still working in Britain. I phoned her to speedily dispatch her application and CV. Telegrams from the West Pakistan Health Secretary came in about three weeks. I was offered Assistant Professorship at Dow Medical College, Karachi. Lala Rukh got posted as Senior Registrar in Obstetrics & Gynecology in Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar. She flew home within days and took charge of her post early in January 1970. I reached Karachi on 29 January 1970 and was posted the next day to MedicalUnit-II as Assistant Professor to Prof.(Col.) Najib Khan in Civil Hospital. Col. Najib was a man dreaded by one and all. He was always in his office a little before 8 a.m. and never left his ward before 2 p.m. He never skipped his OPD sessions nor did he ever entrust to others his duties of lecturing and bedside teaching. A man of lofty moral stature and spotless integrity, he was eschewed by most who desired all things sweet and cushy. Najib Khan and I somehow struck an instant friendship that never ruptured. An interesting dialogue between us occurred the day someone stole the wheel caps of my newly imported car. Don,t worry, he tried to console me. You can buy perhaps the very same caps dirt cheap in the junk market (kabaari bazar) I won,t do that, I retorted. If people like you and me did not buy stolen goods, who would then care to steal? It is we, the respectable citizens, who patronize the thieves and give them the incentive to continue their trade. He looked stunned. Alaf Khan, he blurted out, You have put me in the doghouse. Today you have added a new article to my Code of Life. God bless you. He related that episode on many different occasions.

Home sweet home, even if foul smelling.

Ripples of excitement had kept me awake aboard PIA’s Jumbo Jet from London to Karachi on 29 January 1970. Coming home after over 14 years in Scotland was a dream that had abruptly come true. Everything in Karachi was expected to be pleasant and homely. A few things, however, soured the dreams I had about home.
Ayub Khan,s Bonus Voucher scheme entitled Pakistani passengers to a handsome percentage as rebate on arrival in Karachi if they had purchased their PIA tickets in Pound Sterling. The Habib Bank cashier in the arrival lounge checked my ticket and paid me 1,500 Rupees. Later I met someone who had travelled like me from London to Karachi and had been paid a bonus of 3,000 Rupees. The next day I went and confronted the same cashier. He touched my chin and kissed the back of my hand in a begging style: Very sorry, sir. Please don,t tell anyone. I have a wife and small children. I will give you the balance. OK man, I said to him, but let it be your last dacoity. He went inside his office and came out with a sealed envelope. I assumed the envelope contained the remaining 1,500 Rupees. The bastard had put in only 1,000 Rupees and withheld 500 Rupees again. I related the story to my boss, Col. Najib khan. He phoned the CEO of Habib Bank who came to the hospital in person to record my statement. The cashier was sacked the next day ---- permanently. But for Col. Najib Khan,s intervention, the CEO of HBL probably would have ignored my fate.

1. The stench of urine in the streets and along the footpaths, the swarms of flies everywhere and the blood-like saliva that the paan-chewing Karachiites spat out all over were irritating experiences.
2. The words Anti-corruption Department were written in bold script on a board above the entrance of a tall building. It seemed like an advertisement for the sale of meat-guarding dogs or milk-guarding cats.
3. A mystifying notice was displayed above each counter in Post Offices. It advised customers to get all their postage stamps that had a value of one Rupee or more franked (defaced) in their presence. Postmen stealing postage stamps was an embarrassing revelation I noticed for the first time.
4. A Standing Medical Board, headed by a senior clinician, examined for physical fitness all newly recruited government servants. When I was called in, I embarked on taking off my necktie, jacket, shirt and socks. The Chairman was the Head of the Department of Medicine in our own Dow Medical College. He asked me to sit down and put my garments on. I watched the entries he made against my name without touching me. Blood Pressure 120/80. Heart rate 72/min. Temperature 98.4. All systems NAD (No Appreciable Disease) . Vision and hearing normal. No enlarged nodes. This was my first encounter with downright amoral medical practice by a group of senior medical teacher at Dow Medical College. That Chairman of the Board later became the President of Pakistan Medical & Dental Council. It was all in conformity with an apt Persian proverb: Where will you find Islam when unbelief radiates from the Holy Kaaba (cho hufr uz Kaaba bar kheezad kujaa maanad musalmaani). Things have, regrettably, changed a good deal for the worse in the PM&DC and in the medical fraternity at large over the ensuing decades. Hundreds of obliging RMPs issue fake polio and meningococcal vaccination certificates to those flying out to Saudi Arabia or other western countries. If there were a Nobel Prize for the largest number of counterfeit documents, ours shall be unquestionably the outright winner.

Farewell to Dow / To sir with love

Gen. Yahya Khan dissolved the One Unit of West Pakistan and restored the four federating provinces as from 01 July 1970. Government servants had to return to the provinces of their respective domiciles for posting in jobs similar to the ones they held on 30 June 1970. Given a joining time of two weeks, I planned to leave for Peshawar on 14 June 1970. Col. Najib Khan honored me with a farewell dinner in his home. The only other invitees were my batch of Fourth Year students. I fondly remember the man, his gracious wife, my students and that evening soaked in dense aroma of mutual respect and affection. The next evening my students came to my motel room and invited me out for a cup of coffee. I surrendered readily. They had, in fact, arranged a gorgeous dinner in a posh Karachi restaurant. The late Dr Wania was one of my students. He offered to take me to my motel after the ……. After what? I interrupted. We have, sir, he said, booked seats in the cinema for all of us. This week’s hit movie—To Sir, With Love ” starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, is being screened tonight. It was hard to say NO to a bunch of such loving and lovable boys and girls! We enjoyed the movie immensely. A package sealed with adhesive tape was handed to me in the foyer. Shall I open it here?. If you wish, sir, said Wania. Packed inside were a pair of socks, a packet of Kleenex handkerchiefs, a maroon color necktie and a fine woolen scarf. Each item had a tag that was signed by all of them and each carried the words To Sir , With Love. I held back the eddying tears in my eyes but only with partial success. A couple of the girls looked the other way to quietly wipe theirs. It was one of the most moving moment in my life. Those nineteen weeks at Dow made one of the happiest slices of my career.

Ahmad Ali Khan, Hajira Masroor & Co.

Many memorable evenings in the company of a few great friends made the five-month stay in Karachi feel very short. Ahmad Ali Khan (Editor of DAWN) and his wife, Hajira Masroor, took me to their home 2 - 3 evenings every week. Dr Col. Azmi (Registrar of Pakistan College of Physicians & Surgeons), Mr Abidi (husband of Hajira’s sister Tahira) and Mr Habibullah Shahab (brother of Qudratullah Shahab and himself a Director in the State Bank of Pakistan) were always there at those evenings. We shall come later to an incredibly different profile of Col. Azmi when I met him last in Rawalpindi in 1982.
Years later Hajira Masroor stayed with us in Peshawar for several days. Her trip to Torkham through Khyber Pass decorates our family album. Habibullah Shahab’s daughter, Sarah, is settled in Sharjah. Because of their infertile marriage, Sarah and her husband wished to adopt a newborn baby. In 1996 we received a little fairy from Shangla in Swat. The elderly Habibullah Shahab and his wife reached our home in Peshawar three days later. During those three days I had fed that little creature so many times, and she had peed on my lap so often, that I felt pangs of anguish while kissing her petite hands and handing her over to Mrs Shahab at Peshawar airport.

A Memorable reunion

Habibullah Shahab’s daughter, Sarah Shahab, phoned us one afternoon in December 2011. Rimsha and I are in Peshawar at a wedding for only a few hours, she said. We are coming over for an hour just to see you. They came. That little fairy ---- Rimsha --- from Shangla was now a 15 years old stunning beauty. It was truly A Reunion to Remember. I longed to kiss Rimsha’s hands the way I had kissed them on the fourth day of her life at Peshawar Airport.