Excerpts from Random Musings by Dr. Alaf Khan-VI

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Excerpts from Random Musings 
by Dr. Alaf Khan-VI
Khyber Medical College and Lady
Reading Hospital (1972 ---- 1996)

The CEO of Khyber Teaching Hospital, Prof. Zakia Minhas, one day hosted a grand dinner. The two long rows of chairs along the parallel walls of the long hallway were filled by doctors, bureaucrats, and some political aspirants. Four chairs and a large decorated table across the far end of the hallway gave the gathering a U-shaped look. Seated in the four rostral chairs were the Governor Fazle Haq, Prof. Zakia Minhas, Inspector General of Police (Yusuf Orakzai) and the Principal of Khyber Medical College (Prof. Nasiruddin Azam Khan). The governor asked the Principal about my presence in the crowd and wished to see me if I was there. The Principal virtually galloped down the hallway towards me. ‘Nasir; don’t run, just walk’, roared the General. The emissary held my hand as we walked towards the rostrum. ‘General Sahib wants to see you’, he whispered to me as we walked. On reaching the rostrum, I extended my hand across the table to shake the governor’s. He kept his two hands on the table, palms facing down. ‘I just wanted to see your face’, he said. I drew my hand back and said calmly, ‘Thank you, Sir. Please have a good look before I go’. He didn’t seem very focused on my face. This was our first ever encounter in life.

Dr. Alaf Khan

Dr. Adnan Fazle Haq --- my House Officer 
I returned from a month-long group tour of the Far East in 1984. The new batch of House Officers had arrived in my absence. Dr. Adnan, the youngest son of Gen. Fazle Haq, was one of them. Adnan had stood second or third in the final MBBS examination. His merit entitled him to join any clinical unit as a House Officer. He had opted for mine despite his father’s known lack of fondness for me. To prove that he was there as a House Officer and not as the governor’s son, Adnan was always the first to reach the ward in the morning and the last to leave late in the evening. He had probably told his father that his information about me was not entirely correct and that his opinion of me might be less than fair. That was the likely reason for Fazle Haq’s unspoken apology sometime later. I introduced Adnan to Dr. Gerald Stern who was a consultant neurologist in a major teaching hospital in London and a close friend of mine. Dr. Stern, I presume, helped arrange a training slot for Adnan before his attempt at the MRCP examination. Adnan has by now been professor of neurology for years at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar as I write these lines in 2018.

Dr. Arbab Alamgir, son of the late Arbab Jahangir, was Adnan’s close friend and classmate. They went together to London hoping to acquire the coveted MRCP diploma. Alamgir did not make the grade in medicine and wisely reverted to his ancestral sport of politics. He and his wife, Aasima, won seats in the National Assembly. Alamgir held an attractive federal cabinet portfolio. His wife was favored no less by the PPP Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. Alamgir finally received a warm parting handshake from the PPP’s last Prime Minister, Pervez Ashraf Raja (alias Raja Rental). Alamgir and his spouse, I am told, are enjoying themselves in that paradise on earth, viz Dubai. Meanwhile, Adnan the unwise labors on as a mere clinician, caring for sick people day and night and struggling to save lives that can possibly be saved. Being a parliamentarian is materially so much more rewarding, especially if both spouses jointly dig a gold mine simultaneously. Adnan might prove to be the ultimate winner. And I hope and pray he does.

A dramatic situation brought out a fine mix of human weakness and a soldier’s steel-like guts in Gen. Fazle Haq. He had earlier been formally charged with involvement in the murder of the famous Shia cleric, Allama Arif Al-Hussaini. He landed in a Class-A room in Peshawar Central Jail when the court rejected his bail application. His prison room was spacious with high colonial era ceiling, modest furnishing, a ceiling fan, and an attached toilet. The two windows were secured with sturdy iron bars. Two small ventilators high up in the wall were also secured with heavy metal grill. 

The senior surgical colleague of mine mentioned earlier had grooved himself close to Fazle Haq over the years. One day he asked me if I would go with him to the jail and medically assess Gen. Fazle Haq in his cell. ‘I am alright all day’ said Fazle Haq, ‘as long as that door remains unlocked and I can step into the open. A choking feeling grips my chest when the guard locks the room from outside at night. Then I wish I could climb up and break open those damned ventilators’. ‘Do you then have any pain or heaviness down your left arm or up your jaw?’, suggestively asked the professor of surgery. ‘Nothing of the sort. Stop putting ideas in my head’, retorted the outspoken Fazle Haq. The surgeon friend then asked me if I would advise General Sahib’s transfer to the cardiology unit in the hospital. ‘Don’t be stupid’, thundered Fazle Haq again, angrily this time. ‘There is nothing wrong with my heart. It is that choking sensation and feeling of suffocation at the turn of that bloody key’. 

I made a clumsy attempt to agree with Fazle Haq and to express my sincere admiration for his courage, realism, and candor. He approvingly patted me on my shoulder when I said, ‘How recklessly we take freedom for granted until we lose it’. 

You could not help admiring the man for facing this drastic upheaval in his life.

Medical-A Unit --- 
A clinical hotchpotch.

We had no separate specialties like cardiology, neurology, pulmonology, and gastroenterology when I joined Khyber Medical College and Lady Reading Hospital in 1972. All clinical problems were managed by the departments of general medicine, general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics. Visitors from abroad were aghast on seeing patients suffering from strokes, heart attacks, typhoid, tetanus, rabies, TB, diabetes, pneumonia, kidney failure, snakebites, heat strokes, gastroenteritis, bleeding peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, insecticide poisoning, and drug overdose all under the same roof. Surgical Specialist and Medical Specialist were the two lofty designations. Subspecialties were emerging in most major hospitals, but we ‘the generalist’ had not yet become totally redundant. 

Electives from the UK

A number of my old classmates from Glasgow Medical School held professorial positions in British medical schools and teaching hospitals. Every winter they sent me their senior students for their Elective Assignment Abroad. A goodly number of these Electives from London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Gloucester passed through our wards over the years. All were astonished to see things which they could find back home only in medical history books. 

Ben, a scholarly guy, was our last British Elective. One day he was walking in the hospital grounds with us while Governor Fazle Haq was on a visit to the hospital. He asked the Administrator who this gora (white) guy was. ‘He is one of the British students who come to Prof. Alaf Khan’s Unit every winter’, the Governor was told. ‘Do they get prior permission to be here?’, the General asked the Administrator. ‘No, sir’, the Administrator answered with glee. ‘Chuck the bloke out at once’, came the emphatic command. The Administrator happened to be the same senior surgical colleague of mine. Poor Benn took a flying coach to Lahore the next morning and crossed over to India where he had some contacts in Amritsar. He had been with us for only four days. Cold sweat of shame oozed out of my pores when I received Ben’s letter from London two months later thanking me for my kindness, consideration, and hospitality.

A Register of these British students, containing all their details, was handed over to the Dean of PGMI the day I retired Hopefully someone will someday find it in the Dean’s office or in the library.

My classmates and friends in Britain reciprocated by offering to have our senior students as Electives during their summer vacations. Free meals in the hospital canteens and free lodging in their doctors’ hostels were offered. A notice to this effect was posted on the noticeboard in the foyer of Khyber Medical College offices. I asked several Fourth and Final year students if they were interested. Many of them were, provided they got free return air tickets to London and back. Great quest for knowledge! Not a single KMC student availed this generous offer. 

The Silent Patch up

The governor’s Military Secretary phoned one day that I had an appointment with General Sahib at 7 p.m. on Friday. I asked him to check for a possible error as I had not requested an appointment. He rang up the next day to repeat the statement, and I requested him again to check with the governor sahib. An hour later he called the third time. ‘I have checked with governor sahib. He wants you to come on Friday and join a few other guests at dinner’, said the Secretary, Capt. Ataullah. The treat was in honor of a New York cardiologist whom the governor had consulted in the past, and who was now going to visit China. Fazle Haq had invited him to have a sojourn as his guest in Peshawar. The Governor House, built by the British, is a magnificent white palace sitting atop a hillock. It is surrounded by lush green lawns and neatly manicured evergreen trees and hedges. The porch, resting atop four white columns, and the sprawling white residential complex present a mesmerizing vista. The lavishly furnished reception hall with its high ceiling and massive chandeliers is reminiscent of the Imperial extravaganza and the splendor of Victorian Raj. I met the Military Secretary before going to the reception hall. ‘The governor is known for his unbridled speech at times’, I said. ‘I may not be able to take it if it happens. I hope the occasion doesn’t arise’. ‘Have no worry, doctor sahib’, he replied. ‘He knows whom to bully or abuse. He abuses those who take pride in being upbraided by the governor sahib’. 

The governor and his American guests were inside the house while we were seated in an arc in the posh reception hall. The Principals of Khyber and Ayub Medical Colleges, the Commandant of the local Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and the Provincial Health Secretary were the other invitees. I realized it was the general’s way of asking for the past to be forgotten. We stood up as he and his guest entered at 7 p.m. sharp. I was at the far end of the arc from the door. Skipping all others, Fazle Haq came straight to me and firmly pressed my hand while saying ‘Alaf Khan, how are you?’. ‘Very well, sir; thank you’. ‘Thank you for coming’, he added. ‘It is a pleasure, sir’. Then he proceeded to shake hands with the rest. Some months later we chatted again for a few minutes at a wedding feast. ‘Alaf Khan, my nerves are strong but my ears are weak. If someone holds up a ballpoint pen to me and tells me ten times it is a dagger, I begin to see it as a dagger’, he confessed with obvious reference to our past relationship. ‘That is OK, sir’, I said. ‘All of us have our share of shortcomings and strengths. None of us is an angel’. Both of us understood what we were talking about; neither of us had to elaborate any further. 

Friends, admirers, and bootlickers streamed into Fazle Haq’s spacious house in the Defense Colony in a condolence-like ritual the day he ceased to be the governor. It seemed appropriate now to call on him as a gesture of my respect for him. A long line of well-wishers --- some ostensibly so --- had formed in his lawn ahead of me. He embraced them in turn as they reached him. He turned left and virtually ran into his house when my turn came. He came out with a box of 50 King Edwards’s cigars for me. His son, Adnan, had probably told him of my love affair with that awful Virginia weed. The very same surgical colleague who wasn’t too fond of me was also there. He made a somewhat sour remark. ‘General Sahib’, he said to Fazle Haq, ‘I have come here twice since yesterday and got no presents, and you presented Alaf Khan with his favorite cigars on his first visit’. ‘You did come twice’, Fazle Haq snapped in his customary style, ‘but I am damned sure both times you first went to congratulate my successor in the Governor House. And I bet Alaf Khan has come straight here’. The general was, indeed, right on both counts.

Fazle Haq, as stated above, had his share of weaknesses and strengths. Unduly favoring one’s in-laws is a common human failing. Fazle Haq was no exception. His strengths, however, outweighed his weaknesses many times over. One could not help admiring and respecting him for his outspokenness, his stern reprimand for any poorly done work and his great administrative dexterity. He had many friends but also more than a few foes, some of whom masqueraded as his well-wishers or loyal subordinates. His assassination was a testimony to the truth of an old Persian verse:


(I harbor no grudge against strangers; what befell me was the work of the one I considered a friend)

My father died long after Dr. Adnan Fazle Haq had been through my medical unit as House Officer. One day he phoned his father wished to visit me at home for offering condolences. The message was very touching. I told Adnan it would be a great honor, but requested him that the two of them come alone incognito without the usual protocol and security vehicles. They did come alone and we had a very relaxed one hour in our lawn. This again was one aspect of the man who was considered haughty by many and who did have his share of arrogance. My body language that evening made a verbal expression of gratitude unnecessary.

Gen. Fazle Haq had left a Living Will for Prof. Daud Khan to promptly remove and transplant his corneas if and when he was assassinated. And that’s what did happen.

Prof. Daud Khan, our ophthalmologist colleague, excised the general’s corneas soon after his assassination. His posthumous gift of two corneas enabled two blind persons to see the world again ---- through Fazle Haq’s eyes!

That was the man Fazle Haq was, in life as well as after death.

(To be continued)