Friday, October 2, 2009

COURAGE TO KNOW - School Bullying: Government College, Lahore 1918

“What happened to you, Nasr? You are bleeding from your nose, you are black and blue all over, your clothes are torn --- all ripped up.”

“Apa (older sister), I fell off my bike.”

“This is unbelievable. You have never lied to me ever before.”

My father, Nasr, (or Nasrulla as he would be known in adulthood), was a new student at Lahore’s historic Government College and the year was 1918, about 90 years ago. He was 17 at the time, his birthday being October the 2nd. Father was studying for his B.A. (honours) degree, as well as playing daily at the beautiful ‘oval’, the smooth, grassy hockey field that still lies beside or in front of the majestic church-like spire of Government College.

Beatings, Bruises & Beliefs

Many years later, when he was married to my mother, who incidentally was sequentially his fourth wife, he told the truth about the bruises to my mother, Amtul-Hafeez*.

“That day after college hours, I came upon a group of Muslim boys who had ganged up to beat up a little Hindu lad, a timid soul who ..... I saw in a single glance ….. needed help and needed it now.” One of Nasrulla’s finely honed qualities was his ability to size up a situation with a single glance.

“You boys stop beating up someone weaker than yourselves and stop it right this instant!” The bullies, looming large in the evening light, continued the boy bashing. Louder and more commanding, Nasrulla was surprised at the roar that emitted from his throat. “Stop it now!” In Punjabi language it can sound almost as, if not more powerful than it would in a Germanic language. The pummelling and the kicking stopped immediately but now the large Punjabi louts, idlers perhaps, turned away from the small whimpering Hindu lad lying on the ground. “Toon Honda kaon, who do you think you are …. saaley?” Saaley is a Punjabi term used to denigrate someone. In translation the word loses its sting, meaning sister’s spouse or one’s brother-in-law which was a derogative term in Punjab at that time, having to do with the culture. “You big boys need to be ashamed, beating up a little lala boy – it is only bay-sharam (someone without shame or without honour), it is only a shameless person who beats up someone weaker than one’s own self.”

Bullies Versus Nasr, the Wrestler

The bullies, rendered speechless in debate, turned there knuckle dusters onto young Nasrulla, finding him alone. But he gave as good as he got. He was a wrestler as well as a field hockey blue at the Punjab University. Yet he too ended up beaten almost senseless.

My father’s closest friends in the 1920’s and 1930’s were Hindu and Sikh boys, studying with him at the Government College in Lahore and Punjab University. These lads later went on to be leaders in their fields of law and medicine, and one of them even captained the India hockey team at the gold medal winning Olympic hockey final in the mid-1920s.

My father would have defended a minority, for example a person who did not belong to the Hindu or Muslim religions in India. He would have defended a Christian or a Buddhist who was being unfairly savaged.

His older sister did not know these details, but she washed the wounds and applied some mercurochrome and tincture of iodine, and bandaged her brother.

My brother and I attended Government College in Lahore in the 1950s, 30 years after our father had gone through, and we saw the photographs of the hockey teams that had represented the Punjab University. Among the guests of honour was a famous Indian educationist, G. D. Sondhi.

He sits in the photos next to the team captain, my father. In 1957, 10 years after the Partition of India, Mr. Sondhi visited the Government College in Lahore. I stood meekly beside him, absorbing the gentle power of the great former principal. I had no words to ask him, but he might have not remembered teaching my father 30 years earlier. My father died in 1952 and I was speechless in 1957 when Dr. Sondhi visited from India. I wish I had spoken to him.

The motto of the Government College, Lahore, is ‘Courage to know’.

As a post script, let me tell you that my father married three times. His first wife was his beloved Norjihan who died in childbirth along with the baby. His second wife was not compatible with the lifestyle of a hardworking civil service officer and yielded a daughter who is my elder stepsister. For his third wife he married a tree, because the Brahmin who foretells fortunes said that third wives are unlucky and it would be better if he married a tree to absorb the bad luck and save the real next wife from trouble. The tree perhaps was not watered properly and dutifully withered away. My mother was a doctor who graduated from Lady Harding Medical School in 1936, and she was my father’s fourth wife. She survived him for many decades.

Four Orphans

After my father died in 1952 my mother, Amtul-Hafeez* brought up the four orphans that she had, sending them to universities to be educated, and sacrificed her whole time, energy, and life for her children’s futures. My mother’s debt can never be repaid by us.

One of my beloved siblings, achieved the rank of engineering chief of the Pakistani army, and did much work to bring honour to his ancestors. His life is documented in several stories that I have written earlier. One of my sisters is a psychiatrist working in North Carolina. I was able to become a physician. With my mother’s encouragement, I appeared for and succeeded in the exam to become a member of the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


There was a demonstration outside the medical centre in San Francisco where the exam was being conducted.  It was in the early 1980s. She was a graduate of the Fatima Jinnah Medical College in Lahore, one of two women’s-only schools in Pakistan.

 There are many stories here, I hope to offer you a couple today.

This woman is my youngest sister. She was born on March 7, 1949. (Pakistan was born in 1947.) At Janki Devi Hospital in Lahore. The names are significant. Janki Devi means goddess of life, a Hindu divinity. Lahore itself boasts many historic Hindus landmarks; the beautiful teaching hospital attached to FJMC is the Sir Ganga Ram hospital. Hindu philanthropists left an immortal mark on the historic city.

When Mona was born in Lahore, Aba took us, his three Delhi-born children to visit Ami and her new and last baby at Janki Devi Hospital.

“She is the brightest of my children…she made the exams seem like a birthday party,” Ami said years later.

Mona wanted to follow in my footsteps and join the King Edward Medical College, a men’s college with a few female students. But I, with unnecessary Pakistani machismo, blocked her hope to do so.

Mona took her medical education nonchalantly. “I deliberately underperformed so that my classmates would not get jealous of me …my mom was a professor at Fatima Jinnah.”

She wanted to do pediatrics and joined the United Christian Hospital (UCH) in Gulberg, a pretty area of new Lahore.

She’d studied at Queen Mary’s elite girls’ school for her senior school and Kinnaird College for her premedical training. She remembers how our brother, Jehangir or “Johnny”, once agreed to dive into the Queen Mary swim pool for her. “I had lost my gold earring and obtained special permission for Johnny to dive into the emerald green but murky pool. He was such a good swimmer – he found the earring for me. He was my hero.”

At the university women’s championship it was Jehangir who coaxed Mona to enter the 100-metre freestyle race. He had that power over people. Mona won the race but she would not have competed if he had not insisted that she participate in the race. I remember Johnny literally pushing Mona into the line up before the race at the KEMC swim pool!

San Francisco

I began these vignettes with her psychiatry board exams in San Francisco in the early 1980s. Mona phoned me to tell me she didn’t pass.

‘The case was a middle-aged male with headaches. He was run down. Depressed. I told the examiners all about depression but missed the underlying cause – it was staring me in the face and yet I didn’t see it.”

The demonstration I wrote about at the beginning of this story, outside the hospital was a Gay pride mass movement. Had Mona paid attention she would have passed and won her board certification.

“I would have diagnosed that his homosexual man had Aids causing his depressed state of mind and emaciation.”

I reassured Mona that she would pass next time. “Promise me one thing” I said. “Promise me that you will look your examiners directly in the eye. Forget all the Quranic advice to the believing persons to lower their gaze and thereby seen to be modest. What matters is not method acting. Rather be what you are. You are an extremely competent well-educated young Pakistani doctor who is working as a psychiatrist in the USA.”

Of course Mona did pass and has had a successful career. She lives in North Carolina. 

I relive these memories, these academic tests, and these tests of life.




Saturday, June 6, 2009

Guru Nanak’s Needle (1469-1539)

A rich man of Lahore, Panjab, approached Guru Nanak, a great religious innovator and the founder of Sikhism.

“I am a great admirer of yours. I have a ton of money, countless pieces of property, any material that anyone may fancy, need or want. But my great desire is to be of some service to you, Guru Nanak Sahib.”

The great guru did not have to think at all. Without wasting one blink, his lightning mind made a counter-offer. “Dear Seth Sahib. I will offer you one Amanat.”

The guru then produced a sewing needle. In his day those were perhaps the most common object in the household. An Amanat is a generic name given to an object, which one entrusts to a trustworthy person, with the expectation that this will be returned at an agreed upon future time.

The name, Amina, trusted lady and Al-Ameen, are applied to persons of such a dependable character that you may safely entrust them with your property or with your life if need be.

In life we trust our property to others such as bankers and our lives to people in the healing profession, our children to teachers, and our souls to priests.

So, you ask, what did Guru Nanak imply with the sewing needle?

“Keep this needle for me but make sure that you return it to me on the day after your death.”

The Seth was overjoyed that the great guru was investing him with such an honour – with such an object of his personal use. “His very own sewing needle.”

But the next day the Seth returned. “Respected Guru Nanak, I do not understand how I will be able to return your Amanat to you the day after my death.”

"If you have enough clothes, food, land, and money to last for a lifetime," said the Guru, "I wonder why this small needle should seem too much for you to carry! How will you take all your money, horses, gold and other costly things into the next world?"

The Seth felt shame for having lived a life of excess. He asked for the Guru's advice. "Work hard, share your earnings with the needy and remember God."

One who understands will understand.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Splinter in the Paw


“Do you remember the story of the lion who has a splinter in his paw?”

“Yes”. “No”.
“Maybe a little?”

That may have been a fable but this is a true story of Saturday 22.03.2009.

My journalist daughter, her 22 month young boy and I were out on our planned excursion to see an animal, any animal – preferably a horse of course – either gender, any age, any size….
We left home at 09:00 but no sooner had we left than it happened.

“What happened?”

“We learnt about it four hours later…”

“Noble lady of our home – let us call her KAY – had been in the shower when the door bell rang…..”


“She rushed a little…..” That was her first mistake ….

“Why is her rushing an error?”

Surely Kay did not want to keep the person waiting …. And she forgot the teaching of the noble messenger –

“What teaching?”

“Haste comes from Satan …”

“Tell us what happened to the lady Kay?”

“She was trying to steady herself on the banister – the wooden handrail which had not troubled anyone since we moved here in 1977 – when a splinter of wood pierced her right hand and …”

“And what?”

“She never told me how much it hurt or whether she let out a sound – but she says that it bled rather profusely – she managed to pull out one large wooden sliver about 3 cm (one inch is 2.54 cm) long but was unable to extricate the portion protruding from the other side of her (right) palm …”
“Why didn’t she get help?”

“Stoic and courageously she decided on SABR”.

“That is not an English word – “

“No, there is no word that completely describes SABR in English – the meaning of SABR is a combination of several English words. Patience is too passive, forbearance and a capacity of courage usually exhibited by the fair sex during extreme stress e.g. childbirth – so she waited while the hand continued to swell up.

When we returned home the toddler wanted to do outside activities – this long winter has been a Guantanamo of sorts for him and he totally refused to re-enter the house.
Kay looked out of the window and understood that the infant had a need to run about outside –
“I did tell the journalist (mother of the toddler) about my hand .” says Kay.

To cut a long story short – it was about 4 hours before the splinter was seen by a physician –
“You need an operation”, said the Doc.

At a nearby clinic the local anaesthetic and the knife were missing, so the Doc asked a junior colleague to help locate the knife and the anaesthetic.

“Would you like to help me ..?”

An innocent enough question but sufficient to raise an eyebrow and a curious quizzical puzzled expression on the faces of the two other doctors working the Saturday shift.

“What sort of question is that? … like to help …?”

“I just need to find some surgical instruments and local anaesthetic to freeze her hand ..”

Reluctantly, the young doctor – whom I have known for many years – accompanies me to the patient’s room.

“Doctor N, this is my wife Kay – the splinter has lodged deep and at an angle like a fish hook …
I cannot find the instruments; would you know where they are kept?”
He is Iranian – suddenly animated – perhaps relieved that I am not thrusting upon him the performance of the operation – he moves fast now and finds a knife and a set of prepackaged sterile instruments.
I can see that his apprehension has faded away – he is smiling now.

“How is your golf?” I ask.
“Fine,” he has arm muscles like coiled snakes, and he lets me feel them.
“I won’t charge you for helping.”

“And Dr. N, I won’t charge you for seeing the face of my wife – normally it is covered up with a HIJAB” –
I lie quite brazenly.

I can see that Dr. N is impressed – he has seen the face of a lady who is not seen by any outsiders – the true facts are that even I saw her face for the first time three days after our official marriage day … but that is another story.

Incidentally it is always wise to have a doctor in the house – even if he takes 4 hours to look at your bleeding hand.

“Why did this happen?”

The answer lies in another word – “TAWAJJUH.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

ATHEISTS – A conversation with myself.

“Has any Inaugural address by a new U.S. President ever mentioned ATHEISTS?”
“I am not aware of such an honourable mention of atheists in any Inaugural address prior to this.”
“Is there a census about atheists?”
“Again, I’ve filled several questionnaires in this life but cannot remember that this question has ever been asked….”
“Why would Mr. Obama be so all inclusive?”
“He is including all mankind in his speech although Atheism is more of a Western choice – what with the recent December 2008 Christmas campaign by Oxford professor Richard Dawkins.”
“And please inform me about this … was it written on the billboards on the sides of London buses …?”


“Who do you say paid for the advertisements?”
“Actually £5,500 was the seed money paid by Professor Richard Dawkins.”
“Did you know that London Transport refused the original ad?”
“And what was the wording there?”
“The original ad was presented as follows: There is no God, so stop worrying and start enjoying yourself।" But London Transport refused it on the grounds that it would be preferable to have a slight grey tone in the question of there being some such entity as God. So a compromise was made the word PROBABLY was inserted – it was a WIN/WIN situation and the billboard is now being sported on buses in several European cities.”

“Do you think Mr. Obama used the atheist word in the January 20, 2009 inaugural speech because he had knowledge of the London billboards?”

“It is not easy to fathom anyone’s reasons, particularly those of the President of the United States – human nature is so, so complex – “

“Please hazard a guess.”

“Since you insist, let me confess I do have a theory –“

“And …?”

“It is called CHOICE THEORY.”

“Is that the one introduced by William GLASSER?”


“Originally Glasser called it Reality therapy or Control theory, but it sounded well, just too controlling.”

“What did Glasser do and what did he teach?”

“He changed the title to CHOICE theory and basically it says that everyone has a choice.”

“I do not agree.”

“Why not?”

“What choice does the small child have when the malaria parasite is injected into him or her by the female Anopheles mosquito?”

“Are you a MCP (male chauvinist pig)?”

“No – it is the female alone which carries the malaria parasite”.

“You are doing it again.”


“You started with Obama and you lateralise it to Malaria!”

“Are you mad?”

“One Medical Post editorial said WE ARE ALL BORN MAD – some of us remain so ….”

“Woody Allen.”

“What about him?”

“Woody Allen was mad according to his ex wife Mia Farrow.”

“What did he do?”

“He seduced his own step-daughter, Mia’s adopted daughter – Soon-Yi Previn.”

“Mia was legitimately mad.”

“She ought to have been.”

“Most of Woody Allen’s movies are about sex and death.”

“Did he have a theory about either of these topics?”

“Actions speak louder than words – his actions I just mentioned and his words are as follows: “I am not afraid of dying – I just do not want to be there when it happens.”

“Choice theory again!! He first chose Mia Farrow, then he chose her daughter Soon-Yi and finally he wants to be away when the angel of death visits him.”

“Please stop.”

“Please go back to Obama’s inaugural speech,” my other half says in exasperation.


“Words can reveal a lot, they can also conceal a great deal more.”

“In his inaugural address the middle name of Mr. Obama, which is HUSSEIN was spoken confidently and clearly both by the swearing judge and especially forcefully by B.H. Obama himself.”

“Why does the world, at least the Western world, seem so allergic to this President’s middle initial?”

“It is not the initial “H” but what it signifies.”

“And pray tell us what it signifies?”

“We, each of us choose (Choice theory) to apply our own meaning to every word in this case “H” for Hussein … suppose it were Hugh or Harold – would we have made such a fuss about it?”

Quoting William Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

“That is wisdom.”

“Hussein to the post-George Bush America reminds one of the cruel tyrant Saddam Hussein – why did he have to be so violently executed that his head literally flew off from his body resulting in a huge gush of blood reminding one of the head of John the Baptist being sliced off, when King Herod was obeying his girlfriend, Salome’s command. I have seen the paintings in several European art galleries where John the Baptist had been separated from his body and the blood is spewing out from his trunk. But my analogy is totally inappropriate as John the Baptist was a messenger of God who baptized the young Jesus and is not in the category as applied to the tyrant of Baghdad in recent history.”

“Did any of you know these factoids?”

“Saddam was a CIA-backed dictator of Iraq. We in Canada sent him specially built General Motors automobiles which were called Iraq mobiles – does anyone remember?”

“Saddam used these $7,000 American cars to reward his officers when they got shell- shocked fighting Khomeini’s Iranian lads.”

“The Iraqi soldiers broke down utterly and wept openly - grown experienced soldiers who hated to mow down the young boys that Khomeini was sending in wave after wave against Saddam Hussein’s American supplied army.”
Those boys were wearing a key around their neck and the key was Khomeini’s guarantee that they would be able to open the gates of paradise when they were martyred. So great was their faith.

“Was this the time that Saddam gassed a whole town in his own country IRAQ?”


“So we should all hate the name?”

“You must dislike Saddam and his actions but when you hate the Hussein part of the name, there is a confounding difficulty.”

“What do you mean?”

“The name Saddam meant this was going to be a person who was opposed to everything and in medical parlance we would call it an oppositional disorder. He opposed everything and everybody according to that name, which seemed to have fitted. But the name Hussein is almost as sacred to the Muslims as the name Jesus is to the Christians.”

“How come?”

“The name evokes emotion – devotion – love – admiration for the courage of Imam Hussein.”

“Please enlighten me about the name Hussein?”

“This is a history lesson and I must be sure that you really want to know this.”

“I have been so patient and quiet while you ramble on, you had started with the London school buses and the billboards about there being no God –

“So what about the Hussein middle name of President Obama?”

“Obama’s father was a Kenyan who studied economics at Harvard.”


“His name was exactly the same as that of the son; I will abbreviate them as BHO (Barack Hussein Obama) the son and BHO the father.”

“Shouldn’t Obama use the name JUNIOR?”

“I’m not even going there.”

“OKAY! Tell us the history of Hussein and be done with it – I am getting sleepy.”

“The IMAM HUSSEIN is revered as a martyr in the Muslim world –“


“He was the son of the Lady Fatima – the beloved daughter of the Messenger of God – let me call him NEBI KARIM – the word naba means news and nebi someone who brings news. In this case he brought the Holy Quran which was news and it took him twenty three years to dictate it.”

“Are you saying that Muhammad was a JOURNALIST?”

“In a way yes – the second part of the Nebi title is Karim which means blessed.”

“Doesn’t Barack also mean blessed?”

“WOW! You are perceptive.”

“A rose by any other name …”

“Who said that?”

“I forget but mostly things like that were said by the Bard William Shakespeare, who else?
I am just trying to tell you the reason that Imam Hussein is so revered.

It was not just his noble lineage – his father Ali was the first cousin as well as the son-in-law of the Nebi Karim. He was the first male person to accept the message of Islam and the first human to accept his message was the beloved wife of the Nebi Karim, the Lady Khadija the mother of the Lady Fatima. Incidentally Ali was only 12 when he accepted the message of Islam and Muhammad (the Nebi Karim) at that time, when he was addressing the city and inviting them to Islam, Nebi Karim was around 40 years of age. The real history of Imam Hussein is one of betrayal and suffering caused to him by the people of KUFA. At first these people invited the Imam, the noble grandson of the Nebi, to Kufa, paying allegiance to him as their ruler and asking him to come and rid them of the cruelties of the Caliph Yazeed who ruled them from Damascus in Syria.

When the Imam Hussein along with his entire family arrived, after an arduous journey across Arabia, all the way from Medina to Kufa, the people of Kufa betrayed him in the sense that they failed to protect him from the army of the Caliph which was arrayed against the Imam.

The cruel Umayyad Caliph Yazeed, son of Muawiya, one of the scribes of the Holy Quran, had dispatched a large force from Syria and this force was instructed to interrupt the journey of Imam Hussein near the Euphrates River and to destroy the Imam which they did. They denied them access to the river water, the family of the Imam, except for one baby boy who was sick and in arms and they were utterly wiped out – massacred.
The Imam’s full story is too painful to tell you today but he himself was slain on the battle field and his head was severed by a sword stroke, put in a leather goat skin pouch and taken to the Caliph Yazeed in Damascus. This cruel Caliph was toying with the noble head rolling it from side to side with his shoe and placing a pointed stick on the eyes, when one of the courtiers who could no longer stand the scene, wept out loudly “I have witnessed the messenger of god kissing this face and those eyes.”

“Memory of the slain Imam Hussein resounds in the Muslim world in the month of Muharram (except in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).”

“Why not in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?”

“Because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at that time, was a different Kingdom from the one that President Obama is encountering. This Kingdom is based on Wahabi ideology and follows the prescription of an Imam who does not tolerate women’s freedom to the extent that moderate Islam permits and that type of Islam is prevalent in other parts of the Islamic world rather than in Saudi Arabia.

The Salafi ideology is the one that was in the minds of the 9/11 attackers of the twin towers on 9.11.2001. Osama Bin Laden, although born to a Yemeni father, belongs to an elite Saudi family, which made its considerable wealth in construction in Saudi Arabia.”

“So is it not commendable for President Obama to mention Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus in the same breath as nonbelievers?”

“The first U.S. President to say such things at his Tuesday January 20, 2009 was Mr. Obama and I end my dialogue with myself with the musing that our Western world needs to have an understanding of Islamic history made simple, perhaps under the title of Islamic History for Idiots. Maybe one has to open one’s mind and heart to half the inhabitants of this planet who are on this little spaceship, Earth, and need to know the backgrounds of the names of other important people on that side of the little spaceship Earth.

I have many words to say to you and quoting Jesus, but I cannot bring them forth right now, so, by and by I will try to give you more of the story. My thoughts go back to Napoleon’s advice to his son, to read and study history, which of course the son never took. As Anton Chekhov, the famous Russian writer and physician said, “Advice is seldom welcomed except by those who need it the most.”

“More to come in another conversation. Bye.”