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.