UNSUNG HEROES OF OUR WORMY WORLD
Government Medical College Srinagar has been a place of great learning right from late fifties. Only yesterday on June 1st, 1962 I was delivered a letter by the postman at my home in Sopore and to my surprise and shock, was invited to join as a medical student in Government Medical College Srinagar. Few weeks prior to this our FSC (Intermediate 12 class) results had been announced and I stood high in medical merit list from University of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar. I had never applied for this coveted course and Secretariat had processed the list from the result merit sheet issued by the University of Jammu &Kashmir (that time there were no board examinations). Very soon I found myself in the “Anatomy Dissection Hall” in Lalmandi Srinagar. The Lalmandi makeshift facility had par excellent delightful ambience and get up. The first view of a 6 feet 8 inch human being (Late Prof. M. L. Kaul, our anatomy demonstrator at that time) got all our attention and his loud shout “Come dangerously close to me” to 8 of us (6 boys and 2 girls) yet rings in my ears. That is how all of us joined our heads together with his, to watch the most intriguing human structure on and around the dissection table. Next it was a treat to watch a wise fatherly figure (Prof. Ayer, Head Department of anatomy) and his ultimate manners in imparting knowledge were masterly. Once he spotted a girl student weeping in the corner of “Dissection Hall” and on enquiry found that she was scored “zero” in quiz by Dr. Aslam (Anatomy demonstrator that time) for identifying “Humerus bone” as “Femur”. He asked Dr. Aslam to watch that villager through the window, who was carrying a gunny bag on his back and questioned what score he shall give him in quiz. Dr. Aslam remarked “Zero”. He walked out silently with the remark that my daughter (girl student) is evaluated so. Dr. Aslam apologized for his error. Prof. Kahali headed department of physiology and taught subject with great passion. His weekly quiz of ten MCQ (multiple choice questions) with ten marks is reminiscent of modern methodology for medical entrance examinations/evaluation so well propounded by the Americans.
We were 62 in the class, what represented a true picture of global (students from Africa, Malaysia and Pakistan), national (students from Mumbai, UP and Himachal), religious (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians) and social (those from convent, Biscoe, Burn hall; those from Govt: schools like me; those from distant villages and undeveloped regions of State etc) integration. One who impressed me most was a tall skinny fellow from Chinkriyal Mohalla (now Legendary pathologist Prof. Abdul Rashid Khan) and every day we walked together from Medical college gate to his home discussing Best & Taylor (Physiology) and Gray’s Anatomy. It always astonished me how he had mastered these books including the foot notes. Occasionally I took pleasure to relish Kanti & Kabab from famous Ahdoo’s and for this took a Tonga ride with Ghulam Nabi Lone (who later took over as a Minister in J&K Govt: and unfortunately succumbed to the bullets of the assassin) and Lone sahib always volunteered the smaller Tonga bill (rupees 2) and left for me to pay the bigger Kanti bill (rupees 16). Medical College canteen was a place of great entertainment and joy. On a daily basis, we all assembled around one table in the canteen where Fida Hussein (Dr. Fida Hussein settled in South Africa and unfortunately died few years back from motor vehicle accident) was to sing gazals in his melodious voice. Many would name him Mehdi Hassan and/or Mohd Rafi of our class and I can vouch that his voice was as impressive as either one of these legends. Another legend in our class was Abdul Wahid (recently retired as Prof. Medicine SKIMS) and his critical reviews about Kashmir politics and leaders would hit the Urdu paper “Khidmat” and other Urdu periodicals on regular basis even in those days. For a number of years I lived in the Medical College Hostel, Bemina and during these years three of us namely I, Ved Prakash Gupta (retired as Director Health J&K), and Bashir Ahmad Khan (unfortunately died from aggressive Polyarteritis nodosa soon after passing MBBS) would have afternoon Abi-Guzar bund walk, eat one rupee “roti and tadka-dal” from a vegetarian dhaba in Kokar Bazaar as a single evening meal of the day and at around 9 PM would drive our 3 bicycles from Amirakadal, to Karan Nagar, to Tutto ground and to Bemina Hostel.
We entered second MBBS after 2 years and relished the pathology lectures from Prof. Goyal who taught subject by symbolizing human pathology to varied events in nature. For this he had made a compendium which he always kept to his chest and brought it to the class room to narrate these events. One day many mischief mongers of our batch (there were quite a few) coaxed me to ask Prof. Goyal to lend his personal great compendium for a short time so that we could broaden our knowledge. He hesitantly surrendered it for just one night (probably first time in his career) and that night we all relished it from A to Z with great fun. Prof. Ahluwalia, Head Social & Preventive Medicine was an exceptionally great character and his environmentalist abilities should today win him an international award from IPCC. Those days, Medical College Garden and SPM museum were treat to watch and created attention at national medical circles. Our clinical postings in SMHS Hospital wards and outpatient departments were supervised by Prof. Col. S. Kaul (Medicine) and Dr. Permanik (Surgery). Because of this and with the untiring efforts of these/such medical giants, we learned the most difficult of art of history taking, palpating the magic box of human body i.e. abdomen and listening to the demanding tender human structure namely the human heart. Two stalwarts of surgery of that era were Prof. Ghulam Rasool and Prof. Girdhari Lal.
I take this occasion to pay a special tribute to one unsung hero who was fixed with the notion that all problems of Kashmir (may be political, social, economic and healthcare related) are related to worms (Ascaris lumbricoides; known in Kashmir vernacular as Aams) in their bellies and there is only one solution to this complex human problem namely “Ek Thou Antepar” (administer one dose of anthelmintic Antepar). I distinctly remember that morning of 1967 when Late Dr. Shanker Raina (Asstt. Prof. of Medicine in Medical Unit II) was conducting ward round in side room, besides clinical laboratory ward 3, SMHS Hospital Srinagar. A young man was lying deeply unconscious, and had Cheyne-Stokes breathing. A lumber puncture had revealed frank blood (Massive subarachnoid hemorrhage). Dr. Raina, a great character in himself, danced around and gave some instructions and told his relative that he (the patient) shall be well soon. While we were on that, this senior respected Bengali physician and a distinguished professor of medicine in Medical College Srinagar (Prof. S. R. Verma) entered, looked at this human soul, elicited neck stiffness and ordered Fatima (a star nurse of ward 3) for “Ek Thou Antepar” and told his attendant in Bengali-Hindi slang that his brother had a round worm in his brain and he shall be OK very soon. We followed the professor to main ward 3. Within few minutes, the professor suddenly felt that his orders of Antepar might not have been implemented and life of this patient was in great jeopardy due lack of Antepar levels in his blood and brain. He quickly rushed to the side room and was shocked to note that Antepar had not been administered yet, so, he himself administered correct dose of Antepar through the nasogastric tube in place and apologizes to his relative of nurse’s folly which he has to correct himself. Within 10 minutes of all this drama we heard screams coming out of this room announcing eternal journey (death) of the patient. I soon discovered that Prof. Verma firmly believed that all diseases of Kashmiri’s, from cold to cancer, are caused by round worms in their bellies and would order “Ek Thou Antepar” the next moment he saw a Kashmiri with any illness.
Prof. (Dr.) Ali Mohammad Jan was a legend for Kashmir in his lifetime. “Ali Jan” as he was popularly known to a common man was a house-hold name till yesterday. I knew Dr. Jan Sahib as a medical student; resident doctor; practicing physician; consultant and Head Gastroenterology, Dean Medical Faculty & Director Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and closely watched him as a physician, administrator and as a human being. To become a legend, one needs to have several qualities which include: wisdom, hard work, dedication, focused attention, honesty, disciplined and above all the art of exploiting the opportunities which come in your way. Jan sahib had several (nearly all) of these qualities in different proportions and made him a living legend in his lifetime.
Over the years we knew Naseer Sahib as a nice human being. As a physician he not only treated the illness but imparted a personal care and support and did it with a style which was unique. This made him a very popular physician and he attained great respect from his patients. He was very considerate and loved those whom he worked with and went on to help everyone in his personal and family problems. Naseer Sahib held a very strong political connections and good will from all the State Governments over the decades. Remarkable feature of his political connections and goodwill was that he always used this influence to the growth of medical education and healthcare of the State. He had the capacity to coerce politicians and those with authority to issue funds to the system, shorten/bridge Government red tape for building organization and use his good office to help growth of manpower for the organization. Because of this he grew in popularity and stature amongst most of the junior and senior employees of Medical College Srinagar.
I have taken pains to portrait the some faculty members of the Govt. Medical College of that age, in order to pay special tribute to these/my teachers and find it a part of my duty and prayer. Most of these were full time medical teachers and had brought this profession to recognition in India. They took pains, showed tremendous patience and made intense efforts in order to impart the most difficult knowledge of humanity i.e. art of medical practice. These and such teachers went to the ultimate details to teach us ethics, respect to human being, patience, and self-respect and above all how to be God fearing. They did it not by talking to us about these virtues but by practicing these virtues. They practiced morality and thus spoke of it and wanted us to follow it. They practiced medical ethics and wanted us to follow ethics. They respected every patient for his values and taught us to practice it. They felt inner happiness to see their students doing well in quiz and examinations and finally in life. For those who stood at the backbench and struggled, they were there to extend help, support and advice.
Apart from learning medicine through dictatorial lectures, bed sides and weekly quiz, Govt Medical College those days offered education, including medical, religious, social and political on an intensive basis. The institution was frequently visited by national and international scholars and educationists and system would encourage and support this process. During our student days, we have listened to Noble Laureates, great religious scholars, legendary political figures, and Yoga giants and palmists of international fame. The system absorbed views of all shapes and kinds and this created a highly conducive scientific atmosphere.
I always wondered about the abilities of the conceiver who brought these legendary teachers from all parts of the country together and invite/force us to join the medical studies and create an atmosphere which was revolutionary and full of creativity. Over the years, this Medical School has produced thousands of medical graduates who have served our State, other states of India and rest of the World. Today we can only thank those who conceived, built, supported and maintained this great seat of learning.
Prof. Muhammad Sultan Khuroo, MD, DM, FRCP (Edin), FACP, Master American College of Physicians (MACP, Emeritus) is Director Digestive Diseases Centre, Dr. Khuroo’s Medical Clinic, Srinagar, Kashmir. Feedback at Khuroo@yahoo.com, and visited at www.drkhuroo.in