The enormous error I made of leaving Britain for Karachi
- In accordance with my nature to prepare for all eventualities, I had already applied for a job in paediatric surgery at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Carshalton, connected with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, the pinnacle of paediatric surgery.
- I had planned to specialise in that branch of surgery in case the general surgery got overcrowded, which was already happening, and thus I could branch out in this super-speciality.
Armed with the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons (FRCS) and Marie by my side, we sailed for Karachi from Liverpool on SS Circassia on February 21, 1959, four years after I left home as a doctor. It took that much time for me to lose my title of doctor and revert to a mere mister! Traditionally, surgeons with FRCS are addressed as Mr because according to history in Britain, we are descendants of barbers who practised surgery many years ago and were not allowed to be called doctors. Surgeons were therefore peeved, and hold the grudge to this day, and thus don’t want to use the doctor title.
Having settled that mystery, which I have often been asked to explain, I can continue with my narrative. It was nine months after I originally intended to return home. May 1958 was the happiest month of my life having bagged my FRCS and wedded my soul-mate; but obviously there was a price to pay. After paying for the course at Guy’s, examination fees and our wedding expenses, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel and decided to take up a job to earn some money. The money was required to pay for our fare and also buy household items like fridge and cooker, which were not available in Karachi as advised by the family.
In accordance with my nature to prepare for all eventualities, I had already applied for a job in paediatric surgery at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Carshalton, connected with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, the pinnacle of paediatric surgery. I had planned to specialise in that branch of surgery in case the general surgery got overcrowded, which was already happening, and thus I could branch out in this super-speciality.
It also fulfilled my criterion of being connected to a teaching hospital. Fortunately, I was selected and started the job immediately we returned from our honeymoon, which was very timely for me. Marie was going to find a job at a nearby hospital, which she did at St Helier’s Hospital in Sutton.
Once I started working, I realised that with my connection at Great Ormond Street Hospital, I could obtain a consultant’s position in the UK in this fast developing speciality but they were not for me.
There was the great urge to serve the people at home. My family had invested in me financially and emotionally and its call was loud and clear. I had promises to keep, expectations to meet and commitments to fulfil. So after nine months of this interesting job with exciting prospects, I put my resignation reluctantly, and we decided to make a holiday out of our return trip by sailing home.
I was leaving Britain with a heavy heart for in the four years I had lived there, I had grown fond of the country. Its organised way of life suited my temperament. It was Britain that I want to remember and cherish all time. Honesty was still the best policy; newspapers were left unattended outside the station, where they were picked by commuters. They would then leave the right change in an open box beside the paper stand. Cars and houses were left open without the fear of theft. Walking alone on empty platforms and travelling on empty trains, late at night was safe. A ‘bobby’ was friend of everyone and staunch guardian of law and order. Personally, having come from the developing world, where a large number of people could not obtain medical aid because of the cost or difficulty in accessing it, free National Health Service was very appealing. Emigrants from East Europe, Asia, Africa and West Indies had not arrived in large numbers, and had not overwhelmed the health and educational services yet.
But I had one consolation; I was taking with me the country’s best export product — a British wife!
After working in Karachi for a few months, I realised that I had made a big error of judgement. Martial Law had been declared by Ayub Khan and all democratic institutions in the country had been suspended. Everywhere I visited I saw high-handed military officers; the dean of Dow Medical College, the only teaching institution in Karachi was an army colonel. Worse still, Pakistan was fast becoming an Islamic fundamentalist country and the mullahs held sway and seemed in authority; they had already prevailed upon the government to declare sharia law.
Having seen and heard Jinnah and read a lot about him, I was convinced that the founder of Pakistan must have been turning in his grave at how badly his vision had been betrayed and distorted. Though he fought for Pakistan on the basis of two national theories and that Muslims formed a different nation, he visualised his creation as a secular state in the image of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey. It was certainly not his intention to take the country 14 hundred years back when the rules were proclaimed and appropriate back then.
On a personal level, Marie and I were happily settled in Karachi and my family adored her, a source of immense happiness for me. I obtained an honorary position in two hospitals and though it brought no income, they kept me happily occupied. I could not get an attachment in a teaching hospital, much as I tried; I had no influence in the right quarters. I had leased an office in the centre of the city and shared it with a chest surgeon, who like me was struggling to establish himself. I consulted there only in the evening hours since most of the day was spent in hospitals, to which I was attached as honorary surgeon. Marie found a job in a British passport office to augment the family’s finances. It also helped me obtain private patients from the High Commission staff. We also enjoyed friendship with them, as we did with professional colleagues. But ultimately, it was the unethical practice and incorrigible corruption at all levels, especially in the profession, which forced me to quit.