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What is to be done ?

by Dr. Ali Madeeh Hashmi

"Hum saada hi aisay thay, ki yuN hi pazeerai
Jis baar khizaaN aai, samjhay k bahaar aai"
(Such simple souls we were, we welcomed it the same way/
Every time the fall came, we felt spring had come)

So wrote Faiz Ahmed Faiz about another time and another place and his words ring just as true today as they did when he wrote these lines many decades ago.

A few days ago, in Islamabad, during a conversation with a highly placed education official, we discussed the condition of our society and he said something interesting: "Dr. sahib, iss qaum ka khameer hi kuch aur hai" (Dr. sahib, this nation's essence is distorted). Although originally from KPK, this man had lived and worked in the USA for over twenty years and had come back to Pakistan for the same reason all of us did: we felt the pain of this nation and its people and we felt like traitors for abandoning our motherland in the hour of its greatest need. Faiz had felt the same way and although he travelled all over the world, he always came back home even though his reward was often arrest and imprisonment.
I asked my companion the obvious question: if the essence of our nation is distorted, then what are people like us doing here? His answer was very revealing "Dr. sahib, 100 years ago, America was in worse shape than us. You've seen the movies of the Wild West, haven't you? It took them a long time to get where they are and it was the hard work and dedication of honest people that built a nation. Everyone remembers Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson but there were millions of other people whose names no one remembers who played their part".

Faiz said something similar in an interview "...up till 1947 there was no Pakistani nation. Because there was no country, there was no nation. There were two ideas that existed at the time: First were the Muslims of India who called themselves a nation, but that included the Muslims of both Pakistan and India, and hence it was not a Pakistani nation. Second, people identified with whatever places they lived in, such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pathan etc. Obviously a Pakistani nation had not been created then. Since there was no Pakistan, there could not be a Pakistani nation. When Pakistan was created, we only had the raw materials for a Pakistani nation. A nation evolves over centuries; nations are not born fully developed. So our first task was to establish the details of our nationality, its definition, its destiny, (but we never did). The result is that even after (all this time) the debate is still going on about what is and is not a Pakistani identity. In my view a Pakistani identity is very clear. The people who live in Pakistan are the Pakistani nation. This includes Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, all those who live here. Now the issue is to create a bond and a complete sense of national identity in the various types of people that live here, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi etc "

Today, we stand at a cross roads. The demands of Science and modernity are pulling us in one direction while the weight of our past traditions pushes us in another. The difference of opinion about which route we should take is becoming ever sharper and in some cases deadlier.

Clearly, going back in time to the stone age, abandoning all the advances of science and technology and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world is not an option. It never was. With the advance of modern telecommunications, the world continues to shrink into a global village. Information, the most precious resource, now passes around the world in the blink of an eye. All of us have access to more information today than our elders could have dreamed off even twenty years ago but a problem remains: all the information in the world cannot give us answers to some of life's most fundamental questions: What is worth doing? What should we be doing as individuals, communities and as a nation to solve the most pressing problems of our time? How can we balance the demands of society with our personal goals? Should we follow prescribed rules and traditions or shatter old idols and form new ones? Each of us has to answer these questions for himself or herself but one thing is clear: If you pull something down, you need to build something new in its place and building something is always harder than breaking it down.

So what should we do? As healthcare professionals, we would do well to remember our natural arena or as the Americans call it, our 'core competency'. We are, first and foremost, doctors, and we need to strive to improve ourselves within this arena. While the field of medical practice (in the broadest way) cannot be divorced from the larger society around it, it is an abdication of our responsibility to our patients and our colleagues if we ignore our natural constituency to indulge in meaningless politics.

We have huge challenges facing our medical profession. How do we harness the enormous potential of our female students and doctors within our existing social system? How do we expand training opportunities for our young graduates in Pakistan so they are not forced to seek out jobs abroad or in exploitative private hospitals? How do we ensure that our best and brightest medical graduates are not lost to the West forever, thus depriving our nation of its most precious resource: its people? How do we provide quality, compassionate care to the teeming masses of our country who look up to us as saviors but don't have ten rupees to spare for food, let alone for expensive tests and medicines? And most importantly, how do we inspire our young people to leave behind the crass lure of easy riches, of material wealth and job titles and work selflessly to better our institutions and our nation?

There are no easy answers to these questions but then, Life seldom offers easy answers to anything. The first step is asking the right questions and seeking out the answers diligently. The harder one works with noble intentions, the clearer the path ahead becomes.

Our alma mater, King Edward Medical University is populated with some of the brightest minds in our nation. With the right guidance, the sky truly is the limit. But we would do well to remember that no savior ever descends from the heavens to save a people. Each one of us has a role to play and it is only our collective effort that will lift us up.

And to reach for the sky, perhaps we should pay heed to another great seer, Allama Muhammad Iqbal:

"MaiN tujh ko batata huN, taqdeer-e umam kya hai/
Shamsheer-o-sana awwal, taoos-o-rubaab aakhir"
(I will tell you of the fate of nations
/untiring hard work first, singing and dancing last)

Dr. Ali Madeeh Hashmi is Associate Professor (Tenure Track) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.


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