By Dr. Ali Madeeh Hashmi

“A high degree of intellect tends to make a man unsocial” 
                                Arthur Schopenhauer

In September, 2013, I was appointed Associate Professor of Psychiatry in King Edward. It was a promotion as well as validation for the three years I had put in at KEMU since my return from the USA in 2010. And it would never have happened if Faisal sahib had not been our Vice-Chancellor (the first permanent Vice-Chancellor since KE became a University in 2006).

It would not be a stretch to say that it was Faisal sahib’s grand entrance into the Vice-Chancellor’s office at KE which finally started an ascent in KE’s fortunes. KEMU’s predecessor, King Edward Medical College with its venerable history and traditions had no equal in Pakistan; in fact in the entire region, since it is the 3rd oldest medical institution in the Indian subcontinent after Calcutta Medical College (established 1835) and Grant Medical College Mumbai (established 1845).

But once the College was hastily elevated to a University in 2006, the poor planning that went into this ill-considered decision meant that there was a chronic sense of paralysis and inaction all around. Mayo hospital, the training ground for multiple generations of doctors in Pakistan (and India before that) was stripped off from King Edward leaving the newly formed University with little more than the largely ceremonial ‘Patiala block’ (erected in 1913 with a large grant from the Maharaja of Patiala, in addition to other donors) and little else. And while Patiala block with its grand domes and palatial Senate hall is an imposing sight, it is totally insufficient for the purposes of a modern university.

Patiala Block, KEMU
(Source: KEMU Official Page)

In addition, in typical Pakistani style, no work had been done in designing appropriate curriculums, rules and regulations and procedures for how the new University was supposed to function. Most rules and guidelines had been hastily copy-pasted from other universities and then rammed through various committees and ‘approved’. The result was a mish-mash of incomprehensible rules and laws that could guide no one about what to do in case problems arose, which was inevitable given that multiple other ‘colleges’ were ‘created’ (usually by the stroke of a pen with no thought given to things like buildings, human resource, equipment, supplies etc). This included, among others a college of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences, a college of Nursing and others.

When Faisal sahib arrived at KE, he was taken aback and the first few months he was there, whenever I would go to his office, he would be yelling at someone or the other out of frustration. Eventually, things started settling down. Faisal sahib found his rhythm and he developed a close coterie of professors as well as junior people like myself who admired and respected him and were willing to help him with things he considered essential. In my case, unfortunately, that meant being subjected to Faisal sahib’s unique definition of ‘training’. This usually meant that he would assign you a task, often times something you were totally untrained and/or unsuited for, and then, with no guidance or instruction, you would be expected to fulfill it to his exacting standards.

In my case, that meant being assigned to one of his pet projects: the renovation and remodeling of KE’s grand ‘Senate Hall’ (sometimes also called ‘Library Hall’). This grand hall with its high arched ceiling, carved wooden indoor balcony and hanging chandeliers is the heart of Patiala block. As one enters Patiala block with its white marble floors, inside the imposing double doors is a spacious vestibule with walls on both sides adorned by boards displaying names of the highest achieving students of the college, in some cases going back a hundred years. The wall on the left also carries a somber plaque in white marble with the words of the Roman poet Horace in Latin:
‘Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori’
(‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’.)
Below is a list of the names of graduates of King Edward Medical College killed in the First World War. Directly facing it on the opposite wall is another imposing plaque in white marble with the names of the wealthy donors who financed the construction of Patiala block. The name of the Maharaja of Patiala is at the top with the donation amount: Rs. 2 lakhs, an enormous amount in 1913.

Further ahead is the grand wooden staircase on both sides leading up to the first floor (which houses administrative offices including the Vice-Chancellor’s office). If you walk past the stairs, you come to a corridor and directly in front is the door leading into the library hall.

When we were students in King Edward Medical College in the late 1980s, I remember the Hall as a rather drab, dark place with dingy floors and a musty feel to it. It is huge, perhaps 300 feet from one end to another and 80 or so feet across. There are alcoves set in the walls at regular intervals and an indoor wooden balcony that runs all round on the upper level. Back in our day, there were old metal cupboards lining the walls with moldy, dusty books inside. We could never tell what the books were since the cupboards were all locked and, seemingly, never opened. The hall was a place to come sit on hot summer days when it’s cool and quiet, offered respite from the heat outside. Occasionally, an official function would take place inside when it would be cleaned up and festooned with lights and streamers. I remember attending my convocation there in 1992.

Inside the Senate Hall

From 2010 until 2013, before Faisal sahib came to KEMU, the Hall appeared to be in its usual doldrums: somewhat dark and dreary, occasionally used to student functions but otherwise appearing rather tired and dull, sort of like KEMU itself. When Faisal sahib arrived as Vice-Chancellor, he decided that the Hall, and all of Patiala block, needed to be restored to its original colonial grandeur. And for some reason, he decided that perhaps I could help with that. The next few months are a bit of a blur as I contacted architects through my family connections, arranged their visits to Patiala block, talked to marble suppliers, visited stores and marketplaces in Lahore looking for chandeliers and lights and generally did things that I had no training for and no interest in. My sole motivation was that this was something Faisal sahib wanted me to do and that was enough. Besides, it gave me a chance to go to the Vice-Chancellor’s office and spend time with him.

The founder of Apple Computers (and a visionary inventor and entrepreneur) Steve Jobs was said to possess a ‘reality distortion field’. This referred to his ability, when talking to people, to make them see things as he himself saw them and to make them believe in his vision even though, at times, it appeared impossible. That was Faisal sahib. He could see things that other people had a hard time even imagining and beyond that, he could get other people to see them as well. We never sat with him without being inspired and awed, not just by the depth of his knowledge about everything under the sun, but by his absolute, unshakeable belief in what he could see and envision. And, of course, there was no question of disagreeing with him or even offering an opinion that differed from his, so complete was his conviction in his own decisions.

Inside The restored, Majestic Patiala Block

Thankfully, Faisal sahib realized soon enough that construction of buildings was not my forte and delegated those tasks to someone more suited. But I continued to visit his office frequently, primarily because I loved being in his company. Once I saw him dressing down one of our professors. Since I was not in his line of fire, I kept to one side of the room but the exchange was fascinating. Apparently, the professor had come to Faisal sahib to complain that someone at a government office was refusing to listen to her (or perhaps not complying with instructions Faisal sahib had asked her to convey).

As I watched, rather embarrassed, Faisal sahib tore into her chastising her mainly for capitulating to the clerk. At first I felt bad for her, watching her being scolded like a school girl by the principal but as I listened carefully to what Faisal sahib was saying, I realized he was right.

“You people have no self-respect. Madam, you are a Professor at King Edward, how dare he treat you like this? It’s because all of you grovel before those people and allow them to walk all over you. You demean yourselves by bowing and scraping before government clerks and then complain that you are being mistreated!”

I heard this theme more than once from Faisal sahib while in his office, a lesson he had learned the hard way, no doubt, by coming up the ranks of medical faculty and navigating the minefield otherwise known as a government job in Pakistan. And he had learned it well. Never in the four years I worked with him at KE did I ever hear that something Faisal sahib wanted done was ever obstructed by government bureaucrats.

He made his preparations, deployed his troops and once the campaign began, more often than not, any and all obstacles simply melted away, seemingly because of the force of his will. In actual fact, of course, it was because he planned everything out to the very last detail. Like a grandmaster planning his next Chess move, he could envision the battle (like he once told me), three moves ahead. And Faisal sahib knew what his opponent was going to do even before the opponent himself knew.
And if everything else failed, he got it done by sheer determination.

You have to be pig headed about it

he told me more than once, imparting a crucial lesson on how to get things done in Pakistan.



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