In Karachi they are like us

Shakti Gupta
I was thrilled when I got an invitation from Dr Asima Faisal, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department, MBA Health and Hospital Management Programme, Institute of Business Management, Karachi, to be a guest speaker at the 20th year celebrations of the globally acclaimed IOBM which is ranked among privileged universities by Pakistan Government’s Higher Education Commission and the Sindh provincial government. I was required to be in Karachi from October 30 to November 3.
It was a golden chance for me to fulfill my dream of visiting Pakistan. I should ensure that I did not miss it, I promised to myself. Little did I realise that soon I was to be confronted by my friends and relatives warning me about the “danger” of visiting “a hostile country” and that too Karachi where even the natives did not feel safe. I was even reminded that I was born and brought up in Mendhar, close to the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, which had witnessed brutal hostilities in 1947. Little regard was shown to the fact that I owed my professional recognition to the job at the prestigious All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi where I have been living for decades now.
I consulted Justice (retired) Vinod Gupta, former Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, and Pushp Saraf, Editor of Border Affairs, both of whom have been to Pakistan and have close contacts. Both said I should go ahead as the situation in Karachi had improved. Their advice was closer to my heart that I should not give up an occasion of strengthening professional inter-action and that there was an overwhelming section of people in Pakistan wanting better relations with India and an invitation to me was a proof of this.
Indeed, the IOBM had made a gesture and carried it forward by writing to the Pakistan High Commissioner in India (Mr Abdul Basit) that I should be given a “non-police reporting” visa along with my wife Madhu. I went ahead and completed visa formalities. There were irritants in the visa process which raised fears in my mind that I might not get it. In my wild thoughts I linked the delay to the deteriorating relations between the two countries (the climate change in Paris came later). However, once I approached our Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the senior functionaries at the Pakistan High Commission were alerted there was warm reception by the Commission’s staff and quick clearance of the documents. Nevertheless  the process took long enough compelling me to reschedule my flight via Dubai on October 30 (Madhu broke her “Karva Chauth” fast on that night at the Dubai airport after the image of the rising moon was transmitted to us by our daughter Shilpa on Whatsapp from New Delhi. It was our first experience of using technology to observe a religious practice!).
In Karachi the next morning it was generous hospitality all the way. I spoke on the “Public hospital governance in India — A study of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi” — the topic for which I had been invited.  It was a very fulfilling session. Academic exchanges were enriching. Often, during my professional journeys across the world, I have always felt proud of the fact that AIIMS is a respected name all over — a tribute to its efficient and diligent medical practitioners and other staff. There were quite a few queries which I think I satisfactorily answered. The audience was highly mature, educated and experienced. I benefitted from what they shared with us at their respective sessions. Like concerned citizens everywhere some of them did discuss border tensions and political environment hoping for a better atmosphere to prevail.
Every evening we were taken out for dinner and that exposed us to the country’s largest city and its environment. We felt Karachi had unnecessarily been maligned. It was possible to sit comfortably in restaurants including those along the sea shores and remain outside till 11 p.m. We were told that the overall scenario had undergone a change for the better. Till recently, people would rush indoors before 8 p.m. leaving it to the Rangers and the army to sort out matters with mischief-mongers. We have come across similar situation in our troubled areas. There are “good” people and there are “bad” people everywhere and “good” people win if they join hands to call the bluff of those wanting to spoil the party. Mr Shahjehan Karim, President of IOBM, and his colleagues Dr S. Irfan Hyder, Dean College of Business Management and College of Engineering Sciences, Dr Humeria Jawed, Senior Faculty, Dr Shahida Mirza, Visiting Faculty, Health and Hospital Management Programme, Dr Tasmia Billoo, President CBM Society of Health Managers, Dr Sameera Mian and Dr Rehanuddin Qureshi (both Health and Hospital Management Programme), apart from, of course, Dr Asima Faisal, ensured we were comfortable all through. Dr Sameera took us to the Aga Khan University and the husband-wife teams of Dr Qureshi and Dr Humeira and Dr Asima Faisal and Dr Faisal Haq (along with their daughter Hana) to the best restaurants in Karachi.
I wanted to see more of Pakistan but I had visa only for one city which made me feel sad. Both the countries issue city-centric visas which shuts scope for wider exposure. After this trip, I am in a better position to understand why quite a few serious thinkers and leaders talk about encouraging people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan at all levels.  As an ordinary citizen I too have come around to the opinion there ought to be exchanges at all levels. After all they on the other side are people like us — for centuries we have shared the same cultural, linguistic and traditional heritage in the same dwelling.
(The author is Medical Superintendent, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Dr Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences), New Delhi, and a well-known expert on hospital administration.)
Courtesy : Border Affairs– January-March 2016


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