In this age of universal “Yes sir, three bags full sir” this might turn out to be an inspirational story. Then again, may be not.
It is the first week of November, 1962. I am a foreign exchange high school senior at Highlands High, Sacramento, California. Autumn (the Americans call it ‘fall’) is in the air. Trees are shedding their golden leaves. The tall, blonde California lasses have moved from mini shorts to pedal pushers or jeans. A quiet weekend is coming up. No parties, movies or football games are on the agenda. To deal with the weekend I walk down to the community library to choose a book. Eventually, I check out an unknown book titled ‘Dr. No’. The author, Ian Fleming, is also unknown. After reading the book over the weekend I remember thinking, “Hey, this is marvelous stuff. Why hasn’t the world taken notice of this?” I returned to Pakistan in July 1963. Two years later there is a literary explosion. 007, James Bond are everywhere. James Bond goes on to become the most powerful franchise of its time. Many years later overtaken by Harry Potter. Some one-liners from the James Bond franchise become classics “My name is Bond, James Bond”, “A Vodka martini, shaken not stirred”. The Bond ‘girls’ have mesmerized the world for 45 years. Ever since Ursula Andress emerged from the sea like the goddess Aphrodite in the first film.
There was a local Dr. No. Actually, a highly qualified medical doctor married to a Scottish lady, also a doctor. He had no bedside manners. He was gruff, focused and did not entertain small talk. Hence the epithet ‘Dr. No’. In 1961, he was serving as chief of the Gulab Devi Hospital, Lahore. Thereafter he was promoted as chief of the Services Hospital, Lahore. Services Hospital was the most important hospital of Pakistan as all civil servants of Punjab had to get medical clearance for promotions, pensions, etc. The Punjab bureaucracy was most unhappy at this appointment. ‘Dr. No’ was Urdu-speaking. However, most of the powerful bureaucrats in Punjab and the federal capital were his friends and patients. Ijlal Haider Zaidi and Fateh Khan Bandial to name two. Whenever necessary they ran interference for ‘Dr. No’ (to borrow a phrase from American football). Many bigwigs would use ‘Dr. No’ as the doctor of first choice, including Sir Maratab Ali and Sir Feroze Khan Noon. ‘Dr. No’ continued to run the Services hospital, as hospitals should be run – professionally, merit-based. He rarely extended favours. One day a Wapda Chief Engineer (CE) barged into his office while he was examining a patient. The CE stated that his service extension was awaiting medical clearance. ‘Dr. No’ was not impressed. He asked the CE to get a token and await his turn. Words were exchanged. After the medical examination was over, the CE was declared unfit. In the next 10 days the CE raised hell and approached every person in Punjab and at Centre. The verdict remained unchanged. At that time (1962), the Nawab of Kalabagh was the governor of Punjab. The world knows that the nawab managed the province with all tools, including ruthlessness. The governor relied on the conventional bureaucratic and intelligence channels. But he had his own intelligence network. The chief of this network was a much-feared man, because Nawab Sahib usually believed his assessment. Meanwhile, a sustained drumbeat was developing against ‘Dr. No’ for his non-cooperation. One day the said intelligence person called on ‘Dr. No’ at the Services Hospital. In the room, ‘Dr. No’ enquired what his medical issue was. The I man suggested they have a cup of tea. Not used to such socialization during duty hours, ‘Dr. No’ sent for tea. During the conversation, the I man told ‘Dr. No’, “there is a message from Nawab Sahib. He wants to know what your desire is.” ‘Dr. No’ feigned ignorance. The I man smiled and said, “the governor wants to know whether he can give you a licence, an import or export permit, a land allotment, or any reasonable request you might make.”
‘Dr. No’ showed the I man around the hospital. He then took him to an unfinished construction site on the hospital premises and said, “this is the new wing. Construction was stopped last year. Kindly request Nawab Sahib to have this completed.” A few days later the I man reported to the governor. The governor twirled his substantial mustache and said, “He is a great doctor and administrator. But a fool.” Nonetheless, the project was completed in 5 months. After Gen Yahya’s government and the advent of the PPP government, ‘Dr. No’ was unceremoniously transferred as the Chief of the Civil Hospital, Sargodha – a substantial downgrade. It was suggested to him that he should leave the country. He garnered a job in Libya.
In Tripoli (1973 onwards) ‘Dr. No’ was a department head of the largest hospital in Tripoli. Same no-nonsense philosophy. In those days Tripoli was a small city, much like Nazimabad, Karachi. ‘Dr. No’ and his wife lived in the upper portion of a small house. One night, at approximately 11pm, there was a loud knock on the door. ‘Dr. No’ opened the door. Two security men in uniform said, “Doctor, get dressed, get your medical bag.” Downstairs the official cars awaited. ‘Dr. No’ got into the big car. Seated was Abdessalam Jalloud, the dreaded intelligence minister of the Qadhafi regime. Jalloud was the hatchet man. He could make you disappear. They drove an hour into the dessert and came to a tented village. ‘Dr. No’ was escorted by Jalloud to the main marquee. Inside, lying on the divan was Col. Muammar Qadhafi. Jalloud said, “The Colonel is unwell. Please check him over.” ‘Dr. No’ spent the next half hour carrying out various procedures. Thereafter he told Jalloud, “He’s in good shape. A mild bug. I have prescribed some medicines. Also give him a shot of Brandy for good measure.” At that time alcohol was forbidden by the regime. Shocked, Jalloud said, “Did you say Brandy?” ‘Dr. No’ replied, “Yes.” He bade goodbye to the Colonel and was escorted back home.
Some weeks later ‘Dr. No’ was in his clinic at the Tripoli Hospital. Some commotion was erupting outside. After due permission Jalloud entered his office. After pleasantries were exchanged, Jalloud told ‘Dr. No’, “Colonel Qadhafi would like you to be his personal physician. You have to be with him night and day, 24/7. I have to take back your answer.” ‘Dr. No’ weighed in his options. A wrong answer could result in collateral damage. ‘Dr. No’ took Jalloud to the window. He said, “See all those hundreds of people. They are sick. I am a physician. I contribute to their healing. If I become a personal physician to one man, it would be a denial to my calling. Regretfully, I must decline.” When Jalloud presented the answer to Colonel Qadhafi, the Colonel stated, “The man is a fool.” If he were my personal physician, people would leave suitcases full of money on his doorstep.” A few weeks later, Jalloud again appeared at the hospital. ‘Dr. No’ was apprehending the worst. Jalloud said, “The Colonel wishes to know what you need done at this hospital.” ‘Dr. No’, by now a specialist in diabetics, explained why a separate diabetic facility was required, as the Arabs were prone to this disease. A diabetic facility was duly completed.
‘Dr. No’ packed his bags and returned to Pakistan in 1986. He practised at some hospitals in Karachi. He passed away in 2005. I know the above to be true because ‘Dr. No’ was my maternal uncle (mamoo).
(The writer is a former Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021