By Zubeida Mustafa
DR Shershah Syed is a gynaecologist with a heart — and his heart has no fear. His claim to fame rests with his monumental services to underprivileged women suffering from fistula who would otherwise have been condemned as outcasts for the rest of their lives. Fistula is caused by prolonged labour in childbirth when the bladder is punctured causing urine to leak all the time.
Shershah’s battles for the cause of medical education in Pakistan have also brought him into the limelight as has his struggle to save the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council from the avarice of the power-hungry.
He wears yet another hat. He is a prolific writer. In his books — 11 collections of short stories, a novel, three histories of libraries, universities and museums and a biography of his parents — he skilfully weaves in the essence of his philosophy: a concern for social justice.
At a recent meeting of the Readers’ Club, Shershah introduced his latest book called To Mera Dil Bana Diya. The title is from a verse by Najmi Nageenvi. The words preceding it are “Baytabian samait ke saaray jahan ki/ Jab kuchh na bun saka to mera dil bana diya”. (Collecting all the restlessness of the world, you made my heart when you could make nothing else).
The fact is that as our problems grow, compassion is on the decline.
And that is what the book is all about — people who are restless about social and environmental issues and the majority’s lack of concern for them. Three pieces are character sketches (Ardeshir Cowasjee, Abdus Sattar Edhi and M.A. Qavi) and there are seven short stories with themes such as man’s ecological destruction, the humanitarian services of people who cared, the cupidity of the corporate sector, and so on.
What I found most striking was the focus in the book on compassion, rather the absence of compassion in our society. In the chapter on Edhi, the author quotes Edhi as saying, “Doctors, lawyers and mullahs have destroyed Pakistan in a big way. If they were to reform themselves Pakistan would be fine.” And Dr Shershah fully agrees with the observations of this widely admired friend of the poor.
The fact is that as our problems grow — be it inflation, joblessness, social inequity and intolerance — compassion is on the decline. Along with this is the growth of vigilantism and self-righteousness. People love to sit in judgement on the morals of others as it gives them satisfaction to project their own, presumed moral superiority.
Dr Shershah establishes his professional and feminist credentials by treating violated women with no questions asked. He writes with deep empathy about the young girls who have been deluded and trapped by wily men making false promises that have led to an unwanted pregnancy, a backstreet abortion and ultimately death.
Then there is the horrific issue of rape where innocent girls suffer in silence and receive no redress. If the ugly secret is revealed the stigma kills them and their family suffers. We do not have many Mukhtaran Mais in our midst. There can be satisfying moments though.
One that Shershah describes came when a young medical graduate walked into his office to thank him for having healed her life. Many years ago, when she was younger her mother had brought her to him after she had been raped. He had treated her with utmost compassion and kept her secret from the male members of her family. No one was told anything and that enabled her to resume her life under her mother’s protection and study medicine. When she visited him the day after her graduation she was following her deceased mother’s instructions. He had tears in his eyes, he writes in his book.
According to Shershah, a doctor must never be harsh or unkind to his patients. They are already weighed down by pain and anxiety. The doctor must provide them succour and not add to their discomfort by humiliating them. The problem is that we don’t have a social conscience. If the state has failed in its duties and a huge mass of humanity remains uneducated and deprived we blame the affected people for their poverty and for being disadvantaged. The question for each of us to ask is have we done our two pennies’ worth?
Dr Shershah’s writings carry weight and make an impact as he is direct and forceful and minces no words even when he writes about the most sensitive of issues. He is unafraid and has taken on all those that Abdus Sattar Edhi identified as having harmed Pakistan, namely, doctors, lawyers and mullahs. Besides many of the stories he writes are true though they sound stranger than fiction. Doctor Sahib please continue writing, for the day will hopefully come when things might be fine in Pakistan as Edhi had said. You may then turn to fiction.