Farooq Ashai—a man of many parts —a victim of conflict

As the well known anesthetist—Prof. Farida Ashai, my GMC batchmate stood on the rostrum in the auditorium of our Alma-matar shedding bitter tears in loving memory of dear husband—Prof. Farooq Ashai, we could hardly resist the cry of anguish. Anguish at losing a teacher, a colleague, yet another dear one consumed by the bitter conflict in the land, we live in. And not Farooq Ashai alone, apart from others, Dr. Ab. Ahad Guroo—highly valued cardiac surgeon, one amongst the pioneers of tertiary care centers– SKIMS.

Farida’s simplicity had grace written all over, as we joined GMC in 1963—exuberant medicos. From day one she had a group around her—Razia Mufti—a practicing anesthetist in England, pharmacologist—Shafiqa Aslam, Rashda Parveen—a specialist in nuclear medicine, and Nissara Bhat. And here she was, half a century ahead of those early days, a lady with added grace, launching Dr. Rumana Makhdoomi’s landmark book—White Man in Dark, a month earlier on January, the 18th. Farida shared the launch with wife of an ambulance driver—another victim of the conflict, shot dead, while on duty. The martyr lies buried in GMC premises. Rumana’s book awakened, what was dormant—the pain of loosing fellow medicos, who had put their lives in line, while trying to save victims of conflict. Victims of society at large caught in a bitter conflict, ensuing from effort to secure their rights. Yes, it did not warrant violence, and it may not warrant violence, provided peace remains the grounding of conflict resolution. Peace that is so elusive, as state violence remains much in excess of militant elements tired of waiting for peaceful resolution.

Violence abhors, no two opinions on that, unfortunate it might be, yet it becomes imperative in conflicts sans peaceful resolution. Farida—a dear sister tells me, her husband would talk of peaceful resolution strategies that might work to end the violence.  Hardly did he know that he would be the target of the very violence, out of which he thought, society had to emerge to strategize peaceful resolution. The day he fell—18th Feb: 1993 is graphically recorded in Rumana’s book, “He was driving his car at 5.30 p.m. and returning to his home in the campus of Barzulla Hospital with his family. It was apparently cool; there was no curfew that day. His wife heard three shots coming from a nearby bunker on Barzulla Bridge; one bullet hit him, and he collapsed that very moment. His wife held him in her lap and asked her daughter to drive. With what heart must the daughter have driven her gasping father to the hospital where he worked? And how difficult it must have been for a woman to carry her companion to the same theatre where he operated upon patients and saved many lives! The courageous woman intubated him to pull him out of the slumber”.

Imagine Farida—the anesthetist practicing the art, she has mastered on her own husband. Intubation involves putting in a tube in the airway—endotrachael tube to keep it patent for respiratory support, once the respiration is not spontaneous. Intubation is undertaken either for anesthetizing the patient for operative procedures or in emergencies, where the patient cannot breathe on his own. As I was presenting Rumana’s book and relating her quote [noted above] on last moments of the gallant medico that entailed his wife playing the role of care giver, I was choked with emotions, as was everyone present in the auditorium—from the doyen of medical profession—Prof. Allaqaband, to the dignitaries on the dais—our own ZGM, principal GMC, noble and endearing–Prof. Rafiq Pampori, able and enduring–Prof Yusuf, the man who brought forth the psychological dimensions of ‘K’ conflict—Prof. Margoub Banhali, and the brave, the courageous anesthetist—Prof. Farida Ashai, who held her nerve, in an attempt to pull her husband out of dire straits. But the moment willed otherwise, the loss of breath, inability to breathe any further was manifesting faster than the craft of his able wife could help reverse.

Farida could not hold her nerve in the manner she was able to do as the care giver on that fateful day—Feb: the 18th 1993. On Jan: the 18th 2014, normally simple and serene anesthetist lost her nerve in GMC auditorium, as did the wife of the ambulance driver—an honoured presence at the book launch. The twosomes had suffered quietly for years, and they shared their tears with the entire gathering—the galaxy of medicos, civil society members, and GMC students, unabashedly, there was no holding back.  I was transformed to different times, the days when the martyred—Dr. Farooq Ashai joined GMC faculty, while we were about to change hue from being students to acting as interns. Exclusive ortho-craft was still not much in vogue, general surgeons acted as orthopedician too.

Simple looking, somewhat philosophical in demeanor, Dr. Farooq Ashai was impressive in pronouncing ortho-craft, and we were eager to learn how to handle broken bones and displaced joints. Dr. Manzoor Shah—an anesthetist like Farida, a relative of Ashai’s, our batch mate–practiced his art in Britain and Germany told us about Dr. Farooq Ashai’s other tastes. He was a music lover, who would love to practice his ‘Sitar’ quite often. I retain fond memories as I—the taught joined the great teacher in Iran—the year was 1975. His expertise in ortho-craft had us hold our heads high in a foreign land. He was accorded a rousing send-off, as he left Iran. By the time, he taught Rumana and her batchmates, his ortho lectures were mesmerizing, notes Rumana in her book.

As I was reviewing the past, Farida had taken the rostrum by tornado—the day after the tragedy, she related, the chief secretary visited to offer condolences. She asked straightaway—why did you kill him? 21 years down the line, there in no answer…no answer, as in thousands of such cases!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival] 

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