Report on Book launch meetings and Reviews
University of London: School of Oriental and African Studies
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The meeting to 'launch' Dr Syed Akhtar Ehtisham's book, "A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents- was held by The Pakistan Society of The University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on January 09, 2009. Urooj Ismail President of the Pakistan society SOAS started the proceedings by requesting Professor Amin Mughal, a renowned scholar and writer to preside over the session. Professor Mughal invited Dr Ehtisham to make a presentation of his book.
Dr Ehtisham offered a brief survey of his experiences in the three continents Asia, Europe and North America, narrated in the book.
Professor Mughal asked Dr Ehtisham to read extracts from the chapters on Society in Pre-Partition India and The Student's movement in Pakistan. Dr Ehtisham also offered comments on health services in the UK, Canada and the USA. He described the changes in health and social services offered in Britain in 1965-1972, with those available in 2001-2002, and the extent to which they had been curtailed.
Professor Mughal offered his own comments on the society, politics and the changes wrought therein, in the last several decades.
A lively question-answer session followed. Most of the queries related to the reasons why Pakistan was in such a sorry state. Dr Ehtisham thought that reasons for the different paths taken by India and Pakistan should be sought in the difference in the class character of the Indian National Congress (Supported by the capitalist class) and the Muslim League (supported by the feudal class), as well as the difference in class character of East Pakistan (petit bourgeoisie), and West Pakistan (feudal). India and East Pakistan abolished the feudal system in 1948, while it had survived, even thrived in West Pakistan.
Some among the audience disagreed, and thought that the feudal system continued to exist in India, in a modified form, especially in Rajasthan.
Professor Mughal making concluding remarks added that besides the Muslim feudal class, Muslim clerical class had also supported the Pakistan movement and were with the feudal class, major beneficiaries of the partition of India.
Renowned poet and play writer Mr Mazhar Tirmizi, BBC Urdu producer Mr Suqlain Imam, Daily Dawn UK correspondent Mr Zia-ud-Din and former leaders of National Students Federation Dr Umar Draz Khan and Asim Ali Shah were also among the participants.
After the formal session ended, discussion continued in the Student's cafeteria till late night.
South Asian Alliance Birmingham, UK
Shaheed Udham Singh Center.
Please find enclosed the report on the Launch of Dr S Ehtisham's book - 'A Medical Doctor Examines life on Three continents'
South Asian Alliance
The South Asian Alliance a group of progressive South Asians, The Indian Workers Association, Madan Lal Dhingra Committee and the Anti-displacement Campaign organized a meeting in Birmingham at the Shaheed Udham Singh Centre on the 11th January 2009. At the meeting Dr S. Akhtar Ehtisham's book 'A Medical Doctor Examines life on Three continents' was launched. Naeem Malik of the South Asian Alliance chaired the meeting and made opening remarks on the life of the author and asked Ehtisham to give an overview of the book.
Dr Ehtisham talked about his experiences in pre-partition India, in Pakistan and in Britain, Canada and USA. He dwelt at length on the harmonious communal relations between Hindus and Muslims, and how with the approach of partition the relations deteriorated. In his opinion, the Indian National Congress was largely supported by the capitalist class, whereas the Muslim League was funded by the feudal class. In the author’s view the tragedy of Pakistan was that it continued to be governed by the landowners of the western wing, with the assistance of bureaucrats and the army, while Mullahs dragged it into religious orthodoxy. East Pakistan on the other hand was able to abolish zamindari system about the same time as India did as the majority of its landowners were Hindus and had migrated to India .
He described briefly how the welfare system in Europe was gradually eroded by the capitalist class led by the likes of Margaret Thatcher, while in the USA Ronald Reagan nibbled away at the already sparse government assistance to the poor.
A lively question answer session followed. During this session it was suggested that perhaps the tragedy of Pakistan had more to do with the alliance the ruling elite made with the United States than with the orthodoxy the mullahs may have imposed or the zamindari system although the zamindari system the ruling elite represented may have encouraged them into the alliance with USA. During this session individuals from various organizations and backgrounds explored the possible future developments, political and social, in the sub-continent. Some of those with memories going back to the pre-partition reminisced about the places they were forced to migrate from and their longing to visit their ancestral homes on the other side of the dividing line.
In the audience were members of the Progressive Writers Association, individuals from Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri and Arab communities living in Britain. Among the audience were members of the Pakistan Tahreek Insaf party based in Birmingham.
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A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents, (Paperback)
by S. Akhtar Ehtisham (Author)
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An introduction to the history of Pakistan is set within the life story of a young man who became a doctor, moved to the US, and later went back to build a hospital for his countrymen. The discussion of politics, government policies, and popular movements is set within the drama of a young man going off to seek his fortune, start a family, and build a meaningful life in a fast-changing world.
The book will also interest expatriates from the Indian sub-continent who have passed through and witnessed the events described, and their children and grandchildren who want to know more about their family history.
Family and feelings infuse the book while illustrating anecdotally the impact of conservative government models versus those offering a social safety net.
A medical doctor and political activist, the author traces his life from India at partition to postgraduate work and practice in the UK, Canada and America, comparing health standards, economic well-being, race relations, and the political atmosphere on three continents during the socially-conscious 1960s and later under bare-knuckle capitalism. He weaves in a brief synopsis of Pakistan s tumultuous history, including the role played by superpowers with an interest in the region.
Part biography and part history and social commentary, this sweeping narrative sketches the political and economic realities of the past fifty years while tracing an eventful life spread across three continents, a life rich in personal relationships, politics, and practice as a medical doctor. The warm-hearted Dr. Ehtisham shares his story while outlining the passions and the political maneuvers that led to Pakistan s formation in 1947 and its ongoing struggle to forge a modern society while being hammered by repressive religious extremists on the one hand and abusive capitalist extremists on the other, riven by factions within as well as undermined by foreign influences seeking to control strategic terrain and a large population.
He narrates his early days as a medical student who helped organize Pakistan s progressive student movement. In the early 1950s they demonstrated against government promotion of right-wing groups, which were the ideological forerunners of the Al-Qaida and Taliban. In 1961 they launched a campaign against General Ayub and the first military dictatorship in Pakistan, and wound up in jail.
Then, through his later experiences in the UK, Canada and the US, he compares the advanced social safety net state of the post-war UK with regimes that are determined to see people stand on their own two feet even when the system has already cut them off at the knees and shows the effect on the public when that state support was withdrawn. During his years in North America he saw the reductions in Disability and other benefits offered by the government to the poor and injured and he illustrates the impact on the population.
In later years he returned to Karachi and, despite the corruption and chaos of the business environment, founded a hospital there before completing his career and retiring in New York State.
Dr. Ehtisham shows how nations as well as individual lives are shaped by historical events, economic changes, religious fundamentalism, class systems and racial divides.
About the Author
S. Akhtar Ehtisham was born in India in 1939 and in 1951 moved to the newly-formed Pakistan, where he completed his studies including university and medical school. Postgraduate work took him to the UK in 1965, then to Nova Scotia, and then to Brooklyn and later to Bath, New York. He eventually became involved in the international anti-nuclear war movement. In later years he returned to Karachi and founded a hospital there. Anarchic conditions in Karachi drove him back to New York State by 1991. He remains active in Indian Pakistani physicians groups, human rights, and peace organizations.
Book Review: A splash of civilizations
By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Title: A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents -
Author: Dr. Syed Akhtar Ehtisham; Publication date: September 12, 2008; Publisher: Algora Publishing NY; ISBN-10: 0875866336
Dr. Ehtisham’s chronicle of the events he witnessed and became part of, in his life lived on three continents, is not a roller-coaster ride. It is however, a fast-paced train journey that takes the reader from the villages of northern India, all the way to upstate New York. The peek out of the window on to Ehtisham’s canvas, arouses a curiosity to read and discover more about the tumultuous and epoch-making happenings narrated by this orthopedic surgeon who is not shy to hide the indelible Marxist imprint, received in his formative years in Karachi, from reflecting in his approach to issues such as the collapse of housing market in the USA.
“The police retaliated by opening fire on a group of students in front of Paradise Cinema in Saddar. Twenty-six students were killed. Nainsuk Lal, a boy-scout helping an injured striker, was the first fatal casualty. Several flags got soaked in blood. The public joined in the protest. The city was paralyzed and life came to a halt. All leaders of the opposition, trade unions and student groups condemned the police brutality …….” Writes Ehtisham in his account of the early days of the student movement in what was then the West-Pakistan. The venue was Karachi, the capital of Pakistan, and the protests were organized by the two year old Democratic Students Federation (DSF). Chapter 8 of the book highlights, and indeed dedicates the whole work to, the students’ movement in Pakistan. Ehtisham himself was intimately involved in founding and organization of another earliest politically aware students’ outfit in Pakistan National Students Federation (NSF) .
These student groups were to provide, in due course of time, some of the key ideologues and leaders of the political parties like the left-wing National Awami Party and the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party. Indeed the DSF would have among its ranks student leaders like Comrade Nazir Abbasi, who would be charged with “anti-state” activities by the civil-military bureaucracy of Pakistan and sent to gallows, thus making it the only students’ group in the history of Pakistan whose members were sentenced to death.
Ehtisham’s account of those heady days is incisive and absorbing but one finds it somewhat confined to the events in southern Pakistan. For example a statement that the student-wing of the Khudai Khidmatgar’s (Red-shirts) of the NWFP had been discredited post-independence is somewhat moot. There really wasn’t a student wing of the Red-shirts as such and their activities among the youth were organized under the aegis of Pakhtun Zalmay (The Young Pashtuns – compare and contrast with Komsomol). Pakhtun Students Federation on the campuses was a much later phenomenon.
Nevertheless, the details of the inception of the leftist student outfits are corroborated by other activists of the day such as Dr. S. Haroon Ahmed, Saleem Asmi and Mairaj Muhammad Khan. The fact that stands out about the DSF, when compared to other political movements before and after it, in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, is that it is the only group founded by medical doctors. Almost all other political groupings were started by lawyers or religious leaders.
A native Urdu-speaker himself, Ehtisham highlights the struggle of the Bengali students for the mother-language against a rather colonialist imposition of Urdu upon East-Pakistan. He notes with great pain but with obvious pride, the ultimate sacrifice by the Bengali students, including those from Dhaka Medical College, when twenty-five of them were killed by the Pakistani army on February 21, 1952. That day, is now observed as the International Mother Language Day throughout the world.
The book is a journey through four different civilizations and an analysis of three political economic systems. It is an engrossing story of the ancient civilization of India, forced to live side by side with a Turko-Persian and Arab Muslim civilization, and then reborn by way of vivisection as two modern nation-states. Ehtisham introduces his readers to the minimalistic culture of Indian village life mixed with the complexities involved, in the followers of two religions living live side by side. He takes us from the days of relative communal harmony and acceptance of diversity in the united India, through the British colonial policy of divide et impera to the culmination of religious fundamentalist indoctrination on September 11, 2001.
In providing the audience with a superb distillation of his lifetime's learning, Ehtisham evaluates the post-1947 nation-states struggling for their political, cultural and economic identity. As a doctor he makes acute observations about the impact of economic system of a country on its healthcare system and whether healthcare is a social service or a commodity.
Whereas it cannot be said that Ehtisham forewarned about the collapse of the US stock-market, he certainly did make the right observations – recorded no later than obviously the publication date of this work - about the bloodbath in the world financial markets and the writing on the Wall Street.
One must note that an occasional typographical error needs to be corrected in the future editions. For example, the number of students killed in Karachi was six, not twenty-six, the Dhaka students protest was fired upon on February 21 and not February 22, or that Shab e Bara’t is closer to Diwali, not Holi in its sub-continental character. Barring such minor omissions or the lack of a phonetic system for non-English words such as Na’na,da’da or Ashra’f , the book is a pleasantly easy read.
In a fast-paced style typical of the person Ehtisham talking to his disciples and colleagues, the author Ehtisham also keeps the readers trotting along through the pages packed with information, which a discerning eye might also find in the very informative footnotes. The book is a beginners’ guide to the Indo-Pakistani history, politics, religions and economics. Most, with some background in the Indo-Pakistani matters would hit the ground running, while for the western and the US readers it provides an opportunity to absorb the pointers given by Ehtisham and graduate to a more detailed reading of the subjects that interest them.
This examination by the medical doctor in a way is a rendition in prose, of Allama Iqbal’s poem “Iblees ke majlis e shura”, in which Lucifer juxtaposes different socio-economic systems like Socialism, Islam and Capitalism, and discusses the merits and de-merits of each , with his cohorts and advisers. Just as it is clear in the poem that Iqbal would make Islam come out on the top, it is fairly obvious that for Ehtisham the fall of neo-liberal capitalism is a foregone conclusion.
After following the author on his journeys through three continents, it is hard not to think of this verse by the poet-philosopher Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil:
Har kuja raftam ghubar e zindagi derpaish bood
Ya rab een khaak e pareeshaan az kuja bardashtam
ہر کجا رفتم غبار زندگی درپيش بود
يا رب ايں خاک پريشاں ازکجا برداشتم
(Author teaches and practices Medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Physician and peace activist reflects on national health care systems and the question of political Islam.
Leftist physician and peace activist Ehtisham reflects on his experiences over six decades in India, Pakistan, the UK, Canada, and the United States, combining memoir — of a life that has spanned witnessing the founding of Pakistan and the attendant Hindu-Muslim communal violence sparked by the partition of South Asia to worrying about the fate of his daughter, who worked next door to the World Trade Center, on September 11th, 2001 — with political observations concerning the world he has lived through. Within these observations, he is particularly focused on national health care systems and the question of political Islam.
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A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents by Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham – A Personal Reaction.
By Syed Husain Pasha
March 22, 2009
If ever the description “a man of many parts” applied to any one, it does perfectly to Dr. Ehtisham: orthopedic surgeon, father, husband, friend, community organizer, social activist, world traveler and global citizen, even though globalization raises his ire, for the obvious reasons, as some would argue, of its legacy of unequal development around the world and its march to global exploitation of the poor by the rich and of the powerless by the powerful.
Dr. Ehtisham combines the charm and sophistication of North-East India’s composite Muslim-Hindu Lucknow culture steeped in centuries of sophisticated court etiquette and the delicate beauty of Urdu language, poetry and literature. In spite of having spent a significant part of his early life in the rough and tumble of feudal and regressive Pakistan, Dr. Ehtisham radiates a rarefied air of high culture and personal sophistication that make him a privilege to know and a pleasure to have conversation with.
Dr. Ehtisham’s life and experiences straddle not only the three continents of Asia, Europe and America but also that part of the 20th and 21st centuries in which these three continents of the world, along with Africa and some other places, boiled and bubbled and constantly made and remade themselves. This may not have enabled Dr. Ehtisham to conquer both space and time, but it certainly equips him with a perspective on the sociopolitical, cultural as well as historical developments on these three continents, and by extension around the globe, that is unique, powerful and intensely personal. Paradoxically, his sharp intellect, keen insight and culturally rich origins and experiences do not keep Dr. Ehtisham from observing the world from the vantage points of the same colonialist-imperialists of the East and the West that he so perceptively decries in his book. As a result, he often resorts to the use of the same dubious labels to describe local social forces and movements in Pakistan and elsewhere in the so-called Third World that the foreign dominance seekers from Europe, America and the Soviet block so diligently invented and gave currency to over the past several decades to defame, demoralize and defeat the local forces, fortified by local social, moral and political ideologies, that were arrayed against them in social, political, cultural and military resistance and combat. In doing this, he at times ends up dancing with the same bare-fanged colonial and imperial wolves of the East and the West that played such a critical role in making our world what it is today, even as his noble heart beats with love and concern for the oppressed and the weak of the world.
Dr. Ehtisham brings to his narrative, which is part social commentary and part historical analysis and reconstruction, an acute personal and autobiographical involvement that is both remarkable and rare. As the world in India, Pakistan, UK, Canada and other places moved and changed over the past 50 years or more, Dr. Ehtisham did not, like most other people, merely read about that world, and about those changes and developments that rocked that world, but he personally observed many of them. And he seems to have done so with a keen sociological eye and approach even though he is a medical doctor and not a sociologist by training. But Dr. Ehtisham did even better: he was not a mere bystander in world events and developments but an active participant in many of them.
Whether in building a hospital in Pakistan, or trying to organize resistance to forces propelling the world toward an inevitable global nuclear holocaust, or seeking to bring a greater measure of awareness of their own plight, suffering and deprivation to the underprivileged segments of society wherever he could find them, whether in the developed or developing societies, Dr. Ehtisham has throughout his life been a man with an active social conscience that he combines with a personal passion that is both contagious, refreshing and energizing.
His book, A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents, is both a highly insightful social and political commentary on the state of the world over the past 60 years as well as an eyewitness account of many of the remarkable happenings around the globe during that eventful and profoundly cataclysmic period in history. With an aching heart and racing mind he observes Pakistan in the throes of birth and shares the struggles of the Pakistani people to break free from the chains of feudalism and regressive living and almost ends up blaming the so-called religious people for these problems. He sees Muslim Pakistan going through the pangs of its bloody birth and development, surrounded by endless circles of hostile forces both domestic and foreign, and trying to come to terms with its complex identity and daunting destiny, and seems quite unable to consider the role Islam, the rich religious, cultural and political mix in which most Pakistanis were born and brought up, properly understood and intelligently and compassionately applied, could play in facilitating nation building in Pakistan and putting socially and economically lagging Muslim communities on track to recovery and rehabilitation.
Insightful, analytical, authentic, Dr. Ehtisham’s book is a must-read for those with an active mind, engaged conscience and sense of curiosity about some of the events and individuals that shaped the modern world – at least significant chunks of it. It is a must-read for those with any affiliation with any or all the three continents of Europe, Asia and America – as well as for the rest of us.
The author is a professor of Communications at State University of New York, Cortland NY and may be contacted at syed pasha,