Remembering Mir Rehman Ali Hashmi

Article published in The News, Sunday, March 11, 2012 (some edits here for clarity).

By Prof S. Haroon Ahmed

Dr M. R. A. Hashmi (1929-2003)

Dr Mir Rehman Ali Hashmi (MRA) was a man of all seasons. He enjoyed many, many references to remember him, each more compelling than the other: 29 Mitha Ram Hostel, the hub of heated discussions and planning for the activists of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF); the highly charged convention at Katrak Hall; the historic and heroic protest day on January 8, 1953 and its equally heroic follow-up leading to the creation of All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO). Then there were the post-college days; the reorganisation along radical lines of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA); the launching of the Medical Gazette, the setting up of the College of Family Medicine and the Sindh Medical College. There were progressive movements like the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and the Committee for Amity Peace in Sindh (CAPS). And don’t forget the pioneering work Dr Hashmi put in for the establishment of Blood Bank.

All these are but a few landmark events where Dr Hashmi made a major contribution. In DSF and PMA he left a distinctive mark.

I entered Dow Medical College in 1949. I am not sure when I met Hashmi.

There was no formal introduction even on the first year fool’s day. He was one year senior to me. The batch of 1949 constituted a varied group of young students who descended on the only medical college in Sindh from all over the sub-continent. Most of them were immigrants who brought with them their own unique problems and issues.

What were they?

Emotions were running high. A sense of victory and an aura of independence overshadowed the lurking insecurity, a crippling sense of belonging, not belonging, no passport, no visa… One can always go and meet their kith and kin or invite them over to a land where grapes from Chaman cost only six annas a ser. I remember.

Somebody got a room allotted in one of the few hostels and that room soon became abode to many more – a commune and the allottee would not know who were residing, visiting or coming only for a weekly bath.

On a personal note, my family of five found shelter with relatives at an apartment in Soldier Bazaar. Another three families of five to six members arrived. The boys would spread out their beddings by the roadside. I would wake up in the morning to find a cow sort of sharing my bed. Looking back, it now seems in a way “usual”. I still intensely feel the loss of my bicycle stolen from a marketplace. But not so today, even after losing two cars at gunpoint.

That was the life and time but something kept our spirits high and the dream for a better tomorrow alive.

The 50s were also heydays of communism, socialism and peace when everyone was to be provided according to his/her needs. It was also the time when it never occurred to us that Islam was in danger in Pakistan or it needed to protect our ideological frontiers.

In this background I must have met Hashmi and other colleagues going through their own personal experiences. They were Asif Jafery, Asif Hameed, “Marshal” Yousuf Ali, Manzoor, Ayub Mirza and others striving to do something for collective good.

I remember a gathering at Oudh restaurant (now defunct) of about 25-30 Dow students to deliberate on the pressing issues facing them and thus the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) was born in 1950. Dr M Sarwar became the convener and Mir Rehman Ali Hashmi the organiser-in-chief. Under his leadership contacts were made in other college like DJ, Islamia, NED, etc.

There was no looking back. Dr Hashmi’s room at 29 Mitha Ram Hostel became the headquarters of the DSF, buzzing and alive all the time. Hence we met Mirza Mohammad Kazim, Zain Alavi, Adeeb Rizvi, Mazhar Saeed, Iqbal Alavi, S.M. Nasim, Saleem Asmi from other colleges. Hashmi had a distinctive quality of identifying the right person for the right job. A great organiser!

His organising capacity led the DSF to spread from the Dow Medical College to all over Pakistan. This led to famous January 8 student movement, formation of an intercollegiate body and the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO). After the DSF was banned along with other progressive bodies in 1954, the movement passed over to the National Students Federation.

Dr Mir Rehman Ali Hashmi graduated and got a job as Blood Bank Officer at the JPMC where there was virtually no blood bank. He established one of the first few in the country.

A lull prevailed, as all the comrades from the medical college dispersed to set up their practice or go abroad for higher education.

It was in 1965, after a sumptuous meal at Karachi Gymkhana that Dr Hashmi, Dr Imtiaz and I went to the PMA House where the agenda was to close down the English Journal as it was not financially feasible. As I was the editor we three won the general body over and the journal continued to be published. This gave Dr Hashmi an idea that we should reorganise and bring fresh blood to the PMA (i.e. a bid to take over the PMA). We did that after a well-attended meeting at the Hotel de France, airport, (now defunct). And then on to Dhaka as one of the largest attended biennial meetings of the PMA, which elected Dr Hashmi as secretary general. He remained in this position for 20 years and brought radical changes to the medical scene, making the PMA as a bargaining elitist club to an activist body of doctors and for better integrated health services with emphasis on prevention (1972) much before the Alma Ata Declaration (1974). The alternative health scheme of the PMA tilted the balance towards people rather than doctors. This writer had the opportunity to draft this scheme.

Dr Hashmi was a visionary which earned the PMA sympathies of the people as we talked about ordinary people’s health, community health, malnutrition, drug prices and raising the standard of medical education.

Sindh Medical College came to being as a result of the efforts by the PMA although earlier we were told that the medical college is not like teaching Shakespeare or Ghalib by the then health minister. During Dr Hashmi’s tenure, the College of Family Medicine came into being with the dedicated efforts of Dr S H Naqvi, encouraging sub-specialties to organise — like Pakistan Pediatric Society and Pakistan Psychiatric Society. Medical Gazette was his brainchild which gave impetus to medical journalism.

A branch of International Physicians for prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Pakistan can also be credited to him – social responsibility including participation in the movement against one unit.

To call and sustain for nine months, holding bi-monthly meetings at the PMA House of intellectuals from Sindh to resolve the sensitive issues was the brainchild of Dr Hashmi. It produced a consensus document in the shape of the declaration of “Peace and Amity in Sindh”.

First, it was the blood bank at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and after his dismissal from his job (for being a “nuisance” for the government) his private blood bank at Mobile Eye Hospital, Depot Lines (now demolished), continued to be a focal point, where people drop in whenever they are free. This informal discussion sometimes generated bright ideas and a few were even implemented.

Dr Hashmi has left a very strong personal impact on the medical scene in particular and on progressive thinking in general. He is not being fairly remembered for the contributions he had made.

Dr Mir Rehman Ali Hashmi was born in Hyderabad (Deccan) on October 12, 1929. His last fight was with cancer of the liver which was the only fight he lost but with enviable grace. He died on December 3, 2003. Anjum Hashmi’s patience with this mercurial person needs to be acknowledged.

A memorial lecture on Dr Hashmi was held at the SIUT on March 13. Read a report here.

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