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Dr Taj Kirmani – A blessing for the blind


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World-renowned Dr Tajuddin Hasan Kirmani passed away on Friday in his sleep and in doing so, marked the only time he did anything peacefully. A congenitally restless spirit, he fought frantically all his life for more – more knowledge, more ability, more ambition and more servitude.

I pen his obituary not only to celebrate his life but also to share his secret that you can challenge fate by following his simple recipe. Equal parts faith, education and ambition, shake well, and drink deep of this heady cocktail until luck and fate dare not knock on your door.

The enfant Kirmani had no right to be as successful as he became. The odds were cruelly stacked against him. Born into abject poverty into the already bustling house of a humble policeman, he rejected his apparent fate early on.  From the start, success was important to him and he chose the medical profession to serve as an apt platform. But how would a penniless young man ever dream of preparing for the pre-schooling and preparation that would allow him to be admitted to King Edward Medical College.

A relentless networker, he shared a common trait with most great men; the sheer magnetic ability to draw the attention of kind benefactors who saw great potential in this man. With one such benefactor, he worked as a typist and watch repairer by night in a small shack in Saddar while attending college by day. Another he impressed enough to help him gain admission into King Edward Medical College. With yet another he facilitated his journey to England to successfully earn the right to be a Fellow of the prestigious Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, once again repaying his debts by toiling as a road repairer by night.

It was in England that he polished his skills as a surgeon, quickly gaining renown as a young phenomenon. He had the whole package: talent, emerging fame, movie star good looks, and the world at his feet, finally.

Yet, he chose at this pivotal point to come back to Pakistan, to his mother, father, his many siblings and his country. He never forgot where he came from and set about to dedicate his life to helping the underprivileged.

The great wealth he accepted as a reward for his efforts never seemed to fit comfortably with the man who, for four decades, arose at 4 am to go to work, giving the poor the gift of sight as the Head of the Ophthalmology Department at Jinnah Medical College.

Dr Kirmani’s fame soon spread to the outside world. He was invited to a myriad of conferences and symposia to share his insights into field surgery and he even graced the cover of the UK Panorama magazine celebrating his contributions to Pakistan and his skills as a surgeon. His commitment to Pakistan never waned; he used his countless trips abroad to always bring something back to Pakistan. He was an early pioneer of advances such as inter-ocular lenses and laser surgery, often at his own cost.

It was incomprehensible to him how anyone could be content or still. He had but to spy you in a room full of people and his loud boom would fill the room, commanding you to come over. A hallmark warm hug, a clutch of the hand and you were his willing prisoner. A kaleidoscope of information enveloped you: the latest news, the latest research, world affairs, books, authors, travelogues, all for the inexpensive price of temporary hearing loss.

Spontaneity marked his life and it was always a thrill to hear the insistent honk of his car outside our gates, sure in the knowledge that as he swept into our lives, the next few hours would not be dull.

Every year he would pack all of us into an aging Land Rover jeep and trundle us off to some remote part of Pakistan where he had set up free eye clinics. He took no credit and no reward for this. As word spread throughout Pakistan of these clinics, more and more people would throng to these camps where he would perform under the harshest conditions often with no equipment.  It was a life lesson in humility for me to wade through this sea of old men and women, sitting under the hot sun all day for their turn with him – and all would come out praying for him as he returned to them the gift of sight.

For him, thought was action and action was life. There he was one day in my cubicle in New York with the only advance notice the familiar boom of his voice pricking at my ears as he advanced upon my location. Why? Because he had an idea that he needed to setup a philanthropic organisation to deliver medical help to the downtrodden in South East Asia and I was to help him gain support for his idea.

He promptly brushed aside my careful admonishments of how much effort it take to realise his plan, commandeered my car and before the week was out, he had – with me meekly in tow - barged into homes and offices and signed up three of New York’s best known doctors for his cause. This led to a series of clinics established in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in other parts of South East Asia.

His recent years were marked by the ravages of age but with no loss of energy or enthusiasm. He was a giant of a man, never failing to inspire. The world is a less fecund place now.

Friday marked the end of an era for us but he will never be far.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Ibrahim Apr 14, 2013 08:19pm
RIP Dr Kirmani! You were one of my respected teachers. An honorable gentleman with a flair for teaching is no longer among us,
Mehtab Khan Apr 14, 2013 08:45pm
While praying for the departed soul, let us pray for more men of his calibar and commitment. I wish this obituary note is seen by the Young doctors who gained notriety for thrashig their seniors as well as leaving the crtical patients unattended for weeks and sometimes gate-crashing the OP theatres to stop some critical surgeries. I do not dispute their right to demand better emaluments and a decent service structure, but I do detest their conduct and the way they adopted for attaining higher status with pay & perks. . This status does come in service but comes with Kirmani's commitment and not by money and grades alone.Some of these young doctors might have studied at King Edward Medical College as well . I wish theycould follow in the foottprints of these luminaries - the noble professionals - who have done their duty with dignity.
Muhammad Farooq Apr 14, 2013 10:47pm
a rarity. May Allah bless his soul!
khan Apr 15, 2013 12:21am
May Allah bless his Soul..BUT WHY WHY dont we hear of these people in media and hear the great Pakistanies around us?? WHY we only hear when we loose them?? I wish i should have heard about him before,met him and had a good shake hand,may we meet in Jannah and I thank him for his love and dedication for pakistan and pakistanies...
Jehangir Apr 15, 2013 01:43am
One who made a difference. RIP
MOHAMMAD Apr 15, 2013 02:53am
i wish i would follow his footsteps. kindly help me in doing that. where is the hospital he worked in. i would set -up a charity hospital in his name to help the blind. MAY ALLAH BLESS HIS SOUL...AAAMEEN. PAKISTAN...ZINDABAAAD
Naeem Mahmud Apr 15, 2013 04:36am
Its an inspiration reading this article. May Allah reward him of his great work and give us some of such courage and passion to do something for our country.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 05:55am
Land Rover is a Land Rover, and a Jeep is a Jeep. One is from USA and the other is from Japan. Pole apart.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 05:56am
You don't need the address, just carry on the good work. May Allah bless you.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 05:58am
Didn't you read this article in a media -named Dawn newspaper, or are you looking or a different medium?
Imran Azim Butt Apr 15, 2013 06:09am
What a man !!! We need a few more humans and Pakistanis like him. An example to dream big and follow it through and then use ones profession to benefit the needy. It is because of people like him there is still good in this world. Salute to you , Dr. Kirmani, may God bless your soul and thank you for making us proud to know that there are / were people like you among us.
Muhammad Farooq Apr 15, 2013 07:58am
By the way, as a nation we are known to worship the dead and buried so no surprise, not many Pakistani know about Dr Taj Kirmani. It reminds me of lines from Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi: " Umber bhar sang zani kartay rahay ahl-e-watan, Yeh alag baat hay dufnaain gay azaaz kay saath" We have amongst us living saints like Abdul Sattar Edhi but I dont think we have recognized him as he mertis.
haris Apr 15, 2013 08:49am
Land Rover is from UK, particularly England.
haris Apr 15, 2013 08:54am
@Khota: You should read the comment before writing your reply. Khan is right, WHY we hear about these great souls after they die, WHY not anyone appreciate their prudent hard-work during their lifetime. Did you ever heard about Dr. Kirmani before?
Atif Apr 15, 2013 11:17am
Allah bless him!
Ali Apr 15, 2013 11:21am
A land rover is from UK and a Jeep is from US
Ali Apr 15, 2013 11:45am
God bless him and reward him for his good deeds. AMEEN
Ahmed Apr 15, 2013 12:58pm
The respondent's pen name speaks for itself!
Aftab Apr 15, 2013 01:22pm
Dr Kirmani was a great humanist always helping whoever is in need and approaches him . Work he did to promote free eye camps in partnership with the Indian eye surgeons is greatly admired across the border. He invested considerable time and efforts to create awareness about the eye dieases acroos the SARC region. It is a big loss and may Almighty shower his choicest blessing on him and give courage to his family to overcome this sudden loss.