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Karachi’s nightingale

August 17, 2014

They make their way from their beds to the clearing in the middle of the ward. Some of them are as young as six years old; they grab the empty colourful chairs and place their urine bags next to them. This is their favourite part of the day.

Almost all of them have gathered the strength to make it off their beds, except for a 10-year old who is doubled over in pain, moaning in a corner. We are inside the children’s ward at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT).

SIUT opened their child care unit in 2004. It provides free medical treatment for kidney and liver diseases and cancers to anyone who comes to the hospital.


In the SIUT, there is an angel named Zainab


It’s 10am, and the ward is bustling with doctors and medics. Children are being wheeled in and out of surgery and parents are holding vigils in their absence. The families have travelled from interior Sindh and Balochistan as SIUT is their last hope.

A keyboard is dragged to the centre of the room and Zainab Imran, makes her way to the front. You cannot immediately tell that she is blind. She maneuvers with such confidence as she urges the children to begin clapping.

Zainab has been singing to children undergoing kidney transplants at the hospital for well over 10 years. Four times a week, she makes her way to the hospital with her mother and sings their favourite tunes. “The four days that I visit the hospital and sing for the children are the best days of the week and if I am unable to attend it I feel a certain emptiness in myself,” she says.


Zainab has been singing to children undergoing kidney transplants at the hospital for well over ten years. Four times a week, she makes her way to the hospital with her mother and sings their favourite tunes. “The four days that I visit the hospital and sing for the children are the best days of the week and if I am unable to attend it I feel a certain emptiness in myself,” she says.


This morning she begins singing “Nani teri morni ko mor legaye…” and immediately there is a hush. Even the doctors stop and smile. The children begin clapping, forgetting their pain, they join in.

Zainab hosted a music programme on Radio Pakistan when her producer referred her name to SIUT who was seeking a singer to sooth the pain of their youngest patients.

“I still remember my first day at the hospital,” says Zainab “When I walked into the ward and I heard children weeping. I cannot see but I felt the pain of the children and that really made me depressed. But as I started singing I felt that the children started forgetting their pain and then all my depression was over”.

On a bed close to Zainab, is a family from Khuzdar, their nine-year old daughter needs a liver transplant. Amena Bibi softly hums as Zainab begins singing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan …’

“Zainab is like an angel,” she says. “We all wait for her to come eagerly. It’s these few hours that we forget the seriousness of our problems …”

Then the round of requests begin. The children ask for Jeevay Pakistan and Zainab obliges on one condition that they all have to sing out loud along with her. Just as she begins singing, a loud moan pierces the room, as a 10-year old boy is wheeled out for his surgery. This is serious business and never for one minute can you forget that many of these children are living their life in limbo between life and death.

As he leaves the room, Zainab encourages the rest to continue singing. She tells them to be brave and to smile through it all. “It will all be over soon and you will be healthy,” she says. The children nod and continue mesmerised by her voice.

Zainab is married with two children and she has never allowed her blindness to hinder her. “ I want to share my gift with others,” she says. “Some of us can sing, while others can see, we all have our gifts.”

And before you know it, it’s all over. Zainab is packing up and the children are heading back to their beds. She waves at them and they all wave back. Some insist on taking photographs with her, others give her a hug. Some of the mothers shake her hand and bless her. Ayesha, 7-year old, gives her a kiss and thanks her.

Zainab walks out, looks back at us and says, “I wish and pray that my connection with these children always remain intact. Till I am alive I will continue singing for them.”

I have no doubt SIUT’s nightingale will do just that. 

To learn more about SIUT’s work: http://www.siut.org

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 17th, 2014