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Sir Henry's forgotten dream

Updated May 21, 2015 05:16pm

A dark green gate opens up to a courtyard, covered with trees and fallen dry leaves everywhere; there’s barely a clear path to walk on.

As I make my way to the courtyard, I take a look around and get a sense of despair; the pale construction is massive, but it is discomforting to see half the place covered in sand, while the rest is wrapped in cobwebs. Broken bricks are scattered all around, who took down the blocks? I wonder.

Standing alone and empty, the Sir Henry Eye clinic in Shikarpur, was once crammed with hundreds of patients in a day, who would come in for treatment from all over Sindh.

Renowned for saving the sight of over 100,000 people, Sir Henry Tristram Holland, a British medical missionary, travelled across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, providing ophthalmologic surgery and care.

The hospital in Shikarpur was established when a Hindu philanthropist, Shri Hiranand Mendha in 1909, requested Holland to treat patients in Shikarpur. Holland agreed to treat the patients free of cost but asked the philanthropist to help him build a hospital.

In just a years time, the hospital became one of the largest eye clinics in the world, treating up to 600 patients at a time. Its success became widespread and soon, eye specialists from all around the world from India to the United States came to the hospital for training.

With additional help, about 3,000 operations (1,400 for cataracts) were performed at the hospital during the two months it was open for each year.

It is recorded that Holland alone performed up to 70 cataract operations a day. Since the Shikarpur hospital's establishment, over 150,000 eye operations have been performed, including 77, 600 successful cataract extractions.

The building, which is declared as “Protected heritage” by the Culture Department, Government of Sindh is now falling apart, and allegedly occupied by a land mafia.

Holland's team hoping to keep his dream alive, still come here once a year to perform operations. Since the building cannot be used, they set up tents and tables to treat patients.

It is said that hundreds of patients from Shikarpur and neighbouring areas gather for free eye treatments each year when Holland's team visits.

It is well known that the city of Shikarpur, rich in culture and history was famed for its architecture and grandeur, making it one of historical cities of the sub-continent.

Keeping in view the heritage value of Shikarpur city, the Culture Department declared the whole city of Shikarpur, including houses constructed up to 1950, and its wood and iron works as “protected heritage” as defined in the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994.

Despite such efforts, this eye clinic continues to be striped off its glory. The Sir Henry Eye Clinic branch in Quetta have the responsibility of maintaining the eye clinic in Shikarpur as well, but no one seems to come in for inspection. The building now lies barren and isolated, with only a marble plate reminding one of a place that was once a thriving hospital.


Also read: Requiem for a city


The author is the Sr.Special Projects Manager at Dawn.com

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