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NON-FICTION: Sick at heart in the third world

Updated Mar 19, 2017 08:36am

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Our country is plagued with nepotism and corruption, so much so that sometimes we don’t believe that humanity still exists. I often receive calls from friends and family asking, “Do you know someone at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT)?” or “Dr Murli Dhar hails from a literary family, so you must be acquainted with him.”

My response is, “Yes, Dr Murli Dhar and his wife Pushpa Valabh, a seasoned poetess of the Sindhi language, are among my good friends. His father-in-law Valiram Valabh, a famed scholar, translator, and a literary figure, and his sister-in-law Gauri Valabh, also a poetess, are all my friends.”

Upon this I am immediately asked, “Can you put in a good word for us? Can we use your reference so that he treats us better?” I advise them to see Dr Murli without any reference — just tell him your problem and he will do whatever he can to resolve it, that too without any “reference.”


A collection of essays that exposes the miserable conditions of healthcare in the country


A medical practitioner sees death around him every day. For doctors and paramedics, death is not an emotional experience — it is a routine occurrence, nothing to be sad about. But one could often see tears in Dr Murli’s eyes when a patient lost his life.

Dr Murli has dedicated his life to fighting kidney ailments and excelling in kidney transplants. He is a positive-thinking and sensitive individual with a great sense of responsibility towards society. This reflects in his writings which are full of commentary on national and international politics, economics, health, and education. Teen Duniya Ja Soor [Third world sorrows] comprises 43 essays written by him till 2012. These essays were regularly published in Sindhi newspapers and magazines. Since he is a poet too, his essays feel as deep as a piece of poetry. Despite being laden with statistics, his scientific writings do not bore the reader, and can be understood even by those readers not related to science, especially medical science.

The common theme in the essays is a political, social, economic, and psychological analysis of Pakistan, in particular Sindh. ‘Zigzag Hai Kitna Sarkari Elaj’ is a commentary on healthcare in Sindh. Dr Murli laments that people in Sindh lose the battle for their lives simply because they cannot afford expensive treatment. The public healthcare system is in tatters. In developed countries, healthcare is a domain of the state, but in Pakistan the public healthcare system is ruthless, often negligent towards the needs of patients.

He details how people die because of negligent paramedics and doctors: “Once I visited Taluka Hospital Ranipur at night. There was an electricity outage, and the hospital was deprived of a generator. I saw a paramedic suturing a wound with the help of a mobile phone flashlight. It was painful to see a hospital in this condition. Doctors and the medical superintendent of the hospital could get a generator, but only if they felt it important.” Criticising the government, he says that healthcare is not a favour given out by the state; it is an obligation.


"Once I visited Taluka Hospital Ranipur at night. There was an electricity outage, and the hospital was deprived of a generator. I saw a paramedic suturing a wound with the help of a mobile phone flashlight.”


In ‘Jab Maseehaii Pesha Bikaau Maal Ban Gaya’ he uncovers the apathy of his fellow doctors, describing how doctors play with the lives of patients just to make some extra income. Again he criticises the government, but also presses the people to step forward and play their part if the government is not doing its work.

Writing about a visit to SIUT, Sukkur, he says, “Every person there had his own story. You speak to them in a comforting tone, and they start weeping silently. Most of the time, men don’t cry. But when they find themselves helpless for the treatment of their children, they cry more than women.”

In another essay, he writes: “Then there is a question of transparent utilisation of the funds disbursed to hospitals by the government. If the funds are not embezzled and influential men don’t take huge cuts, then the public can be provided free treatment, saving them from suicide. ‘Free treatment for everyone, with respect’ should be our slogan.” Elaborating further, Dr Murli narrates how a patient named Naik Mohammad committed suicide because he was suffering from tongue cancer, even though Chandka Hospital Larkana, where he was admitted, has a ward for this ailment.

All the essays in the book are based on his personal experiences, on which he builds his analysis. Several times he describes kidney ailments in simple words, shedding light on kidney stones, kidney failure, causes and symptoms, and treatment.

There is a moving account of 20-year-old Damini, who was suffering from kidney failure. Each of her five brothers was ready to donate a kidney, but they themselves were suffering from the same. When doctors proposed that instead of her brothers, her sisters donate the kidney, the sisters’ in-laws forbade them from helping Damini. As a liberal thinker, when Dr Murli analyses society he also speaks about gender discrimination. In Damini’s case, Dr Murli asserts, the women didn’t have rights over their own bodies; it is an example of downright apathy that in order to donate a kidney to their own sister, they required permission from their in-laws.

Recalling the 2010 floods of Sindh, he says, “Ever since I have started seeing patients at SIUT, Sukkur, I have seen poverty very closely. I’d say that these floods have uncovered the somewhat hidden poverty, and the real face of impoverishment is now visible.”

But Dr Murli doesn’t only talk about his profession. Where he discusses the problems plaguing our healthcare system, he also uses his pen to write about social issues. In his essay about child abuse, he laments how the misery of such children, especially of those belonging to the scheduled castes, often go unnoticed.

Some essays are a recollection of his memories from his foreign tours. He has travelled extensively around the world, attending conferences and meetings. He discusses the United States, South Korea, Thailand and Germany, while analysing the healthcare, education and economic system of our country, especially Sindh. These essays are not the usual travelogues, but provide an insight into issues that we as a society and country face.

He is a strong proponent of love and lambasts those who, by their actions, bring misery to humankind. He has openly analysed friends and fellows without any reservation. It would be great to see his essays translated into Urdu and English so that they reach a wider audience.

The reviewer is a poet and women’s rights activist

Teen Duniya Ja Soor
By Murli Dhar
Peacock Printers and Publishers, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9699543517
230pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 19th, 2017

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