Remembering Abdullah Khattak — the boy who could

One thing Abdullah has taught me is that you never really know where the road takes you, but you make the most of every mile.
Published July 4, 2022

I remember the date all too clearly — 6th November, 2019. We were first-years, newly inducted, and naturally the WhatsApp chat was ablaze with chaotic vitality.

Introductions were flying around, questions about Karachi from those of us who were about to move there, which our new classmates patiently and sometimes exasperatedly answered.

An unknown number joined the chat, and amid the flurry, he soon chimed in: “GUYS. If I have a camera in my hand in public, will I get mugged?”

As our patient classmates assuaged his fears, I inquired: "Are you a Vlogger?”

I had not heard of Abdullah Khattak yet, although thousands of people around Pakistan knew him, loved him, and indeed hero-worshipped him.

The enigma

Abdullah was the boy who could.

Born and raised in Peshawar, he was a natural star kid, top of the class, exceptional at everything he did — and boy did he know it. His YouTube channel — which currently has over 100,000 subscribers — was a testament to his remarkable talent. It was his personal diary, where he documented his life, his travels, and most importantly, the journey to his dream medical college.

To watch Abdullah flourish was like watching a display of fireworks in the sky. It was impossible not to notice him. He was an enigma, with all the careful éclat of an Influencer who knows his worth, coupled with the diligence and acute intelligence of a brilliant doctor in the making.

This presented a bit of a problem for me, his clinical partner, and I prepared myself to be overshadowed at every turn. And he certainly kept me on my toes — we jested and laughed together on our bus rides to clinic, and I rolled my eyes when he inevitably answered every question correctly. It was even annoying how well he looked the part, not a hair out of place [even if it was coloured bright blue], stethoscope, stethoscope pin, watch — check, check, check.

Watching him, I sometimes wondered how he maintained such composure. He would be sitting across from a patient, asking them routine medical history questions, missing no detail and quick to point out any deficits in their account.

One Tuesday afternoon, we were asking yet another seemingly ordinary gentleman our exhaustive list of questions. We both quickly realised this case may not be as innocuous as we thought. We suspected the gentleman may be experiencing the first signs of Dementia, something we had only yet come across in our course books.

I expected Abdullah to be as dumbfounded as I was, but it soon became clear that he was a natural at this. He knew exactly the right tests to perform, the differential diagnoses, and even tried to interpret the patient's MRI. He asked the consultant whether she thought there may have been involvement of the fourth ventricle, and counted off the potential brain structures that may be affected. She smiled at him and said even she didn’t remember neuroanatomy as scrupulously as he did.

Another afternoon, while on our way to the clinic, Abdullah and I did a round of questions on Instagram. Someone asked, “Where are you going?” We went back and forth deciding an appropriate response, and finally settled on: “Wherever the road takes us”.

And if there’s one thing Abdullah taught me, it’s that you never really know where the road takes you. But if you’re anything like Abdullah Khattak, you’ll make the most of every mile.

Of grief and hope

It’s been almost a week now since news broke that our Abdullah had left us at the young age of 21. None of us can even attempt to describe the rollercoaster that have been our emotions during this time.

The news of his passing away came as a shock to his thousands of followers, many of whom took to social media to remember him. It is widely believed the accident took place when he tried to save a passer-by who had suddenly come in front of his motorcycle near the FTC flyover in Karachi. Hours after the news broke, #abdullahkhattak was trending in Pakistan with more than 3,700 tweets.

To us, his anti-fans [his friends and peers who were, or at least pretended to be, unfazed by it all] we could not have been more heartbroken to lose a part of our family.

Abdullah was also fiercely loyal to his friends, whether that meant tutoring them a night before an important exam, being by their side in times of difficulty and distress, or just cheering them up with his signature smile and a promise that they’d talk about it later. And when it came to his own problems, Abdullah knew exactly who to go to. He surrounded himself by people who loved him deeply.

Everyone has a story to tell about Abdullah Khattak. Everyone has a fond memory with him at the centre of it. When you left, Abdullah, you broke us all open, but you also brought us so incredibly close. I hope you’re proud to see the legacy of love and friendship you’ve left behind.

I am so grateful you were a part of our lives, however briefly. I was your best friend’s best friend, and in typical Abdullah fashion, you made sure you found a place in my heart. I know we jokingly called each other acquaintances, but I’m honoured to have been befriended by you.

To Abdullah’s family, and to his closest friends, my heart goes out to you. You loved him for every part of him, and he returned the love a thousand times over.

I think, more than anything, Abdullah derived his strength from the strong bonds he created with the people closest to him. May he always inspire us to be like him, to live life to the fullest, to embrace every new challenge with bravery. May he live on in our hearts forever.

The author is a medical student. She was Abdullah’s friend and classmate.