Chinese dentists who set up shops in Napier Road and around Empress Market use century-old unsterilised tools and re-useable injections. - Photo by Tooba Masood

KARACHI: Today, the average upper middle-class Pakistani will buy coffee from a popular coffee shop, attend a play or two, will be seen wandering around Zainab Market bargaining for clothes while just a few may even go as far as drowning themselves in nihari and haleem in Saddar and return home without exploring what lies beyond.

Besides housing the best nihari and kebabs in the city, Saddar is also home to a number of odd shops and businesses. With a burqa shop here, a sexologist there and a Chinese dentist hanging in the middle, Saddar seems to have it all.  Rather an odd combination in such a central locality with a religious and political stronghold of the Sunni Tehreek and the Muttahida Quami Movement.

In a country where sex is still a taboo topic, one can’t help but wonder how a sex doctor conducts business in the city centre.

Basic hygiene anyone? Chinese dentists who set up shops in Napier Road and around Empress Market use century-old unsterilised tools and re-usable injections to prod around their patients’ mouths to extract and re-construct at the measly sum of Rs. 300.  According to Dr. Sarfraz Shiekh of China Dental Clinic, majority of these dentists are quacks. “I am an honest man – I have a degree and I try to help people with it, not scam them for a few hundred rupees.”

He goes on to say that anyone with money in his pocket can open up a clinic and pretend to be a doctor. “There are people who need a root canal or extraction or braces because majority of them consume harmful substances such as niswar/tobacco/pan – they ruin their teeth and run to the dentist. I have a patient every 10-15 minutes so just imagine how many people go to the quacks nearby!”

Imagine sitting popped up on a dusty chair in a dark grimy room with a Sweeny Todd look alike about to extract your tooth with some old equipment – not a pretty picture is it?

Saleem Khan, a 28-year-old who is addicted to pan, often visits a Chinese dentist down the street from his residence. “In the past two years I’ve had four teeth pulled out, two because of a ‘keera’ and the other two because the doctor said it is better to pull them out. In total it cost me Rs. 1,200 and I was in gut-wrenching pain for a week. The doctor did send me for various x-rays but said that it doesn’t really matter.”

Who are these Chinese dentists?

Unrest during the Second World War made many Chinese flee their homeland and settle in Pakistan – mostly in Karachi. To earn a living they started working as beauticians, shoemakers, chefs and dentists. Abdul Qadir, a Saddar local, claims that although these dentists provide a service to lower middle-class citizens, many of them are unlicensed and have no formal training or degree.

“Maybe at one point in time they were dental assistants or something and in order to make money, they now call themselves dentists. After Partition there was a shortage of dentists so I guess they just filled in?”

Many dentists were unwilling to talk. Dr. Shiekh says it is because they all have a family to feed. “No one can do anything about this, not the government or the Pakistan Dental Association. At the end of the day we all have to feed our children, clothe and educate them. I don’t like to bad-mouth these people because I can understand where they are coming from.”

Moving away from decaying teeth we head towards the sexologists.

In a sexually repressed society, you rarely expect to come across a sex doctor in the business hub – Cheen Health Clinic, London Health Clinic and German Homeo and Herbal Pharmacy dominate Aram Bagh Road and Empress Market. These clinics and sexologists have been around since 1948. The receptionist at Cheen Health Clinic claims their clinic is only for men.

“The doctor uses a formula created by a Chinese sexologist which can cure male weakness in two to four weeks.  There is no age limit on our patients, they can range anywhere from 21 to 60 who have various potency issues.”

Dr. Minhas at the German Homeo and Herbal Pharmacy disagrees. “People today are quite open about their bedroom-related problems. We have had women who drag their husbands in here to get help,” he said.

Located near the Hamdard Dawa Khana and Jamaat-e-Islami office, Cheen Health Clinic and German Homeo and Herbal Pharmacy have a monopoly in the business.

“There are people who came to us in 1970, who now also bring their children – we’re like family doctors. For our female patients we have a female doctor, we try to help people in whatever way we can. We do not perform tests on the premises but refer them to professional laboratories.”

He also added that the internet has definitely opened gateways. “The internet has created awareness amongst the people. They can differentiate between a sexually-transmitted disease and infertility.”

Given their proximity to religious institutions and the busy Saddar streets, one is forced to question how religious/political parties react to this. “They come and collect ‘chanda’ once a month and don’t bother us. They know we’re helping out,” says Dr. Minhas.

Satisfied customers will happily recommend doctors as there is no shame in sorting out a biological dysfunction. Rasheed, a patient claims that he now has hope. “My wife and I have been trying to have a baby for five years, and now it is possible,” he said.

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