In Summary
  • So there I was, a poor Muslim denied a roof over my head, simply because of my religion, into which I was born without the benefit of an option!

  • The train back to Belgaum was due late at night and so to kill time we sauntered into the medical school and made the fatal mistake of walking into the dissection hall.

I was supremely happy in Miraj. Like Mangalore it proved a turning point in my life. But as I mentioned in the last column, I nearly lost it. The near miss happened like this. The commencement of the academic term was changed from June to October 1947 for some reason and, accordingly, Sattar, my elder brother and I boarded the early morning train from Belgaum to Miraj on 2nd of October.

HORSE CARRIAGE

Sattar had joined my father’s business so that my father could travel to Karachi to meet the family which had been forced to flee there after the Indian army invaded and occupied Junagadh State after the state acceded to Pakistan as a reprisal to Kashmir’s accession to India, repercussions of which are felt till today. I had arrived in Belgaum a few days earlier and my father instructed Sattar to escort me to Miraj.

From the station we went straight to the medical school office in a tanga, a two-wheel horse-driven carriage, and saw the head-clerk, Mr Gharpure, a small man wearing a pair of thick glasses and chewing tobacco, and introduced ourselves.

He looked at the handwritten list of admitted students. On it I saw my name written opposite another name smudged with red ink, the significance of which was to dawn on me later, much later. After exchanging greetings, Sattar enquired. “Is there a hostel where my brother can leave his trunk and bedding, while we look around the hospital?”

“The hostel is full,” replied Mr Gharpure.

“Where will my brother stay?” Sattar asked.

“Well,” replied Mr Gharpure.” He will have to find accommodation in the vicinity like everybody else. Try the dharamshala opposite the hospital.” He was referring to the guest-house where patients’ relatives stayed while patients were admitted to hospital.

“Thanks,” Sattar replied. “But before we do that, can we see somebody who can help us with a place in the hostel?”

DESICCATED CADAVERS

Pointing to the ‘Cancer Ward’, he replied. “You can see Dr Airon, the Dean. He is also our cancer specialist.”

When we managed to see him, with throngs of outpatients waiting outside his office, his reaction to our plea was brief and blunt. “You should consider yourself lucky to have obtained admission when there are 10 applicants to one seat,” he growled, pushing a pinch of snuff up his nose.

“Being a missionary institution, it gives preference to Christian students in selection of rooms in the hostel; it is full and there is a long waiting list.”

From his office we went to the dharamshala and were dismayed to see written on the arched gate ‘Hindu Dharamshala’ in Hindi. We received a confirmation from the officials inside that it was built to house relatives of Hindu patients only; it accommodated Hindu medical students because of pressure on the hostel.

So there I was, a poor Muslim denied a roof over my head, simply because of my religion, into which I was born without the benefit of an option!

The train back to Belgaum was due late at night and so to kill time we sauntered into the medical school and made the fatal mistake of walking into the dissection hall. Instantly, a strong smell of formaldehyde hit us hard as we saw desiccated cadavers sprawled on cold marble slabs, ready for dissection by students when the term commenced.

PETRIFYING SIGHT

It was a petrifying sight, more for Sattar than me, who had dissected frogs, lobsters, cockroaches and earthworms when I was doing Inter-science. The repercussion of how Sattar was shaken by the horrible experience was evident when he spoke as we were leaving the Anatomy department.

“Unless we find a place in the hostel for you, I can’t leave you here. Those cadavers will haunt you when you come back to your private lodgings and turn you mad and the family will blame me.”

We went to a restaurant opposite the hospital for dinner. We ordered dossa, a special south Indian vegetarian dish and ate in silence.

When we finished, we hailed a tanga to take us to the station. While Sattar was haggling about the fare, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned to see who it was, Sattar and I saw a familiar face.” Aren’t you Dawood Kodwavwala’s sons?” he asked and, addressing me specifically, he inquired: “And didn’t you recite a sura from the Holy Koran at the Memon conference in Jetpur? What you doing here?”

Seeing him properly, we recognised him too. He was a Memon from Bantwa and had business in Rangoon, and therefore the family was known as Rangoonwala.

Since he had been for Hajj, he was called Haji. Sattar told him about why we were there and why we were leaving. Haji explained why he was there.”

RENTED FLAT

My daughter suffers from TB and my wife and I brought her to the TB sanatorium, attached to Miraj Hospital, and added: ”She is treated as an outpatient and since it is a long treatment, we have rented a flat near here. Then he introduced us to his companion, “This is Hakimsaab, a hakim from Hyderabad, who is also here for treatment and rents a flat below ours.”

Looking at him, Haji admonished us: “You must be raving mad to throw away an opportunity like this. Bantwa Memons have many millionaires but not one doctor.”

Hakimsaab added: ”Haji might not be able to put you up because he has his young daughter staying with him, but I live all alone with my butler who cooks for me.”

Then looking at Sattar with his kindly eyes, he added: “Your brother is welcome to stay with me until he loses his fear of cadavers.”

Sattar jumped at this suggestion and decided to stay with me for a couple of days to see how I got on.

The only loser in the situation was the tanga driver who lost the fare to the station, despite reducing to half of what he had started with under the influence of haggling!