I could have been in Junaid Hafeez’s place. He was born in a small town in Punjab and was ‘foolish’ enough to leave a career in medicine to pursue the arts. He got a Fulbright scholarship and studied literature, photography, and theatre at Jackson State University in Mississipi before returning to Pakistan and working as a guest lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University. In 2013, he was arrested on charges of blasphemy. In 2014, his lawyer, Rashid Rahman, was killed in broad daylight, and some lawyers in Multan celebrated that killing. According to witnesses, when Rahman’s body was being bathed before being buried, someone was beating the dhol (signifying happiness) outside their house. This month, Junaid Hafeez was sentenced to death (link from BBC). He has been kept in solitary confinement for years, for his own protection. What was Junaid Hafeez’s fault?
He chose to say (or just think) things that are not supposed to be said or thunk in Pakistan. He could have chosen to return to the United States or to another country where his life was not in constant danger and where he would not be held in solitary confinement for his own sake. He also chose to teach younger generations and give back to the country, which is also a grave sin in the land of pure. (Read my friend Komail’s experience in his recent piece here).
Sometime during medical school, I myself got disillusioned with medicine and thought about alternative careers. It took me a few years to figure that out and in the meanwhile, I graduated from medical school and completed the necessary medical training. I also got a scholarship to visit the United States and was writing for blogs and newspapers during that interim period. I got sick and tired of sitting at home and applied to be an instrutor in Anatomy (never my favourite subject but that was the only job open at the time) at a private medical school in my hometown. I had never formally taught a class, much less a class of fresh faced medical students on their first day. I did my best effort to hide my nervousness (using my experience as an actor during med school) and hopefully succeeded. There is not a lot of ‘concept-based’ teaching in Anatomy which made my life hard and the fact that in Pakistan, most med schools spend an inordinate amount of time teaching anatomy that students will never use (2-3 months on upper limb!!). I tried to mix things in, just because i wanted them to pay attention. Some of my first lectures would include a mention of the theory of evolution and anatomic signs of that alongside the scientific method. I once started a presentation with a small biography of Karl Marx that I had written for an urdu newspaper, as the day was Marx’s birthday. I tried to not bring up religion or politics in class (other than that one Marx episode, and I wasn’t even a Marxist!) because i wasn’t teaching them social sciences and didn’t want to get into trouble. I was however once asked what an atheist is, to which i gave a very diplomatic answer. The place was run by a political family, who had bought the land for that med school when one of their members was a local nazim under in the Musharraf era. They ran the school like a traditional patriarchy. Female students were prohibited from openly mingling with their male classmates. They eventually started giving ‘tickets’ to such micreant girls and started calling their fathers when they were ‘found’ talking or sitting with a male. I taught at that place for about a year and then moved to Lahore to start my residency.
During residency, we were supposed to oversee students during their labs but there were very few opportunities to actually engage them in a conversation. I took a break from residency after ten months to study for USMLE exams and got a teaching job at another med school in Lahore. That place was the worst of my three experiences mostly because it was a diploma mill. It was also a hybrid campus, so med students would attend classes alongside pharmacy, physical therapy and social sciences students. The social sciences segment was a net-negative for the med school since there was a lot of reactionary views (Orya Maqbool was a frequent guest at their events) going on. One day, I was studying in the lab (the only reason I went to campus every day) when a media student came in and asked if he could do a mock interview for his project to which I agreed. He wanted to ask generic questions so I fed him generic answers without delving too much into specifics. Otherwise, that place was quite toxic. The lab staff (high school graduates and diploma holders) treated female teachers (all of them doctors) as their equivalent and misbehaved with them. One of the lab staff tried to sell the annual exam questions to the highest bidders and was caught on tape (thanks to WhatsApp). Before anything could be done against him, he had fled. I felt sorry for the students and their parents who spent millions of rupees on their offsprings’ education.
No wonder the best and the brightest (not including myself) don’t bother coming back to Pakistan.