K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Last week, Mysore saw the passing away of a man whom most people of any substance will perhaps never miss. But the less fortunate ones amongst us, whose number is legion and who are considered a burden on society, both while they are alive and strangely even after they are dead, will perhaps begin to notice his absence from their midst very soon.
Ghulam Hussain, the nondescript and soft spoken man whom I knew over the past 30 years, bid a silent adieu to this world and to his most humble and thankless existence without me even knowing that he was dead. I discovered that he was not only dead but buried too only when I picked up Star of Mysore on the evening of that fateful day of his departure.
He was perhaps the only person in our midst who served the living and the dead alike, unmindful of who they were or to which caste and community they belonged, as long as they just happened to be the unfortunate ones who belonged to nobody.
I first ‘discovered’ him prowling the dingy and humid wards of K. R. Hospital, way back in the year 1982 when I started my post graduation in medicine. To be very frank and honest even at the risk of inviting the wrath of those who already knew him better, I first saw him only as a pesky nuisance and interference in my work.
He used to walk about in the wards, very often during the non-visiting hours, softly conversing with patients and making enquiries about their ailments with doctors and post-graduate students.
Now, which post-graduate student, especially of a subject as lofty and as hallowed as medicine, who feels he is the absolute lord and master of the ten rickety and ramshackle beds allotted to him, will tolerate the presence, let alone the interference from a miserable looking man in faded clothes and much mended leather chappals during his work?
But very quickly and thankfully the realisation dawned on me and my colleagues too that while we considered our work very noble and noteworthy this man was only making it a little easier for us with his presence by our side.
He would be in our ward, often a little before us and enquire about the poorest of the poor patients who needed some medicines or lab tests that were not available in the hospital.
Incidentally, there was no dearth of the facilities that were then not available in the hospital and so we would sheepishly tell him what would do much good not only to our patients but to our reputations too.
He would write down the requirements on a small scrap of folded paper and walk over to the next block of the hospital only to reappear the next day with a day’s medicine for each one of his beneficiaries that would keep their hearts and hopes ticking.
How he managed to garner funds for this kind of work was beyond our understanding but he was always a beacon of hope for anyone unfortunate enough to fall sick with no one to turn to.
He would always tell me that he was only a social worker of the Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind which had entrusted him with what he was doing under the president ship of Altaf Ahmed, another silent toiler for the cause of communal harmony and service to the downtrodden, sans communal barriers.
Ghulam Hussain would not only look after the material and medical needs of poor patients but would also visit them after their operations and console them through their periods of anxiety and apprehension if they were seriously ill.
His reputation as an honest and sincere worker had grown so much that many rich and well to do people would immediately agree to extend financial help to needy patients if it was routed through him. In the unfortunate event of the deaths of any destitute in the city he would be the first one to arrive at the scene and arrange for the last rites fully in accordance with the person’s religious affiliations.
That he never saw human life on the basis of baser considerations becomes evident from the fact that once during communal clashes that briefly tore asunder the harmony of our City, he stood between an armed group of Muslims and two young Hindu boys who had been cornered.
He told the threatening goons in no uncertain terms that they would have to first kill him before laying their hands on the two helpless boys. Knowing who he was, they quietly dispersed into the lanes and alleys without a word of argument with him.
His association with the K. R. and Cheluvamba hospitals continued till his own end.
On the sixth of this month when he perhaps for the first time realised that his own end was near, he took his assistant Faiyaz Ahmed to the RMO and introduced him as the man who would henceforth continue his work. Just four day after this, Ghulam Hussain was no more, having died as quietly as he had lived and worked.
The measure of this very poor and modest man’s greatness can be gauged from the fact that at his funeral there was no space for all the mourners to stand in the mosque. The prayer had to be conducted in a big playground alongside. All this, while he himself was perhaps standing in surprise with his head bowed before his maker to get his rightful due.
(With inputs from Prof Riaz Ahmed and Dr Irfan Ahmed Riazi)
(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)