London has a special place in the Pakistani psyche. After all, nearly every exiled politician of import, and more recently, a president-general, has called London home. But there is more to Londonistan than Musharraf’s half-senile statements stumbling out of Edgware Road, the melodrama of Altaf Hussain in Edgware proper, the endless neckties purchased by Nawaz Sharif at Harrods of Knightsbridge, the choice mango crates delivered by Asif Zardari to real estate consultants in Mayfair, or Imran Khan’s glamorous posers for Hello! magazine from the plush environs of Lady Anabel’s Richmond estate.
There is the London of complicated murders, secret political rendezvous, high-end shopping, not to mention, high-end gossip, emanating from sought-after celebrity summer garden parties. And then there is the London of patriotic professional Pakistanis dedicated to playing their part, not only through words, but also deeds. It is unfortunate that many in Pakistan have begun to feel that those who go abroad must be part of the wealthy, uncaring elite who have squandered Pakistan. Surely there is a group like that, but it is in the minority. The vast majority of Pakistanis abroad have humble middle-class origins, and for that reason, they are committed to helping Pakistan, even though, for some, the hard work abroad has paid off and they are now affluent.
At a meeting of the UK Association of Medical Aid to Pakistan, a group that my husband and I support, I had the opportunity to meet the enigmatic Dr Viquar Quraishi. As we discussed various mobile and stationary water filtration units that could serve several flood-affected villages so as to prevent the rampant spread of water-borne diseases, Dr Quraishi enlightened us with his work during the 2005 earthquake. As an orthopaedic surgeon, he had found it necessary to amputate several individuals who had been caught in the rubble. Collating figures, the earthquake left 738 amputated.
“When I returned to London, I got nightmares,” he said, “I needed to give them limbs.” He wrote to the World Health Organisation, only to receive an estimate of in excess of £1,000 per limb. Who would pay for that? Those who had been amputated had hardly any money. Dr Quraishi contacted the doctor in Jaipur (India) and what followed was a unique collaboration of an Indian and Pakistani to make advanced medicine accessible in the developing world. The doctor in Jaipur invited Dr Quraishi and taught him his technique. Not only did his prosthetic limb cost only about £30, it allowed the user to squat, plough in the fields, and do all those things an average Indian or Pakistani would need to do as part of his daily routine but a western user would not.
There was however one issue. In order for Dr Quraishi to start work in Pakistan, he needed 18 technicians from India to help him, and they were duly refused visas. In spite of trying through various connected channels, it wasn’t until Dalai Lama (one of his assistants had a prosthetic limb also fitted in Jaipur) confronted Musharraf at a state dinner that the visas were finally issued.
Although Dr Quraishi’s achievements are exceptional, there are so many other London-based Pakistanis who are committed to Pakistan. Dr Abdullah Hoodbhoy spoke of using his vacation time to train a midwife in Balochistan. And Dr Kaukab Rajput went through countless hours of bureaucratic hassle to register Medical Aid to Pakistan as a British charity, so that all donations are tax exempt and an additional 28 per cent is matched by the British government in gift aid. “They rejected us eight times,” she told me, “but I was very persistent.”
Londonistan has much to offer: fanciful shenanigans of stale politicos or talented Pakistanis willing to share their money and expertise. Watch this space for more of the latter.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2010.