Literally speaking, Government Medical College, Srinagar is a milestone in the initiation of allopathic medicine in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Prior to that, the Unani system of medicine practiced by reputed Hakims was a popular mode of disease management in this land locked Himalayan state. The state was carved out by Maharaja Gulab Singh after the British sold it to Ranjit Singh through a clandestine sale deed.
Prior to the start of GMC Srinagar in 1959, some blue-eyed students from J&K–ambitious to become physicians–were nominated and sponsored by the state for different medical schools in India.
In 1959, Prime Minister Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad started the medical college in a couple of old buildings near Amira Kadal dispensary on the banks of river Jhelum. At the time, Kashmir was enjoying the benefits that came with Article 370 and 35-A. Ours was the third batch starting in the 1961.
Admission to the medical college was based on your performance in inter college exams and a brainstorming interview in front of a few highly qualified government officials of repute, wisdom and vision. So a batch of 60 of us from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh were declared successful to shoulder the responsibilities of wearing the most respectable white coat throughout our life. Thereafter, whether it is pellet gun injuries in a conflict strewn state or gunshot wounds inflicted by unidentified gunmen or present day deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the doctors of GMC are the front line warriors.
Incidentally, we were to join on August 14, 1961–perhaps to avail a holiday for Indian independence the next day. Having come from a rural background, the urban aura of Srinagar was unique and of course fascinating too–besides the thrill of joining a medical school that was going to shape my future. Having new friends and to breathe the flavor of co-education had its own euphoria. As it was destined, my first encounter on the gates of medical college was with three senior female students. I had already known Ms. Naseem Firdoos, the daughter of my esteemed teacher Mr. Saif-u-din Sahib and her friend Ms. Mahmooda Jabeen from my college days in Anantnag. I was explained the rules of the game and as a special case, I was either to host tea in the college canteen for three of them or face the music of ragging. Naturally, I opted for an opportunity that would give me a sense of wellbeing for some time in the company of some who would be my future guides. So we headed for the college canteen that was housed in a small dingy and dark room. A one man establishment managed by a gentleman called Gana Sahib. The tea shop had only three chairs for three of us, so my third guest-‘the guest of honor’- had to accommodate herself on the brim of the only window for the room. Thus to my embarrassment, leaving no option for two of us but to gaze at each other. This third year senior was destined to be our mentor during my college days.
The college was closed on August 16 after a condolence meeting, mourning the suicide of a female student who had ended her life under the burden of the very difficult studies of anatomy and physiology. This created a dreadful atmosphere for us–the new comers.
Dr. Col. Murthy, a retired army disciplinarian, was heading the institution as principal of the college. The gates of the institution were closed exactly at 10:10 am with Principal Murthy guarding the gates personally after he would get in through himself, sitting in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven red Ambassador like an autocrat king.
We had two highly reputed teachers, Dr. B.S Kahali and Dr. Ayer who would try to make anatomy and physiology easy for students. Amongst the junior staff government had selected the best available local doctors to help us in the dissection of dead bodies for anatomy and physiology practical work in labs. After a long period of more than six decades, I still member the towering personality – 6ft tall Dr. Makhan Lal Ji, an impressive gentleman with a kind heart– holding my hand to dissect the lower limbs of a cadaver without damaging the tissues around. And then Dr. Shah sahib teaching me how to read the graph of the nerve stimulation of a pithed frog on a black-soothed drum in the physiology lab.
Everything was a thrill. Recollecting how my teammate Nuzhat had a syncopal attack falling flat on the floor while she was trying to pith a frog by just putting a long needle through the spinal cord of the poor animal is itself an ecstatic history. (Alas we lost Dr. Nuzhat in the prime of her youth).
Academics apart, GMC Srinagar was at par in cultural activities and sports with other institutions around the state. Its athletic activities and other cultural programs had made its impact far and wide. On its first college annual day in 1962, the college cultural body arranged a fascinating program in Tagore Hall, adjacent to our institution, wherein dramas were played by its artists and songs sung in their melodious voice in the background of an enchanting music.
My classmate Kirpal Singh from R.S. Pora Jammu performed a humorous script, ‘Naukar ki Talaash.’ He had predicted that with the dawn of ‘Naya Kashmir,’ education will move into every corner, making it next to impossible to hire a domestic help in J&K. After a span of decades, now when we have to import unskilled labor from poverty stricken Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra and other states of India, I do appreciate that Dr. Singh was a visionary. Similarly Ms. Bilqis Jamela, a third year student then, sang the song:
Aay Jazbay dil ghar mayn chahoon
Har cheeze muqabil aajayay-
Manzil Ki taraf Doo gam Chaloon
Too samnay manzil aajayay.
The singer, at the climax of her youth and prime of her beauty then, has proved her mettle. She is one of the most successful gynecologists of the state, and retired as head of the prime institute of Lal-Ded as professor of OB and gynecology.
Since day-scholars from Srinagar and around would opt to shuttle between home and college, our friendship took its roots amongst the hostel dwellers of rural Kashmir besides students from Jammu and Ladakh. The bond, irrespective of our cast, creed and color continuees till today. PM Bakshi Sahib, while inaugurating our Bemina hostel in his humorous style to a demand for the dearth of cadavers by the Principal Gujral said, “Principal Sahib, ‘Fikkar Mat Kijiyay, Pehla batch nikalnay deejyay-Lashoon kay dhair lag jayayn gay.”
Humor apart, doctors of GMC Srinagar have contributed all over the world and have made a name not only for themselves but for this institution as well. That is why some of the highly reputed medical institutions in US, UK and back home are managed by doctors trained from GMC Srinagar.
Coming back to our extracurricular activities, I am reminded of our picnics under the supervision of my most favorite chaperon, Dr. Aslam, to Kokarnag, Achabal and Gulmarg, where horse riding was a thrill for male and female students alike.
The magnificent building that houses the medical college at Karan Nagar at present was inaugurated by PM Bakhshi Sahib in 1963 and we too moved there the same year. Karan Nagar then was not as densely populated as now and was considered a posh area during those days. The graceful stone house in front of the college gates owned by ‘Kelams’ a reputed Kashmir pandit family, was a landmark then.
Here in the impressive college building, we were taught biochemistry, pathology and medical jurisprudence for a year and half. Clinical subjects like medicine, surgery, gynecology and ophthalmology/E.N.T were interesting, perhaps it is here you feel that you are in the shoes of a physician now. Rotation duties in different wards where interactions with patients satisfied your ego of being a doctor after a long and exhausting five years of hard labor was challenging too.
I vividly remember my father coming to my room with a telegram from my friend Dr. Mir Ghulam Ahmad congratulating me for having been declared successful in my final exam. My father said to me that day, “Ashraf, this nation has placed a trust in you. It is a profession of responsibilities and challenges. I pray to God that you come up to my expectations and also fulfill the wishes of your nation.”
I hope I have fulfilled the desires of my father. I am yet to understand if I have done justice to my profession and thereby to my nation.
During my tenure as a medical officer in J&K health services, I had the opportunity to serve in places like Zainapora, Islamabad, Zachaldar, Sallar and Pahalgam, before I left for my post-graduation to Jammu and then abroad to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. I must say I have enjoyed and contributed in my humble way during my tenure, only because I had my trainings from GMC Srinagar where I was nurtured by the best teachers of the country such as Dr. Ali Mohammad Jan, Dr. Col. Kaul, Dr. Parmanik, Dr. Girijha Dhar, Dr. Naseer Ahmad Shah, and many more. I will fail in my duty if I don’t thank the living legends such as Dr. Pukhta, Dr. Durrani, Dr. Allaqaband and Dr. Shah who have taken this institution to the zeniths of fame at national and international levels.