I was born in Srinagar at the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital one year after Kashmir acceded to India under difficult circumstances when Pushtoon raiders with covert support of the Pakistani Army almost reached the outskirts of the city and a war ensued till a UN mediated cease fire took place in August 1948. There was a lot of uncertainty those days and my father who had studied in Lucknow decided to move to Delhi for a job. My mother and me followed him. I understandably had a difficult childhood. My school and college life were spent in Delhi and saw failures and self-corrections. The 2 months of the summer vacations spent in the valley every year kept me in touch with my roots. The two places I enamoured the most were Kani-Kadal, my aunt’s (Masi’s) house, on the river bank, and my father’s place of birth Village Hawal near Pulwama. This village was one of the very few Pandit dominated villages in the valley. It was a very picturesque place with beautiful view of snow-clad mountains, forests and surrounded by several streams originating from these mountains. My grandfather Pandit Prasad Joo Khan was a very well-known person there. He began his life as a Patwari of a nearby village, a job he did not relish. Finally, he started a shop which would be considered a Supermarket of the present days. It used to sell almost everything the villagers needed from cloth, hardware, grocery, stationary and even common medicines. He retired at an early age and handed the business to his sons, while himself looking after saints and priests coming to Kashmir for pilgrimages. The happenings of 1990 and the exodus of Pandits affected the village badly and today it has most of the houses in a dilapidated condition giving it an appearance of frozen in time. At present there is only one Pandit family living there.
My studies in Delhi finally culminated in me becoming a cardiologist, the first one of Kashmiri origin. This fulfilled the dream of my mother who herself wanted to serve patients in the form of a nurse. Her role model was Florence Nightingale. My attempts to join Sher I Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) did not succeed despite meeting the then chief minister Mr Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah personally in 1978. I was very disappointed that he did not even ask for my CV.
Nevertheless, I continued my academic pursuits in PGI Chandigarh, G B Pant Hospital and finally at AIIMS in N Delhi. Thereafter I worked in a Trust followed by a corporate hospital of Delhi. Despite the fact that I got international recognition in my profession, I always felt a vacuum in my life. The burning desire of working in Kashmir was always a part of me. In the dark period of the valley in 1990’s when systems collapsed there, I did my best to help sick patients coming to AIIMS from the valley. Finally, it was Mufti Mohammed Syed Sahab, the CM at that time who first gave me the opportunity of seeing patients in the Govt owned Kashmir Nursing Home at the Gupkar Road. Thereafter I used to go regularly to see patients periodically. I helped in initiating the angioplasty programs in SKIMS and also in a private hospital, Khyber Medical Institute. This gave me some happiness but not satisfaction.
My departed mother Gauri always had a lingering desire to have a small home in the valley. I eventually fulfilled that by making a house “Gauri Manzil” in the year 2013. It was not easy because having seen the exodus in 1990, a Pandit trying to go back was considered amateurish. The credit for supporting this move and making it possible goes to several friends especially Mian Altaf from Kangan and Abdul Majeed Kaboo from Srinagar.
In 2020 after visiting North Kashmir, Kupwara town and Machil valley along with my friends Azaz Rashid and Nasir Lone we came across several deficiencies in the health care system. We therefore decided to do health camps in different districts of the UT under the banner of Gauri Healthy Heart project. As a fall out of this, we opened Gauri Heart centre in Chanapora to treat patients with high BP, Diabetes and related disorders and formed an NGO “Gauri Kaul Foundation”. Many likeminded friends joined it to name a few Dr Abid Hussain and Dr Zubair bin Abdullah.
Under this foundation we got funding for putting up telemedicine units in remote areas like Machil, Kupwara and isolated townships like Jagti in Jammu. These have started work of helping the needy people thus supplementing the efforts of the administration. Recently our foundation has initiated health camps with extending higher level of investigations for the needy people identified by local panchayats and administration without charging them. This is also a funded project. To begin with we have identified 3 districts in the Valley: Tangdar, Uri and Pulwama and 3 in Jammu: Reasi, R S Pura and Katra. Others districts will follow.
Finally, the circle is getting completed very soon when we start our Prasad Joo Khan Memorial Centre in Hawal, Pulwama. The centre would be well equipped with facilities for providing good health care in, Cardiology, Medicine, General Surgery and Gynaecology. It will be serving the residents of the districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam. This is a dream coming true.
This journey of 7 decades has been a long one and finally satisfying since it takes me back to my roots and the holy soil of the place of my birth the enchanting valley of Kashmir.
Prof Upendra Kaul Founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK