Writing the profile of one of the most efficient and most popular clinicians of Kashmir is not easy, especially when you did not breathe in the same era, so, you rely on the stories from his students, his contemporaries, his family and most importantly his patients and admirers. Ali Jan is history, is memory, is inspiration, is skill and pure magic. No one can compete with him; no one can stand next to him in popularity and faith. There have been physicians and surgeons in Kashmir with a greater contribution to healthcare and medical education, but I am sure they cannot match the popularity and faith Dr. Ali Jan enjoyed.
Anyone who writes about the history of medicine in Kashmir will have no option but to give a special space to Dr. Ali Jan. Dr. Ali Jan cannot be ignored if we talk about the evolution of a system in Kashmir over which he uncontestedly presided.
Before I introduce Dr. Ali Jan here is an excerpt from the Facebook post of Shri Avtar Mota, a critical analyst who writes widely about the culture and history of Kashmir. He writes, “In Rainawari, we had Ram Joo Handoo’s chemist shop near Jogi Lanker bridge. He claimed himself to be an RMP. My father had an abiding faith in Ram Joo’s degree, diagnosis and prescriptions. He would often tell me….. Aem Chha Ali Janus saet Hadooni Kaem Kermechh. ” He further adds, “My father believed that Dr. Ali Jan was the ultimate that modern medical sciences could provide to Kashmir and any person associated with him could never be ordinary. This led him to believe in Ram Joo Handoo’s medical practice and prescriptions. He would lay more stress on Ram Joo’s association with Luqman of Kashmir, Dr. Ali Jan”.
Dr. Ali Muhammad Jan (Fazili) was son of Mr. Ghulam Rasool Fazili born at Gojwara, Srinagar on September 3rd, 1914. Dr. Ali Jan as popularly he was called did his MBBS from King Edward Medical College, Lahore in 1937. He was an outstanding student who earned following medals at King Edwards:-
Nelson Reghbir Singh Golden medal for being the most distinguished graduate of King Edward Medical College (1937).
Dr. Rahim Khan Gold Medal for standing first in final MBBS.
Neil Memorial Silver medal for standing first in surgery.
Centie Memorial Silver medal for standing first in midwifery and gynecology.
Gold Medal in Pathology.
Gold Medal in Forensic Medicine.
In spite of his brilliant academic background, he was posted in remote villages of Jammu province and started as a Medical officer in-charge of eradication of venereal diseases. Dr. Jan had to move on foot from village to village in Doda and Udhampur. Sometimes he would move in the hilly areas on a pony. He was posted as District Medical Officer, Baramulla, Anantnag and Gulmarg. He worked as Tuberculosis Officer and Superintendent, Chest Disease Hospital, Srinagar.
After a time of tough postings Dr. Ali Jan restarted his academic activities with a D.C.H. and M.R.C.P. (Edinburgh) in 1950 and 1951 respectively. He finished honors in record time. Dr. Ali Jan upon his return from UK rose to the position of a physician specialist at S.M.H.S. Hospital and retired as a Professor of Medicine in Govt. Medical College, Srinagar.
Dr. Ali Jan was a multidimensional personality and a skilled clinician. Prof. Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, Ex. HOD Medicine, Govt. Medical College, Srinagar worked as his house surgeon and has following to say about Dr. Ali Jan.
“Dr. Ali Jan was totally committed to his patients and would keep a track of them for years. He was a disciplined clinician. He would always listen to his patients carefully, many times clinching the diagnosis just from history. He would always talk to the patients and attendants and ask right questions which would fetch him the answer. He would use right key for the right lock. He would examine the patient himself and in spite of being busy, he did not have assistants to write patients’ name and address, take his BP, pulse or temperature etc. for him. His prescription was wholesome with an address and his phone number printed on it. He would write a brief relevant clinical history and his tentative clinical diagnosis. He was respectful to his friends and colleagues. He would never disrespect anyone or call loudly anyone in the ward whatever the nature of one’s mistake would be”.
Prof. Syed Naseer Ahmad Shah was a colleague of Dr. Ali Jan and in many quarters was seen as his rival. However, in his opinion he says, “Dr. Ali Jan was my colleague and a role model. He was never jealous of another intelligent person in the department. He was a different doctor and a different person. While examining his patients, he used to forget everything else. Patient was his first priority. What held him apart from the rest was examining the patients and coming to diagnosis with the limited facilities we had at that time”.
Dr. Ali Jan was the founder and President of the Rotary Club and Tuberculosis Association of Kashmir. He rendered free medical advice programs in remote villages through Rotary Club of Kashmir. He contributed towards shaping medical education, research and was instrumental in laying the foundation of a state-of-art super-specialty hospital in the form of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. He was Vice Chairman of the Governing Body of SKIMS, Soura and Chairman of its Apical Selection Committee. Dr Ali Jan was the Member of Health and Family Planning advisory Committee of Jammu & Kashmir State.
Dr. Ali Jan was conferred Padma Shri in 1975 for his meritorious services in healthcare and medical education. Dr. Ali Jan though a busy practitioner was an avid reader of literature and history of Kashmir. He loved Kashmiri sufi poetry and music. He was fond of Indian classical music and loved listening to Urdu gazals. He was fond of Beethoven, Mozart and Chockowsky. He kept himself abreast with national and international news and updated his medical knowledge with journals and books. He would be seen with the latest copy of BMJ by his side. Dr. Ali Jan was fun loving and would retreat often to Pahalgam on weekends and enjoy sight-seeing and fishing.
Dr. Jan’s students and colleagues call him a disciplined and practical clinician who would always examine a patient to his satisfaction and would never prescribe any drug without a clear indication. He would never order an investigation without reason. Prof. A Rouf Mir a well-known Nephrologist in US talks about Dr. Ali Jan’s principle regarding charging fees from his patients. He says, ”Dr. Ali Jan would charge fee from all his patients whether known to him or not known as he believed a free prescription had no value in patients' mind”. He would never refer incurable and terminally ill patients outside the state.
Dr. Jan never exploited his position. Though his friendship was sought by the powerful, he never asked for any personal favors. In fact, he quit his job early without aspiring for power or position.
Dr. Ali Jan died of pancreatic cancer in a US hospital and as per his wishes was flown to Srinagar and buried in his ancestral graveyard. Irony, that without the help of modern gadgets, he had diagnosed his own disease too. The master clinician died peacefully on 31st October 1988.
The constraints of space in a newspaper column aside, I cannot ignore a beautiful tribute written by Prof. K.L Chowdhury, a clinician who worked with Dr. Ali Jan in SMHS hospital. In his article on Dr. Ali Jan he writes, “There was a physician who was neither a researcher nor a missionary nor a community activist. He was an astute clinician…He never compromised with quality, abhorred mediocrity and set a trend that the doctors of J&K still follow. It was to write a brief clinical note of the patient on the prescription, followed by the medication he prescribed. It was the briefest clinical file of the patient, a guide for others with whom the patient might land.” He further says, “I did not see him performing any miracles but I saw perfection in him. He was a keen listener, a keener observer, quick-witted, highly intuitive and he possessed that extra-sense ‘the common sense’ that made him the miracle man.” Quoting the patient’s desire to be examined by this miracle man Dr. Chowdhury says, “I remember patients falling prostrate in front of his car and not allowing him to move unless he agreed to examine them.” Dr Ali Jan’s prescription mattered and was preserved like amulets by his patients. Quoting an incident about his grandmother whose pocket was picked on a wedding and she cried foul not for all the valuables she had lost but for the valued prescription of her beloved doctor. His grandmother had to be taken again to the clinician in whom she had faith and the prescription rewritten. That was the only thing, which could pacify her. Dr. Chowdhury in an emotional piece decades after the death of his beloved clinician says, “I cannot forget his mannerism, his soft speech, the shrug of his neck nor his intelligent looks and his sharp intellect”. He religiously preserves one of the prescriptions that he retrieved from one of his friends in Jammu. The prescription was a prized archive of a legendary doctor circa 1973. It is preserved passionately with Dr. Chowdhury.
Dr. Ali Jan left behind institutions, many able and competent students, satisfied patients and a legacy, which makes all clinicians proud. There cannot be another Ali Jan, that is not my view but the viewpoint of the population he treated and impressed. When a Kashmiri woman wishes great for her doctor kid, she says, ‘May God give you daste-shafa like Dr. Ali Jan’!
With special thanks to Ms. Nowsheen Fazili, Dr. AR Mir, Dr. MY Bhat,
Useful information was taken from articles written by Dr. Javid Iqbal, Dr. K.L Chowdhury and Mr. Avtar Mota
Dr Rumana Makhdoomi, MD (Path), Fellowship Neuro-oncopathology [NIMHANS]
Professor, Dept of Pathology, SKIMS, SRINAGAR, INDIA