Chapter 1

The early years; the hard wiring of my career-oriented mind and the choices 

I believe the true root of all of us is mostly psychological and little bit genetic.  What we are and what we will be is already hard-wired in to our subconscious by the time we are six years of age.  Our genetics is a deep background alarm system that allows us and forbid us at the levels we can hardly fathom. Rest of the life we are essentially acquiring new software for our hard drive as we experience and see new things.  Therefore, as the psychologist suggest, when the humans are infants they learn to absorb the behaviors and beliefs systems from their surroundings.  All of us are originally indoctrinated into a specific belief system.  A Muslim learns to say Allah O Akbar (God is the Greatest) before he understand the true implication of this. A Christian child learns that Jesus was the Son of God and the savior, before he ever realizes what that means in a true sense.  A Hindu learns to worship the hundred if not thousands of images of god – the gods and gods’ incarnates before he learns to read or write.  Similarly, a Jewish child learns that he is from the chosen people. Even an atheist has a special root. Therefore, we I think of my life and career in science, sometimes, I am able to relate to some deep impacting events and experiences from my early childhood. Some of the deep, subconscious indoctrinations that took place before I could think logically and in a reasonable fashion became part of my life. What I experienced in my early childhood has served as the guiding principles in my future life decisions.  Therefore, when I think about my present life I can sometimes link these to my early life events.

The Beginning

My academic life is rooted in a tragedy!  I was about six years old when my 17 months old sister came down with fever that lasted for couple of weeks and after her fever was gone she was unable to stand up or walk.  Her whole left side appeared to have lost strength. We lived in the downtown area of the congested city of Karachi and in those day doctors visited patients at their home.  I remember a young doctor visited our one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of an old building.  He visited everyday around 4 PM.  I would be just arriving from my kindergarten school that was two blocks away.  It was called Ghani-Master’s school and was a makeshift school started by a new immigrant from Batwa, India.  Batwa and Bagasra were small cities in an autonomous Junagarh princely State of India. Most of us who lived in that downtown area were from the same areas of India’s Gujrat and belong to Maimon ethnic group (also pronounce Memon).  We all spoke very similar dialogues called Maimen language.  Ghani Master’s school taught Gujrati language and he was the only teacher in the school.  Maimen language was a dialect not a written language so folks who can read and write used Gujrati language which is derived from Sanskrit.  The school was in an old one story house with three rooms.  He would shuffle through all three rooms teaching 3, 4, 5 year old kids Gujrati at various levels.  Most of the people from our origin learned to read and write in Gujrati language but spoke Memon dialogues.

The young doctor would speak with me instead of my mom since it was not polite to speak to a Muslim woman while her husband was not home.  My father worked late hours.  He was a successful businessman before the forced migration of the Gujrati Maimen (Memons*[1]) from their homelands for a thousand years.  The doctor would attempt to get my sister to stand up and worked on her legs.  She appeared to have her right side well, but the left side was not good-flacid. The doctor probably used the word paralyzed but I was too young to understand what he meant until few weeks later when my sister began to walk with a labored limp and real difficult slurred speech!  She had recently learned to articulate few words and broken sentences. But, something was wrong with her mouth! It appeared pulled at one side to my eyes.  Her face looked slightly asymmetrical and her left eye looked half shut. My doctor friend would talk to me about my sister’s illness and called it polio.  “Your sister has polio” he would say.  “It is disease that has made your sisters’ left side broken”, he said.  “There is doctor in America that is working on a vaccine to cure the disease.”  He will try to explain to me what he was saying but only one word stuck in my little mind-vaccine-and something equal to cure.

My father, who initially ignored my sister’s illness, began to pay attention to her illness.  He would try to come earlier to meet the doctor and understood the illness.  And soon after, he fired my doctor friend and found a local Hakim (a Shaman or Vedic- like doctor which we call Hakim in Pakistan) who began to treat my sister my placing a pebble size red-hot burning coal on her left temple.  My father will hold her down and ask her to remain calm.  She will cry with top of her lungs!  There was no concept of anesthesia during this barbaric procedure.  She got 3rd degree burns on her right temple but low be hold, in a week or so, after three treatments of 3rd degree burns, her left side began to recover.  The Hakim was from North-West Frontier of Pakistan and could only speak Pashtun.  He was in good company because at time neither of my parents spoke anything else except Maimen language.  The new country-Pakistan’s language was Urdu but only minority of the folks in my area spoke that.  The Hakim would put cream on her temple and wrapped her head with white cloth.  But, she began to stand on her both legs and both of her arms and hands began to show equal strengths.  The only thing that she never recovered was her face and a horrific scar on her temple.  The scar was so close to her cranium that no one would do a plastic surgery on her temple even 20 years afterward.  Her left face was paralyzed and still is.  My fate was sealed after this traumatic event!  I wanted to be the man who made vaccine!  Of course, I had no clue what that meant at age six!

The Hakim came to visit us periodically for year and like all of us he had learned to speak Urdu and we also spoke fluent Urdu in the next ten years.  I was very interested in finding out how he learned about the polio treatment and what else he can treat?  He said he spent some time with a travelling Buddhist Monk in his region and that man was a great Hakim.  I was about 14 he related to me when and that polio was a common problem in his tribe and the Monk could treat them early on with herbs but after the fever disappeared and paralysis set in the red-hot pebble was the only avenue.  At that stage of my life I had become very interested in Eastern Medicine and have read numerous books written in Urdu (translated from the Tibetan Pali language, Sanskrit and from Homeopathic doctors and Vedic who wrote in Hindi or other Indian languages). I wanted to learn all of these.  Meanwhile, my English had improved a great deal and I began to read English books.  Since, I was in an Urdu medium school (meaning all the basic instructions were in Urdu) as opposed to English medium schools which were generally run by the Christian Missionary folks who taught in English and also taught the Western value and Christianity to the students.  My father was against the idea that his children become like Christians and serve the English Masters after they have gone.

While my sister was suffering from her paralyzing illness, my father was trying to start a new business.  His brother-in-law –Latif- has recently arrived from Kenya and brought some money after selling his business to a locale Kenyan partner.  I learn many years later that there was forced expulsion of Kenyan Indian Muslims from the country when Mau Mau began the independent movement after the independent of India from the British.  They initially targeted Indian business owners who they felt had taken their jobs and were British stooges.  So my uncle was also kicked out of Kenya except that those Muslims had an opportunity to sell their businesses with bottom line prices to locals without getting killed.  It was different for the Gujrati Muslims who in mid-1948 were suddenly surrounded by the Indian army at 3 AM and in the next morning our people woke to learn that the army wanted them to leave and go to Pakistan. They were given 24 hours to leave or face death.  They were only allowed to leave with their clothes that they were wearing and leave all their possessions behind.  This was the booty that the newly released British-India Army was promised by the new Governor General of India- Lord Mount Batten.  This was their post war reward for fighting for the British Empire- to loot the unarmed Gujrati Muslims!  The Army was told that these Muslims have voted to join Pakistan and therefore are the Traitors. Most of our folks were utterly illiterate and were unaware of any politics of the time. They never have voted for anything since for a thousand years India was under dictator ship of one king or other.  In 1856, India became a part of the British Empire-a Jewel in the Crown and an important colony to be exploited until 1947 and thereafter.

When I was still young and could not read yet, I would ask my father to tell me if he read something about polio vaccine in the newspaper let me know.  But I learn later that my father could not read well. He had difficulty reading Gujrati language, but purchased Gujrati newspaper every day and would read headlines and legends of the black and white pictures. He went to school until 3rd grade and was not good in reading.  But, he was amazing in learning and speaking languages and in few years he was able to speak Urdu, Sindhi, Saraiki, Broche and other local dialogues.  Whichever region of Pakistan he opened his business he could speak that regional languages easily.  His business, in partnership with his brother in law and his younger brother (Ismael-the only brother he had) thrived.  He was very innovative and expanded his businesses throughout Pakistan (both West and East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971). My father had a great memory and he could remember all his accounts, balances and kept in his big head.  He was excellent in arithmetic.  Of course, he had hired competent people to run his businesses.

My father had become very well to do.  But, the major drawback was that he was rarely home!  I was the oldest son and was responsible for the well-being and education of all the younger siblings’ and helping my mom in her daily chores.  Therefore, since early age I took the responsibility of checking the home works of all my siblings, taking them to playgrounds for games and at least once a month took them to movie.  This went on until I left for the USA in 1972.

My mom was very submissive and passive woman and could not read or write at all.  She also had been suffering from severe depression.  It was genetic for her.  All my maternal aunts, my uncle and my grandmother were dipolar and had periodic episodes of severe depression or worse manic episodes. I rarely saw my mom smile or be happy.  My maternal grad mother was very caring and affectionate and had great imagination.  When I was about eight, she started to come to visit us every evening and tell us stories from her life and other stories.  There was no TV or much entertainment that we had in those days.  I remember, once she started a story of a large family –family of Abul Kassim-and every day she will come up with a new episode of the story.  It lasted for years, like a soap opera. All of us were mesmerized with her stories and by her story telling ability and her imagination.  My grandfather had died when my mom was 2 year of age and my uncle was only one month of age.  My grad mom raised all four kids herself by working as maid. Unlike other women in Pakistan, she and my oldest aunt worked as house maids for a large rich family-from dusk to down.  The good thing was that since they both worked as a team one can leave for a short time to release each other.  This was a great blessing for us.  My oldest aunt was divorced long time ago and had one daughter who stayed with us until she was 14.  My middle Aunt was happily married and lived until she was over 90.

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About year after the recovery phase of my sister from polio, the whole family moved to a new location and I was moved from Ghani-Master’s School to a new school next to our new place of abode.  The language of Pakistan was Urdu and it was the lingua franca for all of us.  Many Memons insisted in learning their native written language-Gujrati-and went to private Gujrati Schools.  The most famous among those schools was Madrasa Islamia.  In those days, Madrasa was not a taboo word but a rather revered word-meaning “place of learning” in Arabic. My school was called Taleemgah, also meant place of learning in Urdu and Farsi languages.  However, in a decade or so most of those private schools that taught in Gujrati went out of business.  I was lucky!  My father recognized early on that I should go to Urdu medium school and also should learn English which was the government’s official language of communication and still is in Pakistan. We had the greatest and most dedicated teachers at my new school and I still love the school and revere my awesome teachers.  The school no longer exists and was closed down in 1980s.

Our new place was also a one-bedroom but with relatively larger family and bedrooms and a big kitchen.  It was on 4th floor but it was probably a near one hundred year old apartment complex.  Fortunately, the fourth floor was a newly build extension of the existing old building and the new apartments were built were at the peripheral parts of the roof and the middle part was the great open areas like a playground for us. We stayed at this place until I graduated from the 10th grade at 15.  I had many more brother and sisters.  To be precise, there were three more sisters and two brothers were born, in that order.  Our one large bedroom had become very congested and after the birth of the 8th child, my parent moved to another two bedroom condominium that was about three miles away from our old place. It was relatively a new building and still in downtown area and was on 2nd floor this time-thank goodness! Again, more children were born in this house and we were now 10 children.  I had started the so called college.  In the British education system, which we followed until this day in the subcontinent of India, we go to primary school until 6th grade and then secondary school until 10th grade and then the higher secondary schools (we call them college).  I was able to get into the top college in the city-D.J. Government Science College.  I was a pre-medicine major and when I was in the middle of my 11th grade another tragedy struck my polio-sister.  Due to her facial paralysis she never went to school but had tutors to teach her how to read Urdu and Arabic. She had become a great cook and had been a co-cook with my mom, who generally cooked for everyone in the house.  When I was in the 11th grade and had just arrived at home from the school, I saw our neighbors had crowded the front door of our apartment.  My sister was in hospital and was in critical condition, I was told.  She was cooking and the kerosene-pressure cooker blew up on her.  Her clothes caught fire.  Only the youngest kids were at home, watching TV.  My mom was not home.  My sister freaked out and while her clothes were on fire ran downstairs-screaming!   One of the ladies saw her running down stairs with her clothes on-fire; she ran down with a bucket of water and dumped the water on her.  Her 18 year old daughter ran behind her with a thick blanket and wrapped her and they both put off the fire by rolling her down on the floor.  Neither of them had any training in this kind of emergency but had lots of common sense.  But, my sister had 2nd and 3rd degree burns on over 50% of her body.  The Edhi emergency crew had taken her to a nearby hospital. My father was far away in Jacobabad.  I phoned him after I went to see my sister.  She was under anesthesia and the doctor told me she has only 24 hours to live.  I spoke to my father and asked him to come back ASAP.  He told me he cannot leave right now and I am the man of the house in his absence.  He was starting the largest ginning factory in the nation and was really occupied.  My uncle was very good to us and came often to visit us when our father was away.  I called him since I had no idea how to handle crisis like this.  He asked to meet him in the hospital, which was about three blocks away.  My uncle was already in the room when I rushed to the hospital to meet him.  He spoke with the doctor and nurses and immediately made arrangement to move my sister to a prestigious “Seven Day Adventist Hospital”.  It was run by the SDA ministry.  My sister who had only 24 hours to live is still alive.  The staff and doctors were the most dedicated folks I ever seen.  My sister was there for a year.  She went into the burn center at the SDA hospital (which was a new thing in Pakistan).  She went through several dozen skin auto-grafts.  Until this stage of my life, I was found of Homeopathic, Hakim and Vedic forms of medicine.  I wanted to be an ascetic healer who treated folks for nothing! At the SDA hospital I was exposed to the Western allopathic medicine for the first time.  The hospital was several miles away from our house.  After my school I would pack my books and take a bus to SDA hospital and would stay with my sister all night. I will spend lots of time in the SDA library.  I would try to read the medical books and scientific journals, a good part of night. At that stage I could only figure out meanings with figures and figure legends. Many times nurses will come to make sure I was ok? The most of the nurses were young volunteers or older ladies. At 6 AM, I will leave the hospital, go home, take shower and then run to the market to purchase all the necessities for cooking.  Near the market, there was a giant public library which opened 7 AM.  It was managed by an old man. He loved me like a grandkid.  He would often say, he has never seen a boy in his 70 years who loved to read so many books.  Many times he would select books for me and have them ready, buddle up.  With the library card one could only check out two books at a time and only for a week. After that there was fine-one paisa a day!

I will go there twice a week and pick 6-10 books at a time, on varying subjects and lug them along with the groceries on my back. And after a quick breakfast of egg and roti, I will take four of my other brothers and sisters to their respective schools or preschools.  All by foot!  After school, I will pick two of my siblings but other two had been picked up by my Aunt.  Then, after the school, I will pack my books, homework and take a bus to stay with my sister.  In day time my mom will attend to my sister for few hours when her sister (my aunt) come to do some cooking and keep an eye on the young kids who were still at home.  We did not have a day care center nearby. Near my seventeenth birth day, finally my sister came home and I graduated from high school.  During her hospitalization, my father saw her may be two times when he would come for few weeks after 4-6 months of at businesses.  Few weeks after her arrival, my father came home and we gathered all of us to let us know that we will be moving to a giant bungalow in a newly built suburb-to Gulshan-e-Iqbal. He took us to see the house which was quietly selected by his brother, who was also moving to nearby location.  In the US money this was million dollar house. Our house was really huge-seven bedrooms and huge front and back yards with beautiful date palms, papaya and two large mango trees.  He also hired a chauffeur; a gardener and a full time female worker to assist my mom with her household chores.  We also got a brand new Toyota.  Now, my brothers and sisters and my mom can travel to do shopping as the rich suburb and wear high fashion clothing.  He had experienced rags to riches!  As an co-owner of a ginning factory, a giant wheat flour mill and a rice mill that turned the rough rice into white rice. These were giant factories with thousands of workers! He had become very rich.  Periodically, I had visited my father’s factories and when got older managed one of them for very short time.

[1] Maimen or Memon race supposedly came from Spain in 1220s AD after Moses Ibn Maimen (Maimonides) joined Saladin in his quest to defeat Mongols and subsequently, many of his comrades converted to Islam. I large part of his folks migrated to India.