Hakim Sahib of Kolkata: Treated 100 patients daily, free of cost

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Hakim Sahib
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In an article published in February 2011, Kolkata’s major English daily The Telegraph called him ‘the young man of 109 years’. Yes, young enough to wake up sharp at four in the morning, every day without fail, prepare himself for the day, walk about two kilometres from his home to his chamber, and treat at least 100 patients till the stroke of noon. Totally free of cost. He was Kolkata’s beloved Hakim Sahib. Syed Muhammad Sharfuddin Quadri represented in his own persona the best of India’s syncretic culture. Padma Bhushan recipient, Qadri was one of the country’s foremost Unani physicians, one of the founders of the Calcutta Unani Medical College. He was also the founder of the noted Unani medical journal Hikmat-e-Bangala. Sadly, Hakim Sahib passed away in 2015 at the age of 115 years.

Hakim Sahib Qadri dedicated his expertise to the poor

Of course, Quadri was primarily known for the excellence he achieved in the medical profession and was loved widely by people irrespective of caste, creed, language, religion, for his lifelong unflinching faith in philanthropy. “I don’t take any money. Of my six sons, the youngest one is with me and helps me. The others are settled outside. I am happy for them. They are rich and nicely settled. But I don’t even own a bicycle,” Dr. Quadri told the newspaper in a brief interview. How many doctors in today’s world, after all, dedicate their lives to the treatment of the poor and the needy? Hakim Sahib one such rare personalities.

But there was more to his life than just being a great doctor. To understand the root of his philanthropy it is absolutely essential to know about that chapter of his life. Reminiscing about that chapter of his life, Hakim Sahib told The Telegraph, “I remember walking at the Dandi March with him and going to prison in Cuttack. Those were the golden days.” The ‘him’ mentioned here is none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself.

The man from a different era

As for the Dandi March, it was one of the most important acts of resistance against the British colonial power. It was organized by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Defying the British ban on Indians’ right to produce salt, between March 12 and April 5, Gandhi and only 78 of his followers marched from the suburbs of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, to a coastal village named Dandi, and produced salt. A vast number of them were put in prison by the British, including Gandhi.

Born in 1901, Quadri was then only 29, and a young man fired up with patriotism. He jumped into the movement and was promptly jailed by the British. It is easy to write and read these lines today, but during those oppressive days of the British Raj, it would take great courage for any Indian citizen to be associated directly with such daring acts of defiance. Quadri remained steadfast in his commitment to India’s struggle for freedom until it was achieved in 1947. In the process, he also became a close associate of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, and one of Gandhi’s close compatriots.

No wonder that a man who remembers such dangerous moments of his life, his imprisonment, as ‘golden days’, would continue to serve the poor and the needy till he breathed his last.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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