Memoirs of a migrant physician

January 2017

By TA Balasubrramanian


The Temple Road, Fazlur Rahman, Speaking Tiger, INR 450; 304 pages

“Finally, it was time for me to learn clinical medicine – that is, bedside medicine. I would spend the next three years at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), the largest public hospital in East Pakistan. I had now earned the right to wear a stethoscope. I was amazed at how adding this simple instrument to my white coat suddenly raised my status. The innocent patients – most were poor and illiterate – sometimes addressed me as ‘doctor,’ though I was still far from being one.”

Fazlur Rahman’s remarkable journey from a remote village in the heart of (what is now called) Bangladesh to Texas in the United States forms the core of this heart-warming autobiographical tale. The life experiences that he narrates are sometimes sad and wistful, but more often they are piquant and laced with a wry sense of humour.

His early childhood days in Pora Bari were not easy or happy. He lost his mother at an early age, and grew up at a time of strife when East Pakistan became the new nation of Bangladesh. The first section, called “Pora Bari and Beyond” chronicles memories of Rahman’s early visits to see his grandparents, happy school days when he grew up playing with an assortment of friends in jungle surroundings. His early interest in medicine is sparked by his curiosity about doctors and his own experiences with tropical illnesses. There are episodes where he vividly describes an encounter with a Bengal tiger, participates in Eid functions and witnesses the effects of superstitions when common people are afflicted with diseases in his rural surroundings. He describes his own personal struggle to get healed when he is stricken with kala azar, a parasitic disease transmitted by sandflies. On the positive side, this strengthens his resolve to pursue a medical career.

He describes the arbitrary nature of the education system in his native land, where colleges slot students into three fields, based on their matriculation marks: those from the first division go to science; from the second division to business; and from the third division, to liberal arts. Eventually, he joins Dhaka Medical College, where he learns first hand, about human pathology, pharmacology, and clinical medicine. His teachers help him get a practical sense of a doctor’s work in the course of five years. After graduating, he is offered an internship in St John’s Hospital in New York. He embarks on a
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