| Sourav Ganguly with patients at the hospital on Wednesday
Lahore: Team India’s visit to the Imran Khan-conceived Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital was meant to make a difference in the lives of those undergoing treatment ' an Id gift, really. The 45-minute trip, on Wednesday afternoon, touched the visitors as well.
“Thank you... It was humbling both for me and the team,” remarked coach Greg Chappell as one-time adversary Imran saw him (and captain Rahul Dravid) off till the bus.
Dravid, who turned 33 on the day, expressed the same sentiment. “I’ve gone to hospitals, but never to a cancer facility... It was a moving experience,” he told The Telegraph. Besides memories of a different kind and a symbolic red band, signifying the fight against cancer, Dravid returned with a crystal vase.
In making that presentation, under a shamiana off the main entrance, Pakistan’s only World Cup-winning captain thanked manager Raj Singh Dungarpur for taking the initiative and the team for its gesture two days before the Test series.
In over a decade of functioning, the Hospital ' where “70 per cent” of the patients don’t pay a Rupee ' has seen visits by umpteen celebrities. Among others, the late Princess Diana came in February 1996 (a couple of months before a blast) and, four years later, the England cricketers made the 20-km journey from the Pearl Continental.
A tad emotionally, Imran recalled it was during India’s 1989-90 tour (under Krishnamachari Srikkanth) that he launched the fund-raising drive. “Sachin Tendulkar is the sole survivor... I wish you all an enjoyable, but not necessarily a successful, tour... Today’s trip has lifted the spirits of the patients and given the staff and doctors a boost...”
Later, grinning, he quipped: “I couldn’t have been unpatriotic and wished India success...”
Imran used the occasion to also thank the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, who have supported the fund-raising exercise. Now, of course, the collections are going towards the construction of the Shaukat Khanum Diagnostic Centre (and chemotherapy unit) in Karachi.
A full-fledged hospital has been planned for the port city, too.
Asked if he’d considered treating patients from India, Imran (now a Member of the National Assembly) answered: “Fact is, we can’t cope up with patients from Pakistan itself... Each day, many have to be turned away... But, yes, we’re in touch with the Tata facility in Mumbai... It would be nice if many of the drugs, sold cheaply in India, are available to us as well.”
Pointing out that the Hospital remains his biggest achievement, Imran said: “It was a mighty challenge, but I had a dream and if I prolonged my career till the 1992 World Cup, it was because of what I was wanting to do... It was easier to raise funds by continuing to play and being successful...”
The Indians, incidentally, ended their visit by distributing chocolates to a group of children comprising both who’ve recovered from cancer and those undergoing treatment.
Often, interacting with terminally ill patients can leave one emotionally drained, but Imran maintained that watching young ones (in particular) battle cancer was inspirational. “It’s a different form of upliftment and I’ve never felt devastated... Indeed, watching them, I’ve been inspired to fight the odds, whatever they may be...”
He has himself been inspirational.