Doc who marched to Dandi - 109-year-old hakim remembers Mahatma and Maulana

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By JOY SENGUPTA
  • Published 17.02.11
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Patna, Feb. 16: He was born in the year that Queen Victoria died, walked with the Mahatma to pick up a grain of salt at Dandi, faced rebuke from Maulana Azad and helped his father treat Rajendra Prasad.

Some seven decades on, the “good doctor” continues to treat his patients.

Meet Syed Mohammad Sharfuddin Quadri, affectionately called Hakim Sahab, all of 109 years young.

Come summer, rain or winter, Hakim Sahab, a Unani practitioner, is up at 4 every morning at his Ripon Street home in central Calcutta to prepare for the day. Sharp at 5, he goes to his chamber at Wellesley Square, about 2km away, where his patients are waiting. He examines his patients, at least 100 of them, till 12 noon, free of cost.

“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,” he said.

Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2007, Quadri, who was born in the remote village of Kumrava in Nawada district of Bihar on Christmas Day in 1901, is still going strong. His family moved to Calcutta in 1935-36.

“Natural remedies and medicines have their effect. I am not like the present lot who swear by medicines greased in so many strong chemicals. My father Mohammad Mohibbudin, who was also a hakim in Unani medicine, passed away at the age of 121. Unani medicines are all about natural products,” said the hakim, who religiously drinks two glasses of neem juice every day.

Seated on a bed in a small room at the Khanequah-e-Mujibia in Phulwari Sharif, Quadri carefully puts on his jacket and asks the others present in the room to be quiet. He pauses as he gathers his thoughts.

Quadri is at the shrine for the ziarat (glimpse) of the Prophet Mohammad’s hairs said to be preserved at the Khanequah-e Mujibia. “I have been coming to the dargah without fail since 1921. Each year I come, I stay here for a couple of days and then go back to Calcutta. It has become a routine now. I am seeing the fifth generation of the ‘Sajda Gaddi Nashi’ or the head of this dargah,” he said.

Hakim Sahab distinctly remembers his brush with Mahatma Gandhi. He breaks into a smile as he recollects. “I remember once Gandhiji had asked me about the Khanequah-e Mujibia. He asked me what we did there. Maine bola ki hum sab sirf qawwalis sunte hai aur puwav khate hai. (I told him that we just listen to Quawwalis and eat fried rice). I remember walking at the Dandi March with him and going to prison in Cuttack. Those were the golden days.”

His thoughts shift to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. “Once in Ramgarh in Hazaribagh district (now in Jharkhand), Maulana was giving a speech and it suddenly started to rain. It was around 1943-44. I was training as a hakim then and had gone to assist another doctor. As the rains started, the people started to rush for cover. The Maulana roared, ‘You are running because of the rains? What will you do if the British shower us with bullets and bombs?’ After this, no one moved an inch. They stood still and heard him speak. Maulana never laughed. I never saw one line of smile or laughter on his face,” he recalled.

Quadri also met Rajendra Prasad, who went on to become the country’s first President. “It was sometime in 1942-43 I think and Rajendra Prasad had come to Gaya. He had an attack of breathlessness and my father treated him.”

What does he think of the current crop of leaders? “In 2007, I met chief minister Nitish Kumar. He was very warm and friendly. The man will do wonders for Bihar. I don’t want to say anything about the old Bihar days… I have not met Lalu Prasad, however, but I laugh at his speeches and comments.”