For 50 years Hakim Mohammad Said and his small family used the washroom in the veranda of their modest but large house. He hardly ever spent money on the pre-partition building’s renovation – not that he had a liking for the old architecture. The progressive man simply thought such work would be a wasteful expenditure.
“Oh! So you have got the money to buy new furniture. Please, donate it to the Hamdard Foundation, we need it more there,” reminisced Sadia Rashid, his only daughter, about a conversation she had on the matter with her father.
“Hakim saheb would have been really angry if he were alive and saw the changes we have made in the house to give it a modern look,” she told The Express Tribune as she pointed to their new attached bathrooms, built by extending the rooms. But many things have not changed. The old wooden windows with high-up vents are still intact.
Born on January 9, 1920, in Delhi, Hakim Said was brought up in a traditional household. He learned Arabic, Persian, Urdu, English and studied the Holy Quran. As his forefathers had been associated with the herbal medicine business, he decided to take this treatment to new heights.
He moved to Pakistan in 1948 with his wife and daughter. They rented a room for Rs12 a month where he started the practice of Tibb. “Now I realise that he was a disciplined man. Probably that is why he was so strict,” Sadia mused.
As the only daughter and accustomed to a better lifestyle in India, Sadia took some time to adjust. “I remember the first day of school. I was being choosy about the clothes and screamed. Hakim saheb was reading the newspaper and said loudly, ‘What is [going on] here?’ I guess that was the day when being picky about clothes became least important to me.”
Hakim Said was a devout Muslim who would get up in middle of the night to offer prayers. He would recite the Quran and fast whenever he could. Yet, he did not impose his beliefs on others. “We used to go to all sort of parties, even those where alcohol was served,” she recalled, adding that her father thought it was a person’s own responsibility to refine their character.
Money was something about which Hakim Said was especially particular. Even when Sadia started accompanying him on foreign trips, he never let her buy clothes there. “I used to buy books. Brought back whole suitcases filled with [them]. But that was it. Shopping for all the other things was prohibited.”
“A white sherwani and kurta were his trademark attire. I don’t know why he used to wear the same clothes. But once he told me that it helped save time as there was no need to make a choice.”
Even when he became the governor of Sindh in 1993, Hakim Said did not move into the state residence. “He was entertaining patients even then. Most of the day, he was busy and sat with the family only at dinner.”
After practising Tibb for a few years, Hakim Said set up Hamdard Dawakhana and started manufacturing herbal medicines. Soon he converted it into a trust, sending the profits to philanthropic work. Hakim Said also taught Sadia the importance of keeping a record of the money being spent, something that helps her today as she heads the multi-billion rupee Hamdard Foundation. One of his greatest achievements was having Eastern medicine recognised at the UN as an alternate way of treating illnesses. He set up a college, which offered degrees in herbal medicine. When health minister General Burki of the Field Marshal Ayub Khan regime tried to ban Eastern medicine, Hakim Said took the protest to the people, recalls Masood Ahmed Barkati, the long time editor of Urdu-language Naunehal children’s magazine of the Hamdard Foundation.
“General Burki used to say that eastern medicine and homeopathy were quackery,” he said. “Hakim Said started writing in the newspapers, organised conferences and lobbied hard. Ultimately, Ayub Khan had to pass a law legalising eastern medicine.”
Barkati said that Hakim Said paid especial attention to Naunehal, reading every draft before publication. “He used to say that today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders.”
Hakim Said was fond of Urdu poets and concerned about their financial woes. “Literary figures like Ahmed Chugtai, Ahmed Hamdani, Qamar Hashmi, Nazeer Siddiqui and Qayum Rahi all worked for Hamdard publications at one time or another. He used to hire every educated person.”
Barkati said that Hakim Said did not accumulate wealth. “He did not buy any property. He was always busy trying to find right the professionals for Hamdard University.”
Sadia started working for her father in 1981. “If you want a stake in Hamdard, then work for it,” she recalled him as saying. “I use to sit with three other girls at a small desk. Then gradually, I moved on to learn other things and was made executive coordinator.”
Sadia lost her father on October 17 in 1998 when he was shot at Arambagh Road. “He was wearing the same white clothes, had a tasbeeh in his hand and some books.” He died as he had lived.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.
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