VIEW: Prof Ayub Khan, an extraordinary person —Professor Farakh A Khan
In 1933, Ayub Khan went to England for his post-graduation in surgery and managed to pass his primary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS), but soon got involved with the emerging liberal and leftist youth in the UK. His personal friends were Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Pilchard Jock Jones, Nehru, etc
During my clinical years as an undergraduate (1960-62) at the King Edward Medical College (KEMC) Lahore, we came across a unique personality. He was Professor Ayub Ahmed Khan Naqshbandi (1904-1984), who was the first professor of orthopaedics (1956) at the Mayo Hospital. With a slight stoop, wry smile and white hair, the soft-spoken professor looked more like an elegant literary person rather than a bone-shattering orthopaedic specialist. One of his house surgeons, Dr Muneer Cheema, had this to say of his stay with Ayub Khan, “We never knew much about the man; quiet, rather mysterious, somewhat lost in his own thoughts, out of ordinary and unlike other authoritative, in fact tyrant, professors. He was not into any rat race. He was an unusual person, affectionate, aristocratic perhaps, and always magnanimous. He realised the importance of sister disciplines of orthopaedics, like physiotherapy and prosthesis when no one recognised their existence. He would not come to hospital in his car, and used to travel on Model Town Society bus to and from his residence in Model Town Lahore. One of our class fellows doing his house job in surgery used to travel in the same bus. Whenever they travelled together, Dr Wasif Mohyuddeen, who later became a renowned eye specialist and a professor in the same college, out of reverence would respectfully approach the old man, asking to let him carry his worn old bag for him. Professor Ayub would smilingly refuse, saying, ‘No, sonny I always carry my own weight.’ I think that sums up his character.”
Ayub’s ancestors, the Mandokhel tribe located at the Afghan-Tajikistan border (according to another source, the tribe is located near the Balochistan-Afghanistan border), came to India with Ahmed Shah Abdali on one of his forays into India. Initially, only men came and settled in Kot Abdul Khaliq, Hoshiarpur, in India. About 1,860 women joined the men and the family set up a Khalkia Trust of land in 1888 for widows and schooling for all religious groups. Ayub Khan, youngest of five brothers and two sisters, had his initial schooling in Khalkia School. As a child, he saw a person die of a snakebite with no assistance, which made a deep impression on him, and he decided to become a doctor. Ayub Khan then joined Government College Lahore in 1924.
Between 1926 and 1931, Ayub was studying medicine in King Edward Medical College (KEMC), Lahore. In 1933, he went to England for his post-graduation in surgery and managed to pass his primary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS), but soon got involved with the emerging liberal and leftist youth in the UK. His personal friends were Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Pilchard Jock Jones, Nehru, etc. He signed up with the International Brigade sometime in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to fight Franco’s fascist army. Hitler supported Franco, Mussolini gave him arms and armaments and air support and the US industrial giants also helped Franco. Ayub’s time was spent in Catalina where he was injured in action, but the International Brigade thought he was killed and mentioned his name on the monument for the dead, calling him Uno loco Indiano (one mad Indian).
In 1939, Ayub returned to Hoshiarpur without appearing in the final FRCS. He then joined the KEMC Anatomy Department as demonstrator. This was the time when the government came down hard on Khaksar Tehrik. After firing into their crowd of 200, dead bodies were shifted to the KEMC Anatomy Department, which was guarded by Sikh troops. He persuaded Captain Dilbar Singh to allow him to witness the victims of the carnage and presented the report to the higher authorities.
Ayub Khan moved to Calcutta, enrolled in the British Army as A Khan and was made a captain in 1942. While posted at Basra, his unit was ordered to move out, an order that did not reach him. The British sergeant called him a ‘bloody lazy Indian’, which infuriated him so much that he beat up the sergeant. Three days later, the sergeant died and Ayub Khan was court-marshalled. Mentally, he refused to accept justice from the ‘British Indian monkeys’. At the next stage, he was presented to the tribunal, headed by Lord Auchinleck, who asked him that if he did not like the British, then why was he serving under the British? Ayub’s reply has not been recorded, but his punishment was only a demotion to major rank and discharge from the British Indian Army.
He again joined the KEMC in 1946 and cleared his Master of Surgery in Orthopaedics. He served for a short while as civil surgeon in Mianwali and Sialkot. In 1947, he worked at the Walton refugee camp, Lahore. One day he saw a severely malnourished girl with only a few rags covering her at the camp. He was shaken and decided to only wear khaddar from then on. Ayub Khan joined KEMC as the first professor of orthopaedics in 1956. He retired in 1965 and joined medical services in Libya for two years. He was offered extension in service, which he turned down because this would have blocked promotion of the person next in line. Following a coup by Colonel Gaddafi, he resigned and moved to the UK in 1967. There he worked part time and succumbed to renal failure in 1984 in Lahore.
In 1962, my colleague was house officer (HO) with Ayub while I was with the department of urology. He rang me up to inform me that an interesting episode had taken place at their department. Apparently, one house officer with Ayub had taken out a girl attendant from the surgical unit and was reported. The next day, the professor of surgery of the unit wrote a three-page letter to Ayub, giving detailed evidence of the guilty HO. At the end of his superb investigative report, he asked Ayub what should be done against the erring HO. Professor Ayub Khan wrote at the end of the document, “I think he should be excused.” This sums up the character of a great man who we failed to give proper recognition to.
The writer is a leading urologist