A beautiful mind against all odds
Mumbai local trains would stop for a few minutes extra to help Dr Husein
His smile is beatific. The laughter gurgles like a crystal-clear mountain stream in a water-mist breeze. And the eyes, gazing with awe and wonder at the world around, shines with an innocence of a frolicking lamb in a rolling green dale.
The sadness, probably hidden deep in the recesses of mind, never glints despite the physical challenges he faces everyday in a world that is carpentered for the so-called “physically able-bodied” people. Braving all odds and bearing a cross of physical challenges, he is now in a profession wherein he softly and gently doles out balms to people with physical ailments. Meet Dr Husein Jetpurwala, a qualified homoeopathic practitioner afflicted with cerebral palsy (CP).
Oxford Dictionary defines CP as “a condition of weakness, imperfect control of movements, and spasticity, following damage to brain at birth,”; and medically it is classified under neurological disorders wherein motor controls in the brain have been affected resulting sometimes in physical abnormalities.
The CP like several other neurological and mental disorders has always had threads of stigma spun around the patient with the so-called “physically-abled” people clucking sometimes in sympathy and sometimes disparagingly.
But all the clucking-sympathetic or disparaging did not deter 32-year-old Husein from pursuing his dream. There is no trace of arrogance when he says with a firm lisp: “I am the first CP doctor in the world. And I want all parents of children suffering from the CP to know that their kids are not a burden.
“My attitude towards life comes from one simple maxim,” he chortles. “...see once I was in a party in a down-town five-star hotel and somebody asked me: Why are you so happy? I said: Khushi ke liye koi karana nahi hota (To be happy you don’t need to have an excuse or a reason). When I see people around me with long faces, I feel that people have forgotten to be happy. They want a reason to be happy. No. To be happy you do not need a reason and only then one can achieve something that one longs for.”
It was not an easy up-hill climb with chips of societal prejudices, conditioning and biases stacked against him. “I need crutches to walk... but I do it on my own. I even ride a specially-designed scooter. And I hope one day I will drive a specially-designed car... but it will be from the money which I earn myself from my medical practice.”
The childhood and teen years were painful; he underwent 18 corrective surgeries and travels all alone. Talking of his homeopathic studies, Husein travelled 50 km every day from home to his college, all alone on the feared-Mumbai-local trains where people packed like sardines neither allow anybody to get in nor allow anybody to get down at the station. It is in this world where even shadows are unable to slip in, Husein travelled with his books and stationery and crutches with a beaming face and smile in his eyes.
Husein's mother, Dr Fatema, interjects the flow of talk and says: “Since the travel was quite a distance, I requested the Western Railway Control Room to instruct their motormen and guards to extend the halt of the train at two stations for a few minutes as it took him to both board and alight. And I did not want to accompany him. I wanted him to go all alone and become independent.” The railways had obliged.
Possibly this independence and self-reliant streak in his mother, who is herself a practising homeopath, inspired the child to try to move without anybody's help or sympathy. “Right from the beginning whether it was in special school or normal school... my mother has always tried to make me feel that I can be independent and I should be independent. And that is how I ended up doing a degree in homoeopathy from a college that was 50 km away.
“When I was in primary school, she used to drop me but most of the times in her quiet manner she encouraged me to walk and walk. Thereafter, I started going to school in an auto-rickshaw. My mother stitched an identity card and put Rs 100 in it for emergency purposes. “Like any other teenager my confidence was high and I decided to go alone to meet my grandmother and a cousin. I was very proud that I did it all alone,” Husein says and, then with a chuckle adds: “Afterwards I came to know that my mother was quietly trailing me and keeping an eye on me. But she was proud and if I gained confidence... she also realised that I can be independent.”
But then how did you decide on homeopathy? Pat comes the answer: “I wanted to be a geneticist. But then that field requires extreme precision also. And I have always loved subjects like chemistry, biology and medicine. I have grown up seeing my mother who is an MD in homoeopathy.”
But the entrance to the Homoeopathic Medical College was not easy. After successfully completing 12th standard in science stream, his parents and examiners at the famous J J Hospital were taken aback when Husein professed a love and a desire to become a doctor.
Seventeen doctors in a panel made him undergo sessions and then certified him with a satisfied air: “Mentally fit.” And thus began his journey into the world of medicine. He took no concessions and studied hard. “I have one advantage over others. I just need to sit down for studies and I can shut out the world... become oblivious of the surroundings. And even an hour of study is enough for me. And that is what matters in the studies. If I had not got through the medical college then I would have gone into law or journalism. I love talking. And that is why my patients love me so much.”
Candidly admitting that while his motor reflexes may not be synchronised or seamless, “my diagnosis and treatment is holistic in nature. I study reports.
I also talk a lot to the patients in order to know the mental condition. And then I also physically examine the patient. It is only after that I prescribe a treatment.”
And as for future plans, Husein is very clear in his mind: “At present I am doing MBA in hospital management, then I want to do MD in homoeopathy... but more importantly I want to do something for differently abled people and tell them that no aim is high enough. And this is what I keep on saying in my lectures in special schools... and this is what I told our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when I met him: Social attitudes need to change with regard to us. Help us become tax-payers and not tax-users.”