Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Last Journey of My Father; Biyomorz Zafarullah Beg

Rafti, rafti Khuda nighban e tu boshad,
Shams e qamar e, sitora hum rohe tu boshad
By 
Ghulam Amin Beg

On Sunday, 21st December, 2014, I lost my father to heart failure. May his soul rest in eternal peace!

He was 86 years of age diagnosed and under medication for hypertension, diabetes, reduced functioning of kidneys and had a history of stroke some years back and recently taking medicine for mild AR.  He was under treatment of Medical specialist, cardiologist Dr. Abdul Rehbar in Gilgit and nephrologists Brig. Dr. Haleem in Islamabad. More recently he had undergone TURP operation for prostrate at Quaid Azam International Hospital Islamabad under surgeon urologist Dr.Fayaz Bangash.  For some years he was also diagnosed with glaucoma of eyes and was under treatment of Dr. Anwar in Islamabad and Dr. Qayum in Gilgit. He was quite happy and satisfied with the doctors mentioned above, and we thank them all for their healing touch, gentleness and support to my father for last many years.

But he was otherwise okay, walking, talking and taking routine diet and taking good care of himself. He was very regular in taking medicines and eye drops as well his regular diet, except for the last 4-5 days when started refusing regular diet and shifted to liquid. He has this amazing spirit of resilience and high will power and would always combine both allopathic medicines with traditional treatment through diet regulation and body and mind relaxation, applying indigenous techniques he had learned from his father and grandfather and would prescribe for others also and highly cherish this family legacy he carried and would generously teach others. Even during the last month of his life he used to receive patients with orthopedic cases  regularly at home in Gilgit and Gulmit, received delegation of visitors and community leaders and participated in funeral services and visitation to those sick and talked to people over the phone.  Traveling was his passion, though he would usually pick his day, especially when it came to going to a doctor or returning back to our native village in Gulmit or to Yarzrich in Chupurson valley, where he started with other elders land development three decades ago, and had this strong territorial sense to defending the village boundaries of Gulmit from Baldihale to Yarzrich.  He would never feel easy outside the area and would always insist on going back to his birthplace.

Despite our reservations, he recently moved to Gulmit, our native village on 7th December for supervision and preparation of the marriage arrangements of my younger sister planned for 16 December, he was in high spirit and advising us throughout on the traditions and invitations etc. He used to say, jokingly, this was his last participation in a marriage, so he advised us not to forget any close relative, especially women members of the family and relatives, the old and the sick, and those who have lost their loved ones, and do invite them and prepare gifts for them. We prepared the list with his consent and updated him regularly on the status of preparations. He insisted on preparing the traditional dishes and also keeping simplicity and honoring the rules set by Ismaili institutions.  

On 13th December, he attended the ‘bet risid’-ribbon cutting ritual, and also received a community delegation meeting at our home, discussing community development issues, even entering into hot discussions on some issues with members on accountability and managing Panjasho Oston trust income, I was told later, as I was not present, though he briefly updated me in the evening as to what was discussed in the meeting and that I should now be taking interest in these affairs and provide guidance to the VO and community  on such issues, as he may not be able to continue this role for long. I felt he was disheartened by the discussions, and told him not to worry, we were all with him and he can better advise us all.   

During the week, dozens of people, relatives, friends, old patients of his, well wishers and community elders visited him to ask about his health, which is a tradition in our area, and this in a way proved to be his final greetings with all of them.

On 14th December, he had a minor complaint of dehydration and stopped normal diet intake and started his traditional recipe, so that he was fit on marriage day. My younger brother Fazal Amin Beg and elder brother Chairman Rehmatullah Beg from Karachi called Sahib Jan, from Civil Hospital Gulmit requesting him to visit home. He visited him and along Sabrina ( my niece, daughter of elder brother recently graduated from AKUSON, who came all the way from Karachi to meet grandpa) helped administer dextrose drip and injections.

 ‘Boys, I am going to die. Lets pray I survive through your sister’s marriage tomorrow’, my father told me and younger brother on the night of 15th December, while taking sips of cold water, which he used to take come what may. ‘Don’t ever stop giving me cold water, this is my advice to you’ he said, when I offered him warm water, as it was too cold and could lead to throat and chest infection.

I used to joke with him, and knowing he was deeply spiritual person inside, I told him, “ Father, don’t  play God, as only He knows who will die, when, how and where, nothing is going to happen, you just try to take some food and hot fluid you are going to be fine. We will leave for Gilgit after the marriage ceremony is over’, I suggested. He shook his head in negation, and said, “you don’t know, I know my health. I am having strange dreams, and all our grand ancestors are constantly gathering around our house in dream, dancing and seemed to be celebrating something” he was firm in his conviction as to why the spirits were on the move. “Don’t move me from here”, he advised.

However, after the administration of drip, he sounded improving with no major complaint, except reduced intake of normal diet and speed breathing when walked to washroom, still refusing to leave for Gilgit on this pretext or the other. On 20th December, Ahmedullah from Sost visited him, and upon his request to visit his doctor in Gilgit and that he will also accompany him, he agreed to leave the next morning.

On Sunday, 21st December, Ahmedullah came, as we wanted to leave in his vehicle, but suddenly my father’s blood pressure lowered down to 95/50. It was around 11:45 a.m. Saleem Hyder and Ahmedullah advised to bring ambulance and we accompanied my father from our home in Gulmit for the local Civil Hospital in Chamangul, only 10 minutes drive to rush to the doctor for emergency support seeking help to providing emergency oxygen and do nebulisation, before we could take him to a physician in Gilgit, almost three and half hours away. Still a long way to go and we put our fingers crossed as to what will happen next!

As we reached the Hospital, Salim Hyder and Dr. Akram Khan, Medical Officer, came to see him in the parking lot, after initial examination inside the ambulance and based on his earlier visit to my father three days back at home regarding complaints of dehydration and knowing he was taking medicines including one for heart disease (digoxin 0.25 mg) prescribed by Dr Rehbar, the doctor declared heart failure and pulmonary edema, and advised us to immediately shift him to Aga Khan Health Aliabad Hunza, as there was no oxygen available, nor there was nebulizer in the Government Civil Hospital at Gulmit. We rushed to the boat after Salim Hyder administered injection lasix 20mg/2ml on the advice of the doctor. My younger brother Attaullah Baig, elder sister Parveen Rehmat and brother in law Shiekh Hasan and Qasim bhai from Ghulkin accompanied my father in the final leap of his journey. My mother, two sisters, my wife and son and nephews also accompanied us in another vehicle.

Obviously, the Government ambulance that took him from home had no such facilities or services either.  Afzal bhai, the Ambulance driver took care of everything, from calling Aliabad to arranging for an ambulance, to coordinating for the boat service with Salim Hyder and Sahib Jan, to shifting us and we rushed to the Ayeenabad boat stand, where the emergency boat service was available. The laborers and passengers helped us and my father was shifted to the emergency boat on a stretcher provided by the hospital ambulance. The emergency boat, operated under the administration of the health department, had no such services like oxygen, nebulizer or a professional attendant to provide emergency care on the route. Again, the boat operator and Afzal bhai, the ambulance driver who accompanied us to the next spillway stand, were and remained the only ray of hope, in case anything happens on the way!

It took us 25 to 30 minutes to reach the Ataabad spillway, and the ambulance had reached there inland from Aliabad Civil Hospital. My father was shifted again from the boat to the ambulance with help from the laborers and passengers and we rushed to Aliabad, which took us another 30 or so minutes.

 At the gate of Aga khan Health Center Aliabad we stopped and my elder sister and I went inside to know if doctors were available and if they could provide emergency service. The nurse on duty came and told us there was only one doctor who was in ICU and providing emergency treatment to a third degree burn case. We can see young attendant worried outside. We requested the nurse and told him the emergency nature of the case, she went inside ICU and the doctor came out and examined my father in the ambulance, and advised to rush to Gilgit, as nebulisation will take over one hour and we must not lose time. He asked the ambulance driver if there was enough oxygen available, he said 50% had been utilized already, and the doctor told him to borrow one from them (Aga Khan Health), but the nurse said even they don’t have auxiliary small cylinders either for ambulance, and the nurse plugged in the oxygen, and we were advised to rush to Gilgit with the half-filled oxygen cylinder as time was ticking.

On the way, my father was conscious and at each spot my younger brother would tell him where we had reached. In Sikandarabad Nagar, the oxygen cylinder emptied and we were worried. At around 3:25 p.m. around Rahimabad, my father breathing slowed down, and around Nomal- Sultanabad we could sense something went wrong. The driver rushed the ambulance, and we reached Aga Khan Health Center Gilgit. I jumped out and went to the emergency and the doctor was on round. He came within half a minute and we took him to the ambulance to shifting my father to the emergency. Upon examination, his first reaction was there was no pulse, then he did further examination and asked the nurse to take BP, looked into his eyes, and examined feet and legs, and declared that he had expired!!
My elder sister was along, and all in cries. We had to manage the situation, said our prayers and calmed her down and I requested the ambulance driver to take us to the nearest Ismaili Jamat Khan mortuary in Zulfiqarabad for funeral arrangements and services and onward transportation of the body to Gulmit the next morning. My first call was to uncle Sarfraz breaking the bad news and requesting him to inform the mortuary service, and second call was to Mukhi Amir Hayat in Gulmit to do arrangements and third to elder brother in Karachi to book flight and return the next day.

My mother, two sisters, my wife and son and nieces/nephews who also accompanied us in another vehicle, we advised them to reach home in Sonikot, as we were returning home.

The whole evening and night relatives, community members and friends came to see us and stayed the night with the dead body at the Zulfiqarabad mayat room.

The next morning we left for Gulmit, and on the way at Aliabad, members of Gojal community and relatives and friends offered fateha. We reached Gulmit by 11:00 a.m. and the funeral service and namaz janaza was offered and the body was buried in peace amongst thousands of mourners on 22 December.

This was the story of the last journey of my father.

Like all good fathers are, my father was a great human being; humble, honest, loving and compassionate. We lost our provider, teacher, protector, a great friend, change agent, our leader, our hero and our inspiration in life. He was social, highly spiritual, humanitarian and generously sharing his skills, knowledge and whatever material goods he owned with us and with others. He was 18 when he started receiving patients at home, visited long distances to treat patients for free for almost 68 years. He treated over 40,000 patients during this period, and almost 80% of them visited our home for treatment, and he would always consider them guests and advise us to honor them as guests. He lived a full life engaged in all kinds of traditional sports, adventure travel, business and trade travel in those days to Afghanistan, started his own business, as tribal elder, participated in tribal, regional and communal politics and acted as arbitrator, facilitator in inter-family, inter and intra village and area based disputes resolutions etc, in the area. He had the power and ability to adjust himself to changing social and political situations and always remained a key driver and learner in local affairs, and kept himself abreast of new developments in the area, GB, Pakistan and even the broader region surrounding our area. 

For the family, he has left behind a legacy of serving the community without any social titles and economic return, a hope for those who came to him for healing, making himself always available to the sick and to those in pain. He has this strong sense of sovereignty and trusteeship of the territorial boundaries of the area, especially ownership and protection of the natural resources and rangelands, and would always advise us to be proactive in protecting the interests of the area and the community at large. He strongly believed in kinship and tribal relationships in our historical and socio-cultural context, and would always find time in explaining to kids and elders alike of the blood relations and strong network of family and relatives that one must recognize and maintain relations for generations, irrespective of time and space. He would always advise us, the sons, to keep their unity, keeping the doors open to sisters and women members of the extended family and always providing support whenever they look back to their parent’s home, especially never forgetting them when there are happy occasions in the family. And lastly, always keep in touch with your roots, never ever resort to selling the ancestral land and always keeping links and making ourselves available to the community in times of need, grief and other occasions.

May his soul rest in eternal peace.

We thank the hundreds of community members, friends and relatives who visited him during his last days at home, participated in his funeral services and sent us condolence messages and prayers. We really found comfort in your words and prayers.

Our deepest gratitude to all those mourning with our family, especially to those friends and relatives who attended and accompanied him during last days, and joined us during his last journey.Grateful to those who offered their prayers through telephone, sms, facebook and social media.