Dr Sameer Kaul, a cancer specialist of repute in the Asian Region, hails from the Valley, is a senior surgical Oncologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi and Head of Surgical Oncology Unit I.As a Founder President of Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Foundation he works towards offering better cancer care to economically under privileged patients in India, spreads awareness about this dreaded disease, runs a Central Drug Repository and most importantly trains clinicians in the field of oncology across India and the neighboring countries often leading up to fellowship. His interest lies in popularizing innovative techniques in oncology. Some extracts from his conversation with Sarah Kabeer.
You have come a long way from Kashmir and still connected. What kind of grooming did you get as a child that has kept you connected with the Valley?
Dr. S. Kaul: There is a sleepy village on the banks of a river, Sangam on the road between Jammu and Srinagar, called Chakoora. It is in the Pulwama district. That is where originally my forefathers were from. At that point of time Chakoora was the place that was known to have burnt a thief alive. Longback my grandfather migrated to Bijbehara, birthplace of my paternal grandmother. They lived there for a while before shifting to Nawab Bazar in Srinagar. My grandfather rented a house from Pandit Ram Chandra Kak, who was the erstwhile Prime Minister of Kashmir, and in that wooden house, by the Jhelum River, is where I was born.
Soon after my birth, my grandfather brought his own house. He picked up an old dilapidated house in a bagh, the personal estate of the Wazir Ram Saran Das, Prime Minister at that time. He knocked it down and reconstructed a new house.
As I grew up, my house was surrounded by all kinds of happenings. There was Tagore hall, which was a centre for art and culture, Bakhshi stadium, which was a space for sports, Hazuri bagh, which was for congregations and political platforms, Lal Ded hospital and so on, a lot was happening in that area. Also there was Sri Pratap Musuem, where as children we used to go. Amar Singh College, Temple, Mosque, Gurudwara nearby. It was culturally, politically and educationally a vibrant area. As a child I got exposed to every kind of activity. I was bought up in a joint family, enjoying the joys of being surrounded and protected by a family. It was one of those finest childhoods one dreams of. Maybe this is one good reason that I am still connected with my birthplace-Kashmir.
“I do not find lot of difference in the instinct of Kashmiri Muslim or Hindu or a Sikh because I find myself the same. I grew up feeling that I was different from Kashmiri Muslims but after reading my history, I find myself only a little different from what I was thousands of years back.”
Amidst all the activity around you, what influenced you most as a person?
Dr. S. Kaul: What influenced me the most was my mother. Apart from academics, she used to encourage my participation in art, drama and debates. A multi-tasker herself, she was a professor of Economics and she had a great influence on my personality.
Do you find any discontinuity in the Kashmiri race?
Dr. S. Kaul: I do not find lot of difference in the instinct of the Kashmiri Muslim or Hindu or a Kashmiri Sikh for that matter because I find myself the same. I grew up feeling that I was different from Kashmiri Muslims but after reading my history, I find myself only a little different from what I was thousands of years back. There is a lot of similarity and commonality between the two. After all they derive from the same source.
You call yourself a “neutral Sufi”. What is the essence of Sufism for you?
Dr. S. Kaul: What I actually mean is that I am a humanist. You can call it Deen-e-Illahi or Sufism or humanism. Basically, I feel that being bound by traditional ways of worship can sometimes restrict the human element that every human being has.
As a doctor, you have had done lots of work in the Valley. Was this a conscious decision to stay connected with Kashmir or it just happened ?
Dr. S. Kaul: “Breast Cancer Patients Benefit Foundation” was started way back in 2004, wherein, we started treating people who were suffering with breast cancer. Was this a conscious effort or it just happened. But the fact is that year on year, we have been conducting camps in Kashmir imparting free treatment for such cancer patients. This effort not just takes me back to Kashmir each year, but also connects me with my roots.
How does the foundation work?
Dr. S. Kaul: The Foundation majorly works at two levels. First, we collect funds which are used for the treatment of the needy patients. Two, which is equally important and will have a long term impact on the ground. We are training people and giving them scholarships with a rider that they will go back to their place of origin and serve the people there.
I would say we are trying to help them in whatever way we can, though these are all drops in the ocean, but then each drop counts.
Q.How can people contact the foundation?
Dr. S. Kaul: There is a website www.bcpbf.com with contact numbers and we also have an office in Delhi.
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