This Sunday (August 6) when a group of people assemble to remember Dr Farasat Hussain, in ‘Renaissance’, an aptly named Cultural Centre in Gaya, set up by his lifelong friend, noted litterateur Sanjay Sahay and his wife Durba Sahay, the inter-faith gathering will be much more than a tribute to him. They will of course meet to talk about the good doctor who died on July 28 at the age of 71 in Delhi. But the meeting will embody the very essence of Dr Hussain’s life which was dedicated to bridging divides and building relationships. Be it religious, caste and class, there was not one single divide he had not jumped across.
The meeting will be very personal, no doubt, but it will also be a tribute to the India he inhabited for most of his life, where he was proud to serve as a doctor, live his life as a Magadh ka baashinda, a Bihari, an Indian, and all in all, a lively human being. But it will also be a necessary reminder in these vicious and polarised times of people who with their singular focus on humanitarian work are the secret sauce of what keeps or certainly kept India going.
Born in Bihar’s Chhapra district in 1952, Dr Hussain made Gaya his home soon after he completed his post-graduation in Orthopaedic Surgery at Government Medical College, Ranchi in 1983.
As a young doctor, he would kick-start his Rajdoot motorcycle and ride off to remote villages across Bihar to attend to emergencies. A pioneer in polio corrective surgeries in Bihar, he conducted scores of special camps where he performed more than 3,000 polio surgeries for poor children when he started his work here decades ago. He even conducted Caesarean sections when a gynaecologist wasn’t available.
In a state where public health was never really a thing, doctors like Farasat Hussain were the system. He was anyway an exceptional surgeon who had multiple opportunities and offers to make a career in the lucrative corporate medical sector, but he didn’t even consider it. He stayed in Gaya where he mixed his practice as a doctor with large-scale social work, community building and helped initiate a multi-faith effort to ensure communal harmony across the Magadh region.
But for people there, he wasn’t just a skilful surgeon and an efficient clinician, he was also a psychologist. His unique sense of humour, they suspected, was part of his treatment plan for a patient. Dr Hussain didn’t merely look at the disease of his patients, he treated the person. In a place where health infrastructure had crumbled in the decades of the 80s and 90s, he was an address for the sick where they knew they would surely get help.
He was also closely associated with the upliftment of the disabled population, who remember him as a mentor and benefactor for helping them with their livelihood. Several disabled people travelled from across the region, despite difficulties, and joined his funeral.
In 2010, the government of Bihar honoured Dr Hussain for his work. At that time, he was national president of the Association of Sports Medicine of India. He was honoured for his contribution to promote sports among disabled people, especially polio patients.
Dr Hussain was closely associated with Arpan, an organisation of disabled people in Gaya, where he was instrumental in motivating disabled youngsters to participate in sports and other activities to turn their physical challenges into opportunities that helped them move away from a life merely at the fringes of society.
Dr Hussain mentored Krishna Murari, who subsequently represented India at the sitting volleyball competition in the US. Several other disabled youngsters from the Magadh region also attended national sports events in cricket, volleyball and cycling. His focus on encouraging disabled youngsters to take up sports was to help in their inclusion in the social fabric, not as dependents, but as equal partners.
Dr Hussain was an integral part of the inter-faith dialogue, peace and harmony initiatives in the Magadh region.
This is why those who attended his burial say that it aptly exhibited the fruits of his lifelong work to build bridges between communities. Buddhist monks came to pay their respects to him. Hindus and Muslims came and prayed for him. Several disabled men came for the first time into a graveyard, only to express their love for the departed. There were madrassa children, who were helped by him when their institution was in extreme financial distress. A befitting farewell to a man of all persons.
Dr Hussain had been closely involved with one of Bihar’s oldest minority educational institutions – Mirza Ghalib College, where he consistently promoted progressive and secular values. Mirza Ghalib would be proud of all that he upheld there. He was also involved with a number of charity organisations, such as an orphanage at Cherki for more than two decades. This home for poor, underprivileged orphans is one of the biggest in India.
Dr Hussain was an exceptional man, who stood out because he was so restless and always busy, working, helping; a doctor in the truest sense of the word.
I happened to meet him several times, and saw an adoring grandfather to a precocious and thoughtful Farris. His quiet charm, polished demeanour and contagious smile did not mean that he ever held back on his views. A man capable of sharp candour and an openness of the heart, he could surprise you with his diagnosis of the social situation.
Dr Hussain was the kind of man, that if he himself were to read (or edit) this obituary, would frown and take serious umbrage at even a mention of his generosity as a doctor, friend, and human being. Good deeds were to be done, he believed firmly, and not to be remembered or recounted.
He is at eternal rest now. But his life needs to be celebrated for how he lived it and how he wanted the world around him to be. There is a need to nourish his legacy, intangible as it may seem. This is true today more than ever before, as we seem to have a hard time even imagining living a harmonious life as a collective.
He knew very well that there was no magic pill to fix the social fabric, no ready rafoo. But the good doc he was, he knew what it took to keep trying to get there and the importance of keeping all kinds of fevers down.
RIP, Dr Hussain.