He is one of the few Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley and build his house here, after the dreadful 90s. A high-profile cardiologist to some of India’s prominent personalities, chairman and dean of academics & research at Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Delhi, Padma Shri Dr Upendra Kaul spoke to Fozia Yasin about his ongoing health mission in the Valley.
“I come here on Friday evening, and leave Monday morning. And every time there is an upcoming visit to Kashmir, I am jubilant like a kid. And on my return from here, feel a gloom,” he says.
Tell us about your health mission here
I am a Kashmiri, and pleased to have been able to maintain my association with my homeland. I have been coming here every week on Friday and leave by Monday. I stay at my house here. This apart from the longish stays and travels for the camps in the far and remote interiors of the Valley. I am deeply connected with my land and my people. I also come for the way people here love me. These things are to be felt, more than said. Earlier, I used to see patients in Srinagar at Khyber and Shifa hospitals, but now we have established our own health facility in the Chanpora area, along with Dr Zubair. We somehow organised some finances to convert this dilapidated structure into a health facility. I sold my flat in Noida and bought some equipment here on my mother’s birthday.
Talk about your camps.
Through the Gauri Healthy Heart Foundation, the organisation named after Valley and beyond, in association with the Batra Hospital and the directorate of health services here, we conduct consultations in 20 districts, seeing around 100-150 patients per day.
We organise consultations and offer medical aid in far off villages across districts in the Valley.
I had never visited North Kashmir, and during a visit to the beautiful Lolab Valley, we realised that district Kupwara was neglected in healthcare as compared to other parts of Kashmir. This is when, I along with the like-minded friends from the valley decided that we had to do something about it, and the foundation was born.
We went to Macchil, which is next to the LOC. Since we needed special permission to visit this area, we made some friends in the Army. From November to March, Macchil is completely cut off during the winters, we organised a system called tele-medication. We put up a small machine, operated by a trained person there that can record the ECG, Blood pressure etc. of the patients. There is one-to-one consultation with the patients. There is also an ambulance there, and for winter months, the Army has made arrangements for airlifting of patients. Two such patients have been airlifted, including one woman who had a difficult labour.
From Kupwara, we went to Khansahab area of Budgam for a camp. We went to Rajpora in Pulwama, where there is already a good health centre.
We did a camp in Banihal in Peer Panchal region. We went to Jhagti migrant camp in Jammu for Kashmiri Pandits. We went to a place in Manipur called Kakchin, 50km from Burma. We recently did a camp in the leprosy colony in the hospital there.
Share some memories of your early home.
My ancestral home is in Haal village of Shopian, I used to spend holidays and summer vacations in the Kani Kadal locality of Srinagar at my aunt’s house. The house overlooked the beautiful Jhelum. My entire life, I had fond memories, almost visions of growing up there.
My family moved to Delhi in 1948 where my father worked at an insurance company. While my father was happy there, my mother always longed for Kashmir. When we visited Kashmir we didn't have a permanent place of our own to stay. And she would always tell me that we should have a tiny place of our own here. A couple of years after her passing away in 2013, I managed to construct this house-Gauri Manzil- named after my mother. And I am proud of that. Over the years, I have tried to keep up and enjoy the company of my Kashmiri friends and stay connected with them.
About your connect with the Valley
In the 90s, when medical services in the Valley had completely collapsed, hundreds of people had no other option but to go to Delhi for treatment. I naturally became friendly with a lot of them and reconnected with my homeland. I went out of the way to help the Kashmiris and as such a lot of friendships were formed. I realised that a lot of these people had financial hardships. During that time I was working at the AIIMS, I had sent out clear instructions that no late appointment will be given to my patients from Kashmir as I would like to see all of them even till 10 pm. I would see all of them. I would get up from the OPD and conduct lifesaving angioplasty and angiography on the patients without making them wait a day. People developed faith in me.
What is your vision for Kashmir?
On August 5, 2019, when the announcement of the abrogation of Article 370 was made, I happened to be in Kashmir. I was conducting a camp in the Kangan area. We were asked to leave everything and everything came to a standstill and the Valley turned into a black hole.… I am very concerned about the common people of Kashmir, who had to suffer much over the past decades.
Your take on the young Kashmir?
There is a lot of unemployment in the Valley. People here are gullible and listen to all kinds of messaging and so much disinformation is going around. We all know that Kashmiris are intelligent people. A Kashmiri, who hasn't even gone to school, knows so much about health and general world affairs. If only they had more opportunities, they would have been far ahead.
Another generation of young Kashmiris have seen no normalcy. They are being raised in a vindictive and alienated environment, which to some extent was always there, but now has become grave. You can simply feel that.
With our arts, culture and tourism, we have been self-sufficient as we had enough to prosper here. Houseboat owners are in distress, so are other industries and trades. Unless something positive is spoken and done about it nothing is going to come out of it. We need a resolution that keeps us united. I return to the Valley with a message of harmony, directly and indirectly. We are one people and dividing and criticising each other isn't going to make our beautiful place better.
What is your day like at home here?
I have been seeing a lot of patients. I wake up lazily. I roam about in the neighbourhood, talk to my friends, most of them are common people, and they invite me over. I relish local delicacies. I cook a lot. I take long walks to lesser-known places. I go on long drives. I went to Theed and Dhara, and explored the local stories there. I enjoy fresh fruits and walnuts. And I write…