Reviewed by Dr. Nasir Gondal, NY
I just finished reading “A Piece of Me” by Arif Ahmad.
I know Arif through APPNA. This is one of the blessings of the organization where one finds fellow Pakistanis whom you would not have met otherwise. They are neither living in the same town as yours, nor came from the same place back home. They did not attend the same medical college nor were they trained with you here in the USA.
Later on I found that he was a classmate of one of my cousins in high school in Lahore, and that he was trained in Milwaukee with another cousin of mine.
His book is ‘an arrangement of words’. Essentially it is a journey most of us in our age group have taken, migrating from an increasing intolerant Pakistan to what we thought of as a land of opportunity, only to witness it turning slowly into an increasingly intolerant place. Many of his thoughts are shared by most of us reading his book and that is what makes it a valuable read.
Arif is a person who thinks and thinks deep. Events and situations around him affect him and force him to sit down and write. He has a heart and writes well. As his daughter Shanzeh mentions in the Foreword to the book, he cares and writes about everything; well almost everything.
He has a strong sense of identity as a Pakistani, a Muslim, an American and a physician, a heart doctor.
He longs to be recognized as who he is, and not stereotyped. It seems that he feels he is not getting that from his fellow Americans, especially the white and blue-eyed ones. He wishes, not so secretly, to be almost equal and prays to be ‘blond, blue-eyed and white” in another life ( Almost Equal). He rolls up his sleeve and extends his “proud American left arm’ for Covid vaccination (Fresh Tracks).
He tries hard to put a strong case for the version of Islam he vouches for; one which is tolerant, accommodative, spiritual, non militant and compassionate.
He writes emotionally and passionately about his own family and its struggles; how his father led the family in crossing over from East to West Punjab during Partition faking a gun, about his mother’s terminal illness and his brother’s tragic death from gunshot, and his father’s last moments.
His account of the first death he faced as a physician, of a young girl in her mother’s arm when he was a junior resident in Lahore is very touching (The Girl of My Dreams). It made me teary eyed. It would resonate with many doctors. I had a similar experience, which still haunts me.
He talks a lot about APPNA, the Pakistani Physician group in America. Like many of us, he finds it a home away from home, and has his own share of wishes and disillusionments with the organization. He wants the organization to be a shining star of Pakistani Diaspora and carry none of the ‘baggage’ including lotas ( Lotas in Chicago). He wants the leadership to be free from those who are ‘implicated in fraud, convicted or indicted”. He wishes it offered more opportunities for women and minorities (Jai).
He has his own version of Shikwa and Jawab Shikwa on the lines of Iqbal.
He has his own skeletons and they show up here and there. As a gun owner and hunter in the middle of the country, he is conflicted about gun control and gun violence. He is a scientist and a physician, still he has reservations about evolution ( The Main Draw in the Cosmos).