My Wonder Years at Civil Hospital & the Bohri Bazaar Tragedy

Posted on August 29, 2007
Filed Under >Ghulam Nabi Kazi, Disasters, Society
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Guest Post by Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi

I spent a long period of time spanning over two decades from 1974-1994 within the campus of Dow Medical College and Civil Hospital Karachi, initially as a medical student, and later as an intern in Burns and Medicine, resident in Dermatology and for the last eight years as a member of hospital management team. These were truly the best of times and the worst of times for different reasons; there were upheavals followed by periods of tranquility. We nevertheless managed to remain optimistic at all times and I found my work always quite rewarding despite the minor irritants. Several incidents over this long period are so deeply etched in my memory as if they occurred yesterday. Those were my wonder years. The photo below is of Bohri Bazaar Karachi.

I vividly remember some of the major disasters; the bursting of a cylinder in Liaquatabad while I was working in the Burns Ward in 1982, followed by the ghastly Orangi massacres, the Pan Am hijacking and of course the incident, which is the subject of my present write-up namely the Bohri Bazaar bomb blast.

It was a fairly typical day for me in the second half of the eighties, working as RMO General I. Satisfied with my day’s work, I got up in the evening and went to the Cardiology Ward to check on my friend Dr. Qazi Moinuddin Ahmed. He was in the process of winding up too and proposed that we leave together. He had to stop by in Bohri Bazaar Saddar to get certain certificates plastic coated and I thought I would wait in the car until he returned. After around 10 minutes he returned although only half his certificates had been coated because he thought it was not fair to keep me waiting in the car. He then dropped me home around sunset time and just as I was getting tempted by the prospect of a late lunch, I received a frantic call from the CHK Emergency that some bomb blasts had occurred and a hospital vehicle was on the way to take me back to the hospital. It took me nearly forty minutes to traverse the distance of around 5-6 kms to the hospital.

Along the way, I could see the massive clouds of black smoke and I prayed for the best. On reaching the hospital I found the situation to be totally chaotic. There were patients all over the place and the emergency was so full of all sorts of people, it was a wonder anybody could do anything. I called up the nearby police station and requested them to clear out all ‘spectators’ so we could go about treating the critical and seriously injured patients. The police did the needful and some NGOs helped by posting details of the patients outside for the relatives so that they could be apprised about the position without coming inside the Emergency Department.

The Medical Superintendent Dr. Ghulam Safdar and Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr. Abbas Khan joined soon afterwards and proceeded to call all the general surgeons, anaesthetists, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and physicians immediately. Meanwhile, patients were categorized according to the severity of their problem and the Casualty Incharge prepared a list of immediately required medications, minor instruments and other disposables.

By now my main medical store had been opened and the nearby chemists were told to issue all the medicines not available in the stores if they found my initials on any simple chit of paper. In quite a short time, the confusion was getting less and less and the surgeons were beginning to arrive. The main theaters were opened immediately and patients began to be lined up for emergency surgery. Again lists of requirements were produced and met with equal haste.

At around 8 p.m. the Secretary for Health and the Commissioner of Karachi, both civil service colleagues visited the casualties. An unpleasant incident occurred as some students tried to misbehave with them and protested over the lack of certain facilities. However, in the rush of things the bitterness was soon forgotten and normal work resumed. By 11 p.m. the patients began to be shifted in the wards from the theaters and by that time we also got a good estimate of the number of dead, critically injured and less seriously injured. Here we were working in a hospital where a surgeon had been operating for over 6 hours to carry out a renal transplant and save one life, while in minutes one person had extinguished hundreds of lives. Those are some of the contradictions that we have come to terms with in our daily lives. At around this time, we received a message that some VIP would be visiting the hospital soon. The large part of the emergency was now past and we were satisfied with the quality of care that was being provided. The MS and DMS waited for a while till around midnight but I offered to stay there for the whole night and look to any administrative problem while clinicians went about their work.

While calling a surgical unit at around 2 a.m. and asking for the staff nurse, I was told that she was on a round with the Chief Minister of Sindh. Wondering why I had not been informed I rushed to the Surgical Ward located on the third floor. I found the Governor and Chief Minister going round the ward and asking the patients about their welfare. The Governor happened to know me personally and he introduced me to the Chief Minister. Both of them appeared to be quite satisfied with the arrangements. The only glitch was that the Governor’s escort had probably made a mistake and brought the dignitaries from a wrong gate. Now with the VIPs on the third floor trouble was brewing with disgruntled paramedics and the general public lined along the stairs and in a nasty mood. The security people were beginning to get nervous and we rushed down the stairs and out of the gate. In the process several indignities were committed on the visiting head and chief executive of the provincial government.

A little disgusted at the course of events and realizing that there was little left for me to do, I decided to go home and reached there in six minutes this time. On reaching there my mother told me that the Secretary for Health had called from the Governor’s House. I called the Governor’s House and introduced myself and soon the Secretary for Health was on the line. He directed me to immediately shift a ventilator and defibrillator lying in the main stores to the Casualty right there and then. I argued with him that the emergency was past and the shifting and installation could be done better in the morning but he was adamant. I immediately returned to the hospital and complied with the orders obviously handed out by the Governor at a high-level meeting, which was going on at that odd hour.
In the morning I apprised the Medical Superintendent about the happenings of the night. He told me that he had been called to a high-level meeting that day. The results of the meeting are now common knowledge as the ‘Berlin Wall’ was erected between the Dow Medical college and the Civil hospital, the doctors’ and student’s cafeterias and hostels within the hospital were totally done away with in less than no time. That was incidentally also the end of the era where people could park their cars inside the campus.

I had enough on my hands during those 72 hours not to worry about these far-reaching consequences, but there was an interesting sequel to this incident. I met Dr. Moin and he told me that his whole family had been praying for me. Seeing my bewildered face he said, “remember where we had parked our car, that was exactly where the bomb blasts occurred a few minutes afterwards”. It took me some time to get the full significance of his words. He had returned early and probably saved us from being casualties ourselves! The very fact that I sit here to record these experiences indicates that sometimes real life can be more interesting than fiction.


(i) First photo is from and courtesy of Rizwan Qureshi.
(ii) Second photo is courtesy of Prof. Qamaruddin Isa Daudpota and
(iii) Third photo is from Dow Medical College Alumni’s web page

31 Comments on “My Wonder Years at Civil Hospital & the Bohri Bazaar Tragedy”

  1. August 30th, 2007 8:04 am

    wow, this is such a priveliged profession and one of the top most required fields in Pakistan. So unfortunate to see current day DMC students killing one another for mere politics…

  2. dawa-i-dil says:
    August 30th, 2007 9:37 am

    Doctors is a very respectable profession..

    Maseeha ..tabeeba-i-dil…..etc etc…

    but search of money….our new young doctors..just after doing MBBS…tune to USMLE to escape from pakistan..instead of serving the poor people of pakistan…just as they receiveRs 25,000 /moth at start in Pakistan but Rs 200,000 in UK or USA etc….

    even after doing some high research there..and applying skills..never return to Pakistan to pay bacck the debt of soil….

    will we ever be able to come out this vicious circle of dollars and is important…but patriotism far superior to money….

  3. basit says:
    August 30th, 2007 10:45 am

    Sooo unfortunate to see current day DMC students killing one another just on policits

  4. August 30th, 2007 10:47 am

    every profession needs passion and dedication, this doctor thing requires more than this. may good bless you and keep up the good work.

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    August 30th, 2007 1:11 pm

    Kazi Saheb. I remember the Bohri bazaar incident happened in 1987. I was in grade X. I read about it in the next morning’s newspapers. It was definitely the most tragic incident in Karachi (after Orangi Town/Qasba incidents) uptil that time and sadly lingered on the city psyche for long time.
    I am grateful for the professional medical help/work you did in CHK emergency helping those who needed it right then. Thanks for recounting the events. One cannot find such details in newspapers.

  6. Sarfraz says:
    August 30th, 2007 5:00 pm

    Here here
    Who says there are no good people in Pakistan .Of course like these doctors there are many many we just dont hear about them as much as we hear about the bad guys . Any goodness even the worth or size of an atom will be rewarded by the Almighty.Another thing it shows is the fragility and uncertainty of the life and also the Destiny .This brave Doc’s destiny was to live and do good so the Almighty saved him.May the Almighty have His mercy on the whole universe of His.(Ameen)

  7. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    August 30th, 2007 11:22 pm

    Thanks a lot for your kind comments, particularly the last two. I am truly grateful. The point is a lot of effort goes into the running of such a major hospital but newspapers won’t sell if they say that everything is alright. So they are constrained to look for the blemishes. And indeed all is not well, and I am sure things may even have deteriorated in the intervening years. But we need to have a positive outlook and try to improve things rather than be overly critical.

  8. Khalid R Hasan says:
    August 31st, 2007 2:04 am

    When we heard of the bomb blast that evening we switched on the TV to try and find out more. At that time there was only PTV and the main 9 o’clock news took twenty minutes to cover a visit by the then PM Junejo to a Toyota plant in Japan, and then mentioned the Bohri Bazar incident in one line without any visuals.

  9. August 31st, 2007 2:30 am

    16 November 1982 – is the precise date

    everyone seems to be talking – but no one have the correct date…. ironic.

  10. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    August 31st, 2007 8:43 am

    That may have been some other lesser incident. But the Bohri Bazar bomb blasts were during the tenure of Prime Minister Muhammed Khan Junejo. Mr Ashraf W Tabani was the Governor of Sindh while Sayed Ghous Ali Shah was Chief Minister. Mr Salik Nazir Ahmed was the Health Secretary of Sindh. The longest Martial Law in the country had either just ended or was about to end, which means it was end-1986 or someitme in 1987. I can check the exact date.

  11. Son of Soil says:
    August 31st, 2007 9:26 am

    We all agree with the services that these doctors and surgeons have been providing to Pakistan inspite of there low salaries, but what about those doctors and top brains who were killed by the terrorist of some sectarian organization,in past hundreds of top doctors of the country belonging to a paticular sect were killed by the terroists of Sepha-e-Sahaba,these doctors gave there every thing to this “strange” country but what happened with them,what did we gave them,what did we do for there families,nothing nothing absolotely nothing,because we all are a nation of Hypocrates,the only difference is that some one is a big hypocrate and some one is a small,some one is clean shave hyprocate and some with with a long beard……

  12. Ahmed2 says:
    August 31st, 2007 10:05 am

    I salute you, Dr. Kazi, and all the good people who helped during that awesome tragedy. Good deeds are never forgotten, and somehow they live on in our memory, inspiring other good people. Thank you for reminding us of what it was like.

  13. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    August 31st, 2007 10:43 am

    Khalid Sahib’s comment is quite revealing in a way too. I read an interview of Mr Burhanuddin Hasan Director News of PTV at that time and I was amazed that Gen Zia ul Haq actually saw the ‘Khabarnama’ before it went on air. God Bless us!

  14. Salim Chowdhrey says:
    August 31st, 2007 7:48 pm

    Dear Dr. Kazi;
    Before the curse of bombings, the biggest tragedy of Bohri Bazar was an accidental fire around 1958. Many buildings were involved. A lot of people died At the onset of the fire the shopkeepers pulled down the steel shutters to save the women and children shopping inside. The heat of the fire jammed the shutters trapping people inside.
    Of course there were no burn wards then. As you know burn wards are a very recent concept. Here in NJ the first burn ward was set-up in late 70′s. And it was one of the first if not the first in USA. I have consulted there,as a Psychiatrist, since its inception. And yes I too am a Dowite and grateful for it.

  15. Owais Mughal says:
    August 31st, 2007 7:57 pm

    The Bohri bazaar incident mentioned in this post happened in 1987.

  16. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    August 31st, 2007 9:41 pm

    Yes, I think so too. Nice hearing from you Dr Chowdrey and thanks for drawing attention to the 1958 fire. Yes, it was quite gruesome.

  17. Khalid R Hasan says:
    August 31st, 2007 11:03 pm

    My recollection is that the bomb blast took place towards the end of 1986, but of course I could be wrong

  18. Owais Mughal says:
    August 31st, 2007 11:46 pm

    In my childhood (early 80s) my father and I brought one of our unlces to Civil hospital for a medical checkup. While my father and uncle went inside the hospital to see the doctor, I was left waiting for them in the car parking. After I got bored of waiting, I came out of the car and started walking in the Civil hospital periphery. I went from ward to ward just loitering around until I came across a room where human organs were kept in glass jars for the study of medical students. That place may have been a lab of adjacent Dow Medical College, I don’t exactly remember. I got so shocked and scared looking at those preserved organs that I ran back to our car and then sat in their quietly until my father and uncle arrived. This little incident is somehow imprinted on my memory. I had got a real shock of my life :)

  19. September 1st, 2007 7:12 am

    thank you so much for this post ..
    i did my house job at the burns /plastic surgery unit..1990
    it was a very humbling experience..the work the RMO’s did was above and beyond the call of duty.The nursing and paramedic staff were awesome.
    The agony of the patients..the mattresses with maggots seeping thru,the screams during the dressing changes,
    (total body burn victims)many stove burning cases, acid pouring ..domestic violance..the list goes on
    the sad thing is ..of our batch of junior doctors assigned to do the house job..a team of about 10..only 2 of us physically showed up and worked there..the rest were busy studying for their new lives in the US and preparing for the FMGEM( now renamed the USMLE)
    they did however get their rotation completion certificates and all that..
    i have so much respect for the doctors who are at civil hospital..and am so grateful for the training they provided me..both in clinical skills,medical knowledge,improvising with the medical and surgical supplies.
    i learnt humilty,and respect for our job as healers.
    thankyou so very much..
    boston ma.

  20. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    September 1st, 2007 8:04 am

    Thanks for your comment, Fozia. I did my house job in the Burns Ward in 1982 and I can totally bear you out, although the Plastic Surgery Ward was cleaner for obvious reasons. I suppose Prof Durrani must have retired in 1990. Incidentally I joined the Planning Cell in the Health Department in 1994 and remained there till 2000. In 1999 I assisted Prof Shaista in drawing up a planning document and getting it approved so that she could build the Ward in the forsaken Victoria Block, which was part of the Nurses Mess. She raised a lot of donations too. The Sindh government paid only 8 million or so for renovation of the building. Anyway there were 3 of us doing a house job there and there was not one minute in those six months when one of us was not present. By the way I did my MPH in BU in 1997 and stayed there till 1998 working as a writing specialist. Are you working in Brighams or MGH?

  21. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    September 1st, 2007 1:07 pm

    Mughal Sahib: Actually my late father had a similar experience when as a child my grandfather left him for a while in the anatomy dissection hall. He never thought of being a doctor ever again and opted for the civil service instead.

  22. iqbal says:
    December 11th, 2007 2:45 am

    just want to tell some facts about the civil hospital management.there is no good management last week my elder brother got accident he lose both legs in accident.we have got all arrengement,like blood and rods etc.he needy of operation urgently basis.but there is no responsible person to chekup and nobody there for arrangment of operation.just want to ask you all persons where are serjeens ? who is looking up it big setup? there are a toooooooooooooo much long list of those persons who are waitting for the operation…………………………..i want to ask….why they are getting money from there ? is they working only for money…?
    11th Decemeber,2007

  23. shoaib balochq says:
    April 30th, 2008 3:39 am

    hi iam looking for adress and contact number of Dr S A Jaffar Naqvi

  24. April 25th, 2009 6:14 am

    i am very glad to hear about such type of hospital in pakistan.
    i want the phone number of doctor abdul qadeer khan. will anyone help me???????????????

  25. Motherless for Life says:
    June 10th, 2009 4:37 am

    Thankyou so much for mentioning some details about the
    1958 fire incident. I was just a baby at the time, my mother
    perished in this fire. All my life I was searching for details
    about this fire in bohri bazaar and finally I got some details.

    I would really appreciate, if anybody has more knowlege,
    to please share it with us.


  26. July 18th, 2010 5:11 am

    Assalam Alaikum I came across your link through the comment you left on my article..Reading about your experience was not just touching but also very educating because I think it gave me some idea of what I might expect in the future..

    Civil Hospital is indeed a blessing for millions out there and it is doctors like you who make this miracle come true…Thumbs up !

  27. September 25th, 2010 3:43 am

    God Bless You and thanks for your kind remarks!

  28. Watan Aziz says:
    September 25th, 2010 6:48 am

    I had blogged this in the Shaukat Khanum but it is worthy to repeat again and again where all that is good with Pakistan needs to be mentioned.

    A word of praise for Pakistani doctors. Working in Pakistan or abroad.

    The August issue of the journal Health Affairs reports that patients in US who had congestive heart failure or had suffered heart attacks have the highest chance of survival in the hands of Pakistani educated doctors.

    They analyzed records from 244,153 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania from 2003-06. The patients were treated by 6,113 doctors.

    The patients of foreign-born international graduates had the lowest death rate: 5 percent. The patients of American doctors, trained overseas, had the highest death rate: 5.8 percent. Patients of the American born-and-trained doctors fell in the middle with 5.5 percent. NY Times 2010/08/03.

    The article singled out by name the Pakistani educated doctors having the lowest death rates and with best chances of survival. (OK, the article did mention Indian doctors too, but we are focused on Pakistaniat!)

    So a big thank you to Pakistani doctors for delivering excellent service in the US and saving lives of people and a tribute to the educational institutions in Pakistan, including medicine.

    And as this post reveals, that Pakistani doctors do amazing things under conditions that would make heads spin of ordinary medical practitioners.

    Thank you for sharing.

  29. Dr. Sadia Safdar says:
    October 4th, 2010 6:56 am

    Thank you so much for mentioning my fathers name (The MS civil hospital at the time of the incident)…. I wish you well in all aspects of life…..

  30. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    December 5th, 2010 11:29 am

    Thanks Dr Sadia – How can I forget my mentor. I learnt a lot from him.

    Interesting comment – Watan Aziz.

  31. Faisal says:
    December 12th, 2010 7:51 am

    Kindly inform me about the date and year of bohri bazar incident i am working on pakistan blasts history so kindly if any one know about the exact date of this incident, casualities and other information then share it.

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