A tribute to my long-time ‘neighbour’, Dr Dawood

Yusuf K Dawood

Yusuf K Dawood started writing for the Sunday Nation just about the time I was born.

Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

Today, I interrupt normal programming to celebrate a great man. An honest man, a truthful man, a sharp man, a disciplined man. A man who had ‘four wives’ (Surgery, Rotary, Writing and Marie) and never hid any from the others. I am talking about Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood, better known as Yusuf K Dawood, he of the Surgeon’s Diary fame.

Like many of us, I grew up reading the Sunday Nation like my life depended on it. Only that I did not read it on Sundays. I read it much later — when I got hold of it. My father, Mzee Caleb, knew my love for Sunday Nation and did everything to get it for me, even if it came a few weeks later, or just a piece of it. By now you know that I loved and still do love reading Flash Gordon, Popeye and Phantom. I would then read Wahome Mutahi’s Whispers, the funniest writer Kenya has ever had.

I loved Appep, his mother, and Thatcher, his Fiolina. I also liked Ras Whispero Junior, his Branton. And I haven’t even mentioned Father Camisssasius, who played a spiritual role in his life the same way Apostle Elkana, the Spiritual Superintendent of The Holiest of All Ghosts (THOAG) Tabernacle Assembly is playing in my life.

Once I was done with the cartoons, and laughed through the third rate life of the son of the soil, it was time to read some amazing human stories. Stories about the strength of the human body and of fragility of the human flesh. Stories about the grit of the human spirit and of weakness of the human soul. At times I would cry, other times I would celebrate, but every time I would be inspired. Inspired how this man used the scalpel and the pen to bring to us stories that touched us, stimulating different emotions.

Yusuf K Dawood started writing for the Sunday Nation just about the time I was born, and has literally written during my entire lifetime, which is no mean feat. Later on in life, I would read practically all his novels and got intrigued by the amazing medical stories he told. I was even inspired to be a doctor. But when I joined secondary school, biology and I were a case of hate at first sight!

Later on in life, Yusuf would be my next-door neighbour although we never met. Yet every other Sunday, we would be side by side: he on Page 11, and I on page 12. We were so near each other yet so far. So similar yet so different.

He was living in the leafy suburbs of Nairobi while I was scavenging life in the shrubby suburbs of Mwisho wa Lami. He was walking with his scalpel in air-conditioned, state-of-the art theatres while I was eating chalk in old, dusty classrooms of Mwisho wa Lami Primary School. In his free time, he played golf and did a lot of Rotary, touching many lives.

Touch many lives

In my free time, although I do not play anything, I, too, touch many lives: I generously touch many lives at Hitler’s. He had a great wife in Marie: dutiful, helpful, always by his side, and advisor and comforter. Compare that with Fiolina, the laugh of my life: absent, combative and unhelpful.

In short, Yusuf K had four wives, and I also have several wives already. And the number keeps growing. But it is not just marrying many wives that I learnt from him. Like me, you can learn very many things from him, and I want to share just a few that I find important.

Talent – Yusuf Dawood was not a journalist, not even a born writer, yet he had one of the longest-running columns —  41 years. Once he learnt that he could write, he did all he could to perfect his writing and identified that medical stories were an area he could specialise in and he exploited it. He challenged every one of us to think about our professions and talents, and to do all we can to perfect our talents. Although I am a pedagogist, I try to emulate him by writing about what happens in the education sector in Kenya and beyond. Today I ask you, what is your talent? How are you perfecting it?

Charity – Through Daktari, I got to know lots about Rotary and was intrigued by it. I learnt about many Rotary terminologies like District Governor, the Four Way Test – which I live by – Major Donor, among others. Daktari had a big heart and was a generous giver. Indeed, all the proceeds of his writings were dedicated to charity. While I will never reach his very high levels of giving, I also try to be like him and I give. A lot. At Hitler’s, I rarely say no to the less fortunate.

I live with my brother-in-law Tocla’s children. I also live with and educate Branton, who is not my son and I even went against my family by insisting that Maskwembe takes my sister Caro for free! Such is the big heart I picked from Daktari!

Discipline – Writing a weekly column consistently is not a joke. Think of it like writing 52 compositions every year, for 41 years! Even though I enjoy writing, there are those weeks when I feel like I need a break. Or when there is nothing to write about. The amount of discipline one requires to write a good piece every week for that long calls for celebrations. Daktari was a busy man, was always travelling, was many times called for emergencies, yet, every week, without fail, he delivered a piece. What a man!

Time management – I do not know about the life of surgeons and hospital administrators but I guess it is busier than that of teachers. I think that is why they are paid more. With multiple novels and a weekly column, Daktari was a full-time writer. Yet he gave time and attention to his family. My brother, Pius, is a Rotarian and I know how involving it is, having attended some Rotary meetings with him when in Nairobi. Daktari was not just a Rotarian but a senior one.

Examination room

You must be a great time manager to be able to successfully do all that, and do all well. I do not know about it well, but I am challenged by Daktari to manage my time better so that I can do a lot of things. And do them well.

It is never too serious – One of the things that stood out for me in Daktari’s pieces was his humour. From the operating table to the examination room, he would say a funny word here and a joke there, which not only opened up discussion but also lifted the patients’ spirits.

I don’t know what you do in life, but I am sure a little humour will go a long way. But this depends on your colleagues. When you are unlucky to have people like Kuya, Lena, Alex and Madam Ruth as your colleagues, there is no time for jokes, otherwise they will take advantage of you. Luckily, many of you do not have such evil colleagues. So, why are you not laughing at work? No, do not take life too seriously!

For those asking, I do not have the funeral arrangements, I do not know where daily meetings are being held, nor do I know when the ‘cortege’ will leave the mortuary. I don’t know who is receiving funeral contributions but nothing stops you from sending me – his neighbour – your contributions. I promise I will deliver to the family what will remain after a visit to Hitler’s!

What I know for sure is that you can spare some time and think about this great man, the legacy he left, the life he lived and what practical lessons you can learn from him; and what you can apply in your life.

Go well, my great neighbour. Till we meet!