I was born in Southend on sea, Essex, near the pebble beaches of the Thames estuary. My dad came to the UK in the late 1960s from a small village in Punjab, Pakistan, as a 16 year old economic migrant. My mother came over later from the same region.
I read medicine at Balliol College, Oxford, where I was taught by the very special Dr Piers Nye, and left Oxford with a degree in Physiological Sciences and a dissertation on the use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq in the second Gulf War. I’ve always been interested in conflict, medicine, and the Middle East, and spent some time in Syria as an undergraduate.
After Oxford, I did my clinical training at Imperial College in London, which included a stint in Cairo working at the World Health Organisation’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, researching and writing about the stigma surrounding mental illness in the area. As a student in London, I lived in the “House of Fun” along with a few others who ended up becoming: a gifted neurologist, a Swiss finishing school teacher, a campaigner for The Syria Campaign, and a florid JFK conspiracy theorist.
After qualifying as a doctor in 2006, I worked at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and with the support of several inspiring consultants, took two months off my medical training to participate in a cross-platform documentary commissioned by Channel 4 and filmed all around the world. The doc aimed to challenge negative stereotypes of Muslims by illustrating enormous diversity and humanity within the Islamic world.
It was an incredible experience, and the film is sweet, sincere, and funny. While it was important and heartfelt work, my one regret is that it may have unwittingly pandered to a certain defensive sentiment that I resist today. (perhaps more on this later). You can watch it on 4od if you like and make up your mind – it’s called “Osama Bin Everywhere” and includes a cringeworthy scene in which an Osama teaches me to rap in Kano, Northern Nigeria, and a memorable Indonesian goat-milking interlude. It’s about 45 minutes long, and available here.
After the documentary project, I started my postgraduate medical specialisation, training
in Primary Care in Tower Hamlets. In Whitechapel and Mile End, I worked in several specialities including Paediatrics, Emergency Medicine, Psychiatry, Forensic Medicine and Sexual Health, in order to become a GP. After finishing my training and membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners, I went to Harvard as a UK-US Fulbright Scholar and studied medical anthropology under Professors Mary-Jo and Byron Good, Professor Arthur Kleinman, and Paul Farmer. East coast living was fun for a year, and I often hopped on the Fung Wah to NYC at the weekends. However, even the charm of a radiant New England fall couldn’t beat London’s magnetic draw for me.
I moved back to London like a homing pigeon in summer 2012 and now I work part-time as an inner-city GP in a very diverse and gritty little nook of central London that sometimes feels like Beirut or Istanbul. I get to ride my bike through Hyde Park on my way in, and work with an inspiring group of nurses, doctors and administrators to care for our often complex and vulnerable patients. It’s deeply satisfying, stimulating work, even though it can be exhausting and it often feels as if the NHS is at breaking point. I believe the NHS is the most precious thing we have as a nation.
In 2013, I did a talk for BBC Radio 4’s “Four Thought” on cheekiness as a form of non-revolutionary resistance. You can listen to it here and it’s only 15 minutes long. Please do! I’d like to know what you think. Now I’ve written and presented a 10-part series for Radio 4 in which I have explored my favourite subject: anthropology. In this series, I asked how we have framed questions about what it means to be human over the years.
Among other things, I’m interested in inequality, conflict, gender, archaeology, London’s electronic music, post-colonial studies, ethnomusicology, animal behaviour, diasporas of various sorts. I want to go to Socotra one day.
I like people. So give me a shout if you’d like to say hello here: