August 12: One-year old Ali Haider was very sick. His tiny heart had a gaping hole in it. He also had an enlarged liver; lungs clogged with fluid, and he was terribly underweight. His parents searched high and low for someone who could cure their child, but in vain.

Little Ali's Heart
Little Ali’s Heart [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The doctors in Pakistan, their own country, did not have the skills to cure Ali. Doctors in the US did not want to risk operating on such a tiny child, either. Ali’s parents did not know what to do. They were distraught.

Then one day they heard of Delhi’s Malhotra Heart Institute. They were told it was a good hospital for those with heart problems. So, Ali’s parents, Ajaz and Imrana, decided to bring their son to Delhi.

The Haiders are a Pakistani family, based in Karachi. But that didn’t stop Ajaz and Imarana from rushing to India, the minute they heard that their child might be saved here. It didn’t matter that the two countries are so hostile to each other.

Ajaz and Imrana’s visit coincided with Kargil Vijay Diwas day, a day when India celebrated its win over Pakistan in Kargil, last year.

Kargil is the mountainous Indian territory in Kashmir where the governments of Pakistan and India had their last major bout of conflict. Pakistani soldiers had managed to come inside Kargil in large numbers without the Indian government being aware of it. What followed was the Indian government’s attempt to get back its territory. It was one more round of acidic dispute between two nations that have grown used to being unfriendly at the governmental level.

For, people-to-people bonds flourish across the border in both countries, as Ali’s parents soon saw. The heart institute they admitted their son to, in the Indian capital, has had more and more Pakistanis flocking to it, seeking medical expertise. None was as serious a case as Ali’s, however.

Dr. Virender Sarwal decided to operate upon Ali immediately. Dr Sarwal is the surgeon who carried out an open-heart surgery on the child. Opening the toddler’s heart he found “an 11 mm hole spreading across all the four chambers of his heart”. That’s how he described the hole to The Hindustan Times, which carried a news report.

The complicated operation required the doctor to operate for five days running. But it was worth the effort. Today, little Ali is a bouncy, bubbly and healthy boy. He has been pronounced fit by the doctors.

Ali will be back with his parents for a check-up within three months. His parents can’t stop thanking the doctors and the city for giving a new lease of life to their son.

They are also struck by how much things resemble those at home. “Everything here is just like back home”, says Imrana, who is keen to visit Delhi again.

Many Pakistani visitors echo a similar thought about India, as do Indian visitors in Pakistan. In fact, people across both the borders are keen to know more about each other. They are also tired of being hostile to each other, when, in so many ways, they are alike. Sometimes it takes a child like Ali to remind them of that.