Promise. Dismay. Hope. Success. If one joins the dots, these themes are the making of an inspiring tale. A story that touches a chord with each of us as we continuously try to live a life of fulfilment. In this feature, we recount the inspiring journey of a man to whom ‘endurance’ has become second nature. A man who got tough when the going got tough, and did not capitulate.
Captain Dr Abbas Quamar, aka ‘Bobby’, is an assistant professor of rehabilitation counselling at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, USA.
The prologue to this journey is one of promise. From his childhood years, Dr Quamar was a precocious student with a knack for performing well. His father Dr Masoodal Hasan, a practicing doctor and mother Bano bai, a principal and teacher; both groomed him to be an independent and spirited mind. During his school days in Indore, Dr Quamar would often cycle his way to the airport just to gaze for hours at the flurry of commercial airliners coming in and going out. Whilst he was in school, he was renowned as the most active member of an aero modelling club, from where his fascination for aviation began.
After graduation, he enrolled himself at the National Cadets Corps at New Delhi in the Air-wing section and subsequently to Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA) the nation’s premier flying academy, where he set several flying training records at the time and went on to become a commercial pilot with Air India. At the time, it was a job that was both lucrative and filled with opportunities for young pilots like him.
Young-blood, dream job and secure financials. It seemed like a promising start, until that fateful day which brought the first tidings of dismay.
On a routine day at work, Dr Quamar was landing a flight to Patna when a vulture suddenly intercepted the flight path impacting heavily on the cockpit windshield. The windshield gave way exposing Dr Quamar to the flying shards of plexiglass. The accident would eventually prove devastating for him as later diagnostics revealed the painful reality of loss of vision in both eyes.
‘I still remember those days’ reminisces Dr Quamar, adding ‘I thought that I would eventually find treatment, but after six months or so I started accepting the reality that I had to learn to live like this.’
Uncertainty tends to loom larger on the mind of an individual who is suddenly thrust from a position of promise to a seemingly powerless one. In his own words, Dr Quamar says, ‘I was dejected, because it felt like I was standing still in the middle of a fast-moving world. I couldn’t let this incapacity force me to live a woeful life,’ adding, ‘I knew that if I wanted to change my life, I had to study.’
It is important to mention here the sheer dedication of his mother in making sure that he lived up to his potential. ‘My mom used to say: I will not treat you differently,’ says Dr Quamar adding that she bought a typewriter and got him typing. Whilst he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in tourism from IGNOU, his mother aided him by recording entire coursebooks for him in a time when audio books were a distant reality. Exhaustion from her daily duties as a teacher did not deter her diligent schedule of recording books on audio cassettes in the afternoons.
With glimmers of hope illuminating the way, Dr Quamar gradually began to assemble the pieces of his life together and calibrated his goal towards studying ‘rehabilitation science.’ He knew that he would need to go abroad to pursue higher educational options which would render a financial strain. His perseverance in applying for grants paid off when Saifee Foundation (Europe) accepted his application allowing him to study at the Royal National College for the Blind in London. Whilst in London, he coordinated several Dawoodi Bohra medical camps and offered a massage service at a residential plot of the community.
The drive to go deeper into the study of rehabilitation science made him shift to the USA. As any immigrant student, Dr Quamar faced financial and emotional challenges, where at one point he worked odd jobs to see his days through. Despite the unfavourable odds, Dr Quamar achieved success in completing his Master’s in rehabilitation counselling and subsequently his PhD.
A recurring theme of his life has been the providence and blessings bestowed upon him by the late His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA. He fondly remembers the first time in Surat, when Syedna Burhanuddin RA was briefed about his plight and he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and supplicated for his recovery. From that incident to the completion of his PhD in the US, Syedna Burhanuddin RA had a profound impact on his life. ‘I dedicate all my achievements and degrees to Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin as his guidance has consistently aided me in my endeavours admits Dr Abbas.
In addition to the blessings of Syedna Burhanuddin RA, Dr Quamar was fortunate to have had such a diligent mother by his side. Her love and resilience meant the world to him. When Dr Quamar was on the verge of completing his doctoral thesis, he learnt of his mother’s frail condition in India. His instructor nudged him to see the final days of his thesis through, but he resisted the request by saying that he would like to spend as much time as she had left by her side. He returned to India and in a final act of gratitude stayed by her side till her last breath.
Today, in addition to being an assistant professor who teaches and trains a clique of rehabilitation counsellors of the coming generation, he actively researches to provide better ways of treatment in his field. He is also a motivational speaker and volunteers in a community where people are similarly challenged or financially deprived. His scope of work also includes establishing a foundation in memory of his mother, whose zeal to help others has become a life-long source of empowerment and inspiration for him.
Throughout his journey, Dr Quamar has lived by the maxim ‘try and try until you succeed.’ Sharing conventional wisdom of his flying days, he sheds light on the phrase ‘cockpit resource management’ saying that in trying times, it’s important to be resourceful of what you have. In every aspect of life, the challenges of times may tend to alter one’s plans, but it is important to ‘pivot’ i.e. think creatively to turn the disadvantage into an advantage. Dr Quamar summarises this in his case saying: ‘Blind are not those who cannot see, but rather those who don’t want to see.’