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Obituary: Esmail Bazargan

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Esmail Bazargan
Kaveh Bazargan
Esmail Bazargan led an eventful life by anyone’s standards. He
was born in Mashhad, Iran, into a lower middle class family.
He was studious at school, but his ambition to become a doctor,
like his maternal grandfather, seemed a distant dream. The only
medical school was in Tehran, and his father did not have the
funds to support university studies. Esmail had resigned himself
to starting a career in a bank, but an unexpected glimmer of
hope appeared. The army announced a full scholarship to the
medical university and, in addition, a full officers’ salary after
two years. The chance was too good to miss—Esmail studied
the required subjects of physics, chemistry, and biology with
determination, and managed to attain the 40th place in the
entrance examination out of some 1200 applicants, thus
successfully entering the Faculty of Medicine of Tehran
University in 1944.
Iran was going through political turmoil, with several parties
being formed, including the pro-communist “Tudeh” (People’s)
party, which was popular with the intelligentsia. (At the time
the Soviet Union had a good image in the region.) Esmail’s
commander at the university happened to be the legendary
Khosro Roozbeh, a multitalented, highly educated officer, who,
it turned out, was an underground Tudeh activist. Many fell
under his charismatic influence, as did Esmail, who soon joined
the (highly secretive) officers’ corps of the Tudeh party—there
were some 500 such officers throughout the country. Needless
to say this was an extremely dangerous move, but Esmail could
not resist Tudeh’s promise of justice and equality, a trait he kept
for the rest of his life.
After graduating Esmail was posted to become the physician
of the garrison in the town of Bojnurd. In 1954 he married Giti,
who moved to Bojnurd from Tehran. Esmail remained an active
member of the Tudeh party, but the terms of the membership
meant that he could not reveal this to Giti. As luck would have
it, some three months later the authorities managed to decode
a secret document containing the names of all 500 members,
and Tudeh officers were arrested in a simultaneous nationwide
operation. Esmail’s future (and indeed life) was in the balance,
and Giti’s world had turned upside down. Soon after, 21 of the
top tier of officers were sentenced to death and were executed.
Giti, now several months’ pregnant (carrying the author of this
obituary) was wondering if she would ever see her new husband
again. The author was born while Esmail was in jail with fellow
Tudeh officers, awaiting sentencing. True to his egalitarian
beliefs, Esmail decided that the officers would vote on a name
for the newborn, and the vote was “Kaveh”—in Iranian
mythology, Kaveh was a blacksmith who led a people’s revolt
against a tyrant. In the end Esmail was given a sentence of 15
years with labour. This was considered “good news” for Giti.
The couple came to terms with the long separation. But after
two years of incarceration an amnesty was declared by the Shah
to those officers would disavow their allegiance to Tudeh. Most
did, including Esmail, who went back to Bojnurd to start a
private medical practice, away from the army and politics.
Thankfully he found that his principled stand and his time in
jail had boosted his reputation, resulting in a booming business
from day one, with queues of patients outside the surgery,
leaving just a few minutes for lunch breaks. Esmail never turned
away patients because of their lack of funds. Many, especially
patients from neighbouring villages, were essentially moneyless,
and would pay with fresh farm eggs, dairy, or even live chickens.
The next big change in Esmail’s life came in 1966 when he had
an epiphany to move to the UK with the primary aim of
obtaining a higher medical qualification. Using their life savings,
the family moved to London with little local contact. Esmail
began to study English and obtained his membership of the
Royal College of Physicians in 1969. He then decided on a
career in radiology and, after obtaining his qualification, worked
as a radiologist in several London hospitals, including
Middlesex, West London, and Mount Vernon hospitals. Esmail
was extremely impressed by the NHS in the UK, and his dream
was to have such a system in Iran. In 1971 Esmail went back
to Iran to start what became a successful radiology practice in
the city of Mashhad, applying the latest technology he learned
in London. Although it was a private practice and no national
health system existed, Esmail at least prided himself in being
the only radiologist in town who did not partake in the normal
practice of receiving commissions for referrals.
Soon after retiring Esmail moved to UK to be with his family,
and in the last few years he had Alzheimer’s disease. He died
on 30 March 2015 in Charing Cross Hospital, under the expert
care of the NHS that he had had so much respect for. He is
sorely missed for his wisdom and his humour, and he leaves his
wife, Giti; and son and daughter, Kaveh and Maryam; all living
in close proximity in London.
Radiologist (b 1922; q Tehran 1950; MRCP), d 30 March 2015.
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BMJ 2016;353:i2065 doi: 10.1136/bmj.i2065 (Published 11 April 2016) Page 1 of 2
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