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Sunday Times Jan 30 2011

Pariyari Mama: the oldest living Unani physician

Tribute to DR. A. L. M. M. HAMEEM

By M. H. A. Azhar

He is one of the pioneers: one of the oldest registered Unani physicians having been enrolled under the Indigenous Medical Ordinance way back in 1955. He comes from a long line of Unani physicians to continue Unani care and cure that was established in the island in 1826 by his forefathers who were originally known as Hakeems. The efficacy of his medication would be vouched for by many. Popular Unani oils manufactured by him such as Lokanathi Thailam and Cheenadi Thailam are synonymous with his name.

Aboobucker Lebbe Marikkar Mohamed Hameem was born on June 18, 1914. He was known as “Hameem Pariyar’ and is affectionately called "Pariyari Mama” by many who know him.

He was born in Weligama to Aboobucker Parikari, a renowned Unani physician of his time and Rahumath Nachchiya. His childhood was in Weligama where he had his early education when cruel fate befell him -- his father passed away when he was only 11.

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From then onwards life was a struggle. His mother was the mentor and care-giver who encouraged him to follow in his father's footsteps. He painstakingly progressed towards achieving his ambition, although living very frugally.

Over time he studied his father’s medical manuscripts as a threshold to begin the practice of Unani medicine. Over the years he perfected the manufacture of Unani oils and pills and developed a patient base in Weligama. Having married Ummu Athiya in 1942 from Galle he established his base there as well. Gradually his medical care reached many a family in Galle and its suburban areas.

He is a familiar figure not only in Galle and Weligama but also in Matara, Hakmana, Miella, Yakgasmulla, Bolana, Kirinda, Gandara, Dickwella, Ridiyagama, Ambalantota and Hambantota. No one can miss his sartorial elegance -- dressed up in the typical Moorish ensemble, completely kitted up with “palaykat” sarong, “tussore” coat, Fez cap and in one hand, the umbrella with its curved handle at times tidily tucked under his white cloth belt. The other hand carried the all-important suitcase with a khaki cover containing a good assortment of all his medication which was his stock in trade.

The suitcase had two compartments. In the base sat all the oils carefully filled in quarter bottles suitably covered with bristol board packing to prevent any breakage and spillage. And on one side of it would be smaller bottles for dispensation along with a cardboard box containing cork stoppers and a bottle of gum needed for pasting labels. The bottles of oils were placed in two rows neatly arranged and dispensation was accurately made by lifting them to display the labelled name. The flip top of the suit case contained the packeted pills, labels, envelopes and catalogues neatly arranged in its three folders.

The catalogue incidentally was originally printed in Tamil and later translated into Sinhala. It contained information of all the oils and pills etc. and detailed their healing abilities along with the methods of use for various ailments.

This suitcase contained all the medicinal paraphernalia required for all types of treatments. It was a mobile medical store and one could imagine how heavy it was. In his early years he used to carry this suitcase and travel by foot dispensing medication to acquaintances and households. He also at times went by rickshaw and after sometime bought a buggy cart for his visits which doubled up for school runs for his children. Very late in life his mode of transport graduated to a motor car and thereafter a van.

In order to spend weeks out of Galle, may be in Hambantota or even in Colombo, he knew that the rectangular suitcase would not have enough stocks of medicines to cover his long outstation stints. He therefore conceived the idea of a larger additional suitcase to carry larger bottles of oils and packeted pills for refilling purposes into the smaller suitcase. Such long journeys basically had these two travelling companions along with his personal belongings packed separately, including a spare kit as well.

His planned first visit to Colombo was an adventurous venture. He had no guide, mentor, coach or path-finder to lead him to a prospective customer or patient but on his own would tap the doors of the prospective clients to tell them of the merits of his Unani medicines and their curative abilities. He was happy of the outcome. His personal contact and affable manner, smart looks and punctuality were his strong points.

With a firm foothold in Colombo, he established Aboobucker Parikari's Medical Hall as its registered sole proprietor. His base was in Galle and he directed all his professional activities from here. As time passed his name and fame spread to various parts of the country but his strongholds were the Southern Province and Colombo.

He is a part and parcel of the social fabric of Muslim life in most parts of Sri Lanka. He has an amazing sense of recall and his encounters with many a personality are well remembered and narrated. His knowledge of their ancestry, particularly of those who became very familiar with him, was at his finger tips. He would readily relate all of their family tree details and the familiar nicknames and who was betrothed to whom and eventually married and the children born etc.

Hameem Pariyari is now 97, probably the oldest living Unani physician in the island. He continues to be a beacon of light to a large extended family and adviser and counsellor to numerous patients and a ready care giver to all those who seek his assistance despite his delicate state of health.

Equally noteworthy is his personal and meticulous selection of herbs and other ingredients required for the manufacture of Unani medicinal preparations, always assuring that the best raw materials are procured, quality analysed, cleaned, washed, dried and then grounded, powdered and sifted. All this means labour-intensive procedures up to the final product to present an exact replica of what was produced a few generations ago. Quality was never compromised and this is the hallmark of his profession which enabled his medication to travel to many parts of the world.

He has ensured that his tradition and brand of Unani medicine will continue to benefit future generations. His son Unani Dr. M. H. M. Akram continues this hereditary healing profession in his footsteps.

Hameem Pariyari – As I see him at 96

By M. Anver Javadh

It was due to my urging that my friend Azhar, the eldest son of Hameem Pariyari, set out to document the history of his father. It was a long felt need that a record of his achievements should be written for posterity.

Unani medicine practised by Hameem Pariyari originated in Greece. Unani in Arabic, Urdu and Persian therefore has a Greek connotation. It was developed into a great medical system by Arab and Persian physicians and was widely practised in South Asia.

Arabs at the time acquired knowledge in all forms of available medicine. They in their travels to China along the sea silk route, much before Islam, made frequent visits to Androth and Malabar in the west coast of India. It was in Malabar that Unani medicine had a transformation with the introduction of local herbs and was produced in the form of oils and pills. Here, certain oils took on Malayalee names such as Loganathi, Siddhartha, Cheenadi and Vachirakanthi to name a few.

The legendary Hameem Pariyari is also referred to as Hakeem in India; Hakeem being the Arabic term for medical practitioner. His practice was in every way unique. He was a mobile medical dispensary visiting many houses as possible. Sale of oils would take ten minutes and another ten minutes was spent chatting and getting to know every family and their background during these visits. He educated all his children and the boys later reached very high levels in their respective professions. This apart, he has inspired two of his grand children to engage in the study of medicine and enter the medical profession.

He is a colossus of our times and in retrospect I would say that his contribution to indigenous medicine was immense. Here is a Muslim who earned and lived within the morals and ethics prescribed in the religion he professed. He is indeed a role model for every Muslim and others.