Faculty member treads fine line with new book

September 4, 2009 | Features
By Kim Goodin

Most authors would take the criticism “Die soon, you sick, twisted bastard pig … soooon!” personally.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain posed for a photo with his new book, “Treading a Fine Line."

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain posed for a photo with his new book, “Treading a Fine Line."

But, explained Dr. S. Amjad Hussain, it is precisely this type of discourse that formed the basis of his 13th and latest book, Treading a Fine Line.

“I hadn’t seen a book of columns in which the readers were actually part of the book,” said Hussain, retired surgeon, international columnist, member of The University of Toledo’s Board of Trustees and professor emeritus of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at UT Medical Center. “The idea was this: We have vigorous debates. We agree and disagree, but I strongly support the process.”

Treading a Fine Line is a compilation of 51 opinion pieces that have appeared in The Blade, Toledo’s daily newspaper, to which Hussain has contributed for about 20 years. The book includes readers’ reactions, both positive and more colorful, that Hussain hopes equal a collaborative product.

Hussain, who has been a faculty member at UTMC since 1975, will read excerpts from Treading a Fine Line and sign copies Wednesday, Sept. 9, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Mulford Library Bookstore on Health Science Campus and Thursday, Sept. 10, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Student Union Bookstore on Main Campus.

A native of Pakistan, Hussain arrived in the United States in 1963 to train as a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon. By 1977, he had opened a private practice in Toledo and joined the former Medical College of Ohio Department of Surgery as a volunteer faculty member.

An interest in writing had been cultivated early. Because of his calligraphy skills, he’d been chosen to write and edit a poster magazine in high school. In college, he wrote short stories and plays for radio and authored articles in literary magazines.

After making his way to the states, however, Hussain had to tackle a language barrier. In 1976, he began writing in English, he said, “even though I didn’t have control of the language,” then added as an afterthought, “and still don’t.”

After a stint of writing for The Blade’s Toledo Magazine, Hussain was offered a permanent spot on the paper’s opinion-editorial page. His reflections on his homeland and deep understanding of the history and culture of the Middle East resonated with a Western audience that had little understanding of that area of the world. Other columns captured his views of the workplace and a memorable series revealed his grief over the death of his wife, Dottie.

“I received an unprecedented amount of e-mails from the columns I wrote after my wife passed,” Hussain said. “It taught me that people who lose spouses look normal on the surface, but carry deep scars. Most of the feedback was from people who were grieving their losses as I grieved mine.”

Hussain balances two distinct cultures with interchangeable ease. He keeps calendar appointments on a hand-held gadget, but readily admits to finding his creativity only with a fountain pen and a pad of paper. On this morning, his musical selections range from 1950s rock ‘n’ roll to Pakistani and Indian rhythms to American jazz.

“I have never forgotten where I come from, but I cherish and enjoy where I live now,” he said.

Hussain’s connections to his native land are intertwined with his love of literature. Six months ago, he began writing a column for a daily Pakistani newspaper in Urdu, the main language in that country. Future literary plans include a book about the Indus River, one of the longest rivers in the world that winds through Pakistan, which Hussain has explored from its origin in Western Tibet to its end in the Arabian Sea; an autobiography that will place him as “an observer of the events in a changing pattern of culture”; and a compilation of risqué Urdu poetry.

Vulgar poetry?

“That is a taboo subject in written form, but many great poets have written in that form,” Hussain explained. “My friends are horrified that I would have my name associated with that genre. I’m doing it to preserve that facet of Urdu literature, which many people enjoy reading in privacy.”

He may get some memorable feedback when that book is published, as well.

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