Written By: Ayesha Farooq
Indescribable. The first time I walked through the uneven, crisscrossed streets of an old neighbourhood in Karachi called Mithadar, only to reach a few storey building where on the ground floor laid the person renowned globally as the greatest humanitarian in the world. He was a man with white beard in his old clothes having a grey hue; one that comes after several washes are given to black, he seemed frail, his eyes were gloomy, perhaps because those had been witnessed to uncountable sad experiences. His face showed an uneasiness, for he was not accustomed to lying in bed for hours, he knew people out there wait for him and it was saddening not to be with them, people who were strangers but nonetheless dear to him, watching him lie there like an ordinary person but knowing in heart he is the only person to live his identity; the one of being a human. All I could eventually utter after summoning every recollection of that day was; indescribable.This noble person known worldwide as Abdul Sattar Edhi, a messiah to all, credited his mother for who he was. He narrated that his mother would give him two paisas every day and instruct him to spend one on himself and one on someone in need. If a day went by where he spent both on himself, his mother expressed her disappointment and anger saying, ‘You misused a needy person’s right’. Such an upbringing filled with a staunch belief in humanity, objectively asserted in all its practicality led Edhi to set up his principles. He declared that serving humanity was going to be his religion and he would please Allah by doing that. He held this conviction of his dear to him till death.After partition in 1947 Edhi started working in a charity organization that was run by memon community in Karachi, but his journey of healing the wounds of every human he could reach out to, regardless of caste, sect or religion began when being a nobody he showed the audacity to state his opinion of equal treatment for all which was in disagreement to the authorities who discriminated significantly between memons and non-memons. Edhi quit the organization without giving up on his cause and decided to establish a system of his own where a difference among the needy would not exist, where being human would be enough to be treated well. Thereafter the first donation he collected was at Jinnah’s mausoleum summing up an amount around Rs. 35000 which was more than substantial in that era. It was used for the victims of a pandemic in Karachi in 1958. Some of the amount he saved was enough for Edhi to buy an old van to use as an ambulance. He learnt ambulance service locally and from thereon drove the ambulance for all of his years to come. Never did he drive anything other than an ambulance. He liked to serve patients, for he had gone through hardships when his mother was paralysed while the entire city had only one ambulance. With absolutely nothing in his pocket but an unwavering faith in Allah Almighty, he made a resolve that he would build an entire network of ambulance services across his country. In 2000, he was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records to be running the ‘Largest Voluntary Ambulance Organization of the World’ and that was not it. Edhi received numerous national and international awards in his lifetime, from Shield of Honour to Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Peace Awards from India, London, Seoul to several others including Pakistan Civic Award and Honorary Doctorate Degrees. When he was asked why he had yet not been given a nobel prize, he said, ‘I care not least about it, it does not matter a bit. All I want is to serve humanity’Edhi was always clear in his thoughts. To him right and wrong were very well defined giving him the knack to never hesitate in stating what he believed in patently and therefore he was an exception to the nation which has long been dissolved in confusions. When Edhi was stigmatized for helping anyone and everyone without caring what victims were the followers of, he simply said that his ambulance was more Muslim than people who believed in differences. When his colleagues asked if they should respond to labels in a befitting fashion, Edhi reminded them of how important his time was, how many people had he got to provide care. He never responded to an insult, never thought of revenge, never questioned the turns in his life, for he was Edhi; an exception. He put cradles infront of all of his centres which are more than 250 in number across the country, stood against the belief that an illegal child does not deserve life and pleaded that people may leave their newborn babies in the cradles instead of killing them. He said, ‘Do not commit another sin if you have committed one already’. He called the practice illegal but not those innocent, abandoned children; gradually his theory settled in the minds of others. The ideology spread among the masses strengthened when couples started adopting children from Edhi homes. His heart had a special corner for children, all those sheltered referred to him as Abbu. He cherished his own grandchildren too but he was a man of substance who had his priorities straight. In July 1992 he was on his way to Ghotki due to trains’ collision when he received the news of his grandson Bilal’s demise. He refused to return home and told his wife to take care of the burial. His heart bled that night but he had the blood and tears of many others to wipe, for he was Edhi; an exception.He referred to his centres as home for homeless, emphasizing that at least everyone must take responsibility of bringing anyone they find who is in need of shelter. The distinction between lazy and needy had always been sharp in his mind and he made sure every case he dealt with was that of latter. He had all kinds of needy, in the midst of those who were about to die of hunger, vagrancy or depression before they knocked at his door; there were those who came only to leave behind their own parents, children or siblings. What Edhi did was to welcome them with love, care and respect and never questioned those who left their loved ones ‘how could they do it’? Karachi in the past had often been cursed due to presence of militia in its various areas a number of times in history. The city saw affliction for a long time resulting in a lot of cases about missing people, unidentifiable corpses and target killing. Each time such an incident happened Edhi ambulances would always be the first to reach the crime scene. Edhi never hesitated to do what he considered his duty. The live shooting did not turn him away rather the shooters at times would halt for him while he picked up the wounded and deceased. He carried thousands of corpses throughout his life even if those were bloated, blistered, putrefied with a dreadful odour. From sea water to manholes, Edhi went everywhere. When everyone including the family members of a dead person felt disgusted to touch the corpse considering its condition, there would still be one person to not think once before taking it in his arms, for he was Edhi; an exception. His compassion knew no sects, nor boundaries nor borders. From natural calamities to consequences of human blunders, whatever caused an emergency within Pakistan or abroad, Edhi reached out. Whether it was tsunami in South East Asia, Hurricane Katrina in USA or earthquakes in Pakistan, Edhi managed to be there for all.Heart of gold is a known phrase but what Edhi had was something purer and more precious than gold. He did not have the heart of a philanthropist or a social-activist, he had the heart of what he took pride in calling himself; a human. No words can do justice in mustering up a title better than that. He construed being human with the most painstakingly accurate conduct throughout the span of his life while the rest of the world took its humanness for granted. Breathing his last on July 08, 2016 he left the entire nation in mourning. The world witnessed that a man with white beard to be buried in his old clothes as per his will, blinded in both eyes for bequeathing his cornea, received a state funeral being saluted by highest authorities of the state, for he was Edhi; an exception.The legacy he has left behind must continue, the faith he has put in the people of his country must not be wavered. The world must know how one man taught a nation that it only takes being ordinary to become an exception.