June 2011 
Year 17    No.158

One for all

A modern-day saint and star of Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi


The ambulance is more Muslim than you.” That was the answer Abdul Sattar Edhi gave when he was once asked: “Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” Edhi is an enigma to most people. None of us truly understand him. I often think that Edhi walks a fine line between passion and lunacy. I am unable to comprehend why this man insists on doing what he does, in the capacity that he does it, for as long as he has done it for. The heart wants to register it but the mind questions the motive. Motive. What the hell is his motive? Please, someone tell me what this man’s motive is.

Through no easy process of deduction, I submit that I have discovered the answer to my question. It has taken every critical bone in my body to genuinely understand the answer but folks, I can safely say that I have finally reached a verdict: there is no motive. There is. No. Motive. Edhi has destroyed my carefully built assessment of Man over the years. He has ruined my calculated analysis of the weaknesses of people. That he has single-handedly negated all my years of hard-earned views on Man almost leaves me infuriated with him. He has forced me to start over from scratch. For that, I cannot forgive him.

This is a man that I cannot imagine my own life without. Mind you, I have never met him. I don’t want to. There isn’t a single day in my life that has collectively added up in honour to justify me being able to sit opposite Edhi. I have, at best, been able to find the courage to go and drop off some extremely basic things at one of his many, many charity centres the world over. While I am there, I stay just long enough to try and fathom all that this man has done for my country. Being faced with an impossible task, I soon give up trying to reach the bottom of that barrel and leave very quietly. I imagine this is pretty much what anyone would do.

For those unaware of this man, let me put it very simply: Hollywood has Batman, Superman, The Hulk and Spiderman. Pakistan has Edhi.

What has inspired me to write about Edhi? He certainly doesn’t need any more media coverage to validate his incredible efforts or the work he has done. He already has, safely locked away, the hearts of some 170 million people. But yesterday I was brought to my knees by an action I witnessed which, for lack of a suitable descriptive term, I can only describe as ‘Edhi’.

I was at a market in Karachi, buying some movies. As I turned to leave, heading towards my car, I was ready and well prepared for the small army of beggars I would confront before actually reaching it. The well-trained and relatively well-meaning average person always has a few small notes ready at hand to quickly disperse so as to satisfy some of the beggars and yet be quick enough to make a speedy getaway. I was ready too.

As I made my way to the car, a few kids and some adults quickly made their way towards me. I took out three 20 rupee bills and handed them to the three who looked most suitably dressed for the part. Sixty rupees and a satisfied conscience later, I reached my car and quickly got into it. Of course, I still had to wait for a friend who was still in the store. While I waited, a young man, no older than 18, came to my window. He spoke through the raised window in a voice just loud enough for me to make out what he was saying. It started off fairly typically. He told me that he wasn’t a beggar but that he was genuinely very hungry and hadn’t eaten anything all day. He went on to say that he did usually earn daily wages for work he did on construction sites but that day had been a bad day for him with no work and hence no money. He was good. Very good. I was sold. In fact, I was more than sold. I was suddenly very sad. I concluded that I had to help him however I could.

The irony is that I am far from being a ‘good’ man. This is no reverse psychology. I am truly, incredibly average. I delved into my pocket however to take out some change but the only thing I had left was a 500 rupee note. That is a lot of money to give to a beggar, by anyone’s measure. As I have just said, I am not a noble man and I don’t pretend to make a habit of it. I guess he was just good enough at that moment, and I was weak enough at that moment, to give him the whole 500. His eyes practically popped out of their sockets when he saw the note and he accepted it excitedly, showering the usual blessings on me. He went away to the little hotel right next to where we were parked. I saw him get a bun kebab and a drink, which must have cost about 85 rupees all told.

While I was still waiting for my friend, I saw the young man walk to the next store, outside of which stood a collection stand for Edhi’s charity. You have in all probability already anticipated what I am about to say. That young hungry man put the rest of the money he had into Edhi’s drop box for the Flood Relief Fund. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I jumped out of the car and called the young man over.

I asked him why he had just done what he did. I even told him that I had given him that money because he himself was poor and he needn’t have given it away. He told me, burger and drink in hand, that his countrymen were under water and that the only man who could help them was Edhi. He said his hunger had now been satisfied and that he was confident of finding paid work the next day and so he would be okay. He went on to say that he was a dumb and helpless person who couldn’t help anyone even if he knew how but that Edhi would find a way. He smiled at me, chomped on his burger and walked away.

I was destroyed. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. I just sat back in my car.

My friend came back, got into the car, looked at me, put on some music and we drove off. I didn’t mention what I had just seen. It was pointless. It was a moment in itself and it didn’t need rewinding.

As I left the market, I couldn’t get Edhi out of my mind. What level of reliable kindness does it take for an incredibly poor and hungry soul to give away the lion’s share of his money and put it into the care of a man he has never met? More importantly, how powerful a name does one have to have, in a country where names are easily trampled on, so that an unprotected drop box miles away from Edhi himself satisfied this young man’s trust enough that he would blindly drop his money into it? Such is the power of this thin, fragile, 82-year-old man who lives with his equally kind-hearted wife in one tiny room in one of his charity centres. With a body that can hardly move a small table, this man has moved an entire nation. I would thank Edhi for all that he has done if thanking him were enough. I would recommend Edhi for the Nobel Prize if that could sum it up. I would do this if I could. I would do that if I could. In truth however, none of it would matter to him. None of it whatsoever. And that is what makes him so great. So, so great.

(This article was posted on the writer, Usman Gulfaraz’s blog on September 1, 2010.)


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