It wasn’t easy being Edhi
It wasn’t easy to respectfully and gently bathe the diseased and the decomposed, the mutilated and the murdered, but Abdul Sattar Edhi did it. Thousands of times, perhaps. It wasn’t easy being Edhi, but the easy path was one he never chose.
It would have been far easier for the son of a Memon trader to join his father’s profession. Though it was modest, his father’s business would have, most likely, provided a peaceful path to relative prosperity. But this was not the path the 20-years-old young man would chose. Instead, he set up a pharmacy in a tent outside his house, and offered basic medicine to anyone who needed it. It wasn’t easy for an unemployed young man to stock and operate what was essentially a free dispensary, but it was Edhi’s choice to continue to operate it.
In 1957, Edhi bought his first ambulance after a generous donation from a Karachi businessman. He drove the ambulance himself, to pick up the wounded and the dead. In the subsequent years, his ambulances found a place in the Guinness Book of Records, in the minds of the people of his home town who were used to seeing violent gang wars pause for the venerated vehicle to pass through and eventually, in the hearts of the people of the entire country, who saw the ambulances rushing to the sites of deadly terrorists suicide attacks. It wasn’t easy to expand a charity ambulance service from one vehicle to more than 1,500 but that is what Edhi managed to do.
For any other famous man, it would have been exceedingly difficult to stand on the roadside and ask for alms. But Edhi had shelter homes, orphanages, old people’s homes, animal sanctuaries, morgues, ambulances and free dispensaries to run. There were floods, earthquakes, droughts to provide for. When funds would run low, he would take to the streets of Karachi, a bowl held firm in his hands. Come blazing sun or pouring rain, Edhi would stand silently for hours, as passersby dropped whatever they could spare. In his later years, he would spread out a cloth on the road and sit there patiently, silently, as the money piled up. It might not have been as tough for a middle aged man to sit on the hard ground for hours, but for a man in his 80s whose failing kidneys needed dialysis, it definitely wasn’t easy.
Even for the best among us, it would not have been easy to refuse the benefits that fame brings. To continue to live in a tiny room in a ramshackle building in a slum while being one of the most recognized people in the country. To refuse treatment in the best hospitals in the West, even when offered for free or on the government exchequer. To not become close to any of the mighty politicians who lined up outside his home, seeking his approval. To give his name to the abandoned babies who were left at his doorsteps, perhaps as many as 20,000 of them. Yet here was, arguably, the most respected man in all of Pakistan, doing all of the above, living the life of an ordinary man, denying himself the veneration that came his way.
It wasn’t easy being Edhi. But then, it never is easy being a saint.