A few years back I set upon reading Abdul Sattar Edhi’s autobiography, A Mirror to the Blind*, with my highlighter and black pen in hand. As a Pakistani who has witnessed the extent of Edhi’s humanitarian efforts in action, from fast-responding ambulances to the ever-present cradles at the donation centres, I thought there was little about him that hadn’t become folklore.
I was mistaken.
To learn about Edhi, in his own words, is to learn about Pakistan and Karachi with new eyes. His sleeping on the bench outside the very first Edhi Centre, a simple room in Mithadar to his tireless devotion to his mother ; at times such immense acts of humility were casually remarked upon by Edhi that it made me feel ashamed. Ashamed that the rigmarole of everyday life has taken me so far away from the basic tenets of my religion, that which is based upon community service and peace, that I only take part fully every year in Ramadan. It is during Ramadan that I sense at least some degree of satisfaction, ‘yes, I have given my all to my community’, yet even that is illusory and I know it. True service is constant, sustainable and hidden.
One of my favorite quotes shares Edhi’s mother’s advice about giving charity explains the hidden concept best:
“In the holy month of Ramadan she collected other Memon ladies and made bundles of foodstuff, which she sent me to drop through the windows of poor people or needy relatives. All the while her soft whispery voice echoed behind me, “It is charity only when your left- hand does not know what the right has given. When the respect of the receiver is foremost.”
When news came of Edhi Sahib’s passing, it was a shock. Not only because it seemed that his guidance will always be there but also because in some ways his service had made him larger than life. In life, Edhi had become a legend. In death, Edhi has become a template for human development and selfless social work.
It feels as if we have been given an opportunity, as Pakistanis, to give back to our communities without the shackles of prejudice and intolerance. The next time a living being is in need, ask yourself, What would Edhi do? and set forth without a moment’s hesitation. I will do the same.
*(This book is meant to read and re-read. I can not do justice to it with a hurried review. If you haven’t put it on your ‘to-be-read’ pile, do so now.)