I first met Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi in the early 1980s in a deeply emotional context. My mother had read a detailed motivational description of Edhi and his work in Urdu Digest (or was it Sayyara Digest?) and then she also gave that to me to read. Thereafter I was assigned the task to visit Edhi Center in Kharadar and evaluate the veracity of the published account and inquire about Edhi's Apna Ghar. I had disembarked from bus near Denso Hall and had walked to the center through the maze of congested streets. I recall an open space in the middle encircled by 3 to 4 storey flats on all sides except a narrow opening providing for a driveway entrance. The operational areas of the center were on ground floor with a concrete bench outside an office and some work area. I went inside the office and inquired about Mr Edhi. I was told to wait as he would be there shortly. I sat on the bench and waited.
A little while later a Suzuki pickup entered through the driveway and was parked nearby. The driver disembarked. He was a man in militia gray shalwar kameez with black beard wearing chappals and appeared like a worker. He quickly walked inside the office and sat down behind a worn out small desk. I saw people coming and approaching him. After waiting some time I again went inside to ask about the whereabouts of Mr Edhi. I still remember and can feel the shock when the driver sitting sitting behind the desk mentioned that he was Edhi and started asking me about what I wanted. I was expecting Mr Edhi to be dressed like a babu with shining shoes, waist coat and an exclusive office. Here was Edhi, the unpretentious, worker like, a common person. Suppressing my exclamation, I quickly asked him about the whereabouts of Apna Ghar and the process to be followed for admission and charges. The conversation may have lasted a few minutes wherein he gave me the directions and asked me to just bring the person and not to worry about any thing.
Then my mother went with my sister for a reconnaissance visit to Apna Ghar a few days later, and came back reasonably satisfied.
Here are my brother's recollections of the subsequent visit:
"I first met Abdus Sattar Edhi murhoom in 1982 when we took بڑی بی to Edhi's Apna Ghar on Sohrab Goth, Karachi. Bari Bi was a domestic worker in our house and had worked for our family for several decades. By 1980 Bari Bi was old, frail, had all the typical old age illnesses. She could no longer take care of herself, let alone do household work. She required care and help during her last days.
We took Bari Bi (Zainab Bano) to Edhi's Apna Ghar which was a refuge for old people who didn't have relatives to take care and who had no support. In early 1980s I got to see the man [Edhi] in his customary gray militia shalwar kameez working selflessly long before his fame hit the media and Edhi became a household name.
My Ammi Jan , may Allah shower her soul with mercy and رحمه brought Bari Bi home after a couple of days as her conscience would not allow Bari Bi to be abandoned."
[More on this aspect later in the post. ]
Bari Bi had no relatives to take care of her. Her husband had died after migration. They had gotten in claim two small quarters in Landhi and she had started a small shop in one of them and the other was on rent. She had seven children and the first six had died in infancy in Bombay before partition. Seventh was the son who had accompanied her to Pakistan. He passed matric and became a hafiz and she doted on him but he unfortunately also died when 14 leaving Bari Bi despondent and mentally disturbed. She could not read, write or understand how and where to contact other relatives. It was in mid 1950s that my grandfather had found her selling chat somewhere, and she landed in our house as a domestic worker. She went to haj after selling one of her quarters. She had also adopted a youth whom she used to refer to as her nephew Badar. She had given him the shop to run and given her to live in the quarter on rent which he never paid. He gradually occupied her quarter. Some years later he came and took Bari Bi promising to take care of her. He somehow misled her in to signing off the transfer paperwork, where after he threw Bari Bi out, and she returned back to our place. By early 1980s she had been at our place for around three decades (with some breaks).
Early 1980s was also the time when Ammi was getting sick and weak too. With her multitude of ailments, arthritis, blood pressure, complex surgeries and recurrent incisional hernias accompanied by intestinal obstructions, Ammi could not take care of ailing Bari Bi who was in her 80s then. My Ammi found herself in the role of the main caregiver for which she didn't find the energy and capacity.
These were the times when my father had retired and the family was trying its best to maintain its semblance of "safaid poshi" in the pension of a government grade 18 officer that amounted to a few thousand rupees. My father had also commuted his meagre pension to payoff the House Building loan, which had become a black hole where payments of installments for over a decade had vanished. The loan stood at around the same level in 1980 as what it was when acquired in 1969, and therefore this "scrooge" of a loan had to be gotten rid off. The resulting relief in mental pressure was remarkable. However financial pressures remained. The additional rental income of a few thousand rupees from the other portion of house could barely help the two ends meet.
It was in such health and financial constraints that Bari Bi's sending to Apna Ghar was contemplated. However, my mother could not take the emotional distress of leaving in old home someone who had worked for us for decades. She kept on musing about it for a couple of days. She was deeply distressed and lamented her decision. Then she could take it no longer. She made a resolve to take care of Bari Bi irrespective of health and financial issues.
"We brought her home and hired a personal care giver while my mother struggled with the financial means in the limited income of a pensioner of federal government.
A few months later Bari Bi left us and my mother had the satisfaction of serving during her end days this lady who had served our family well during her better years.
May Allah have رحمًand mercy on their souls. May Allah enable us to help our parents, family and people around us in the likes of these three great people that I knew and I am sure all of you would find in your own little circles. Ameen". [my brother Noman Haider's post on a family group]
The Edhi whom I met before he became world famous had not changed from the famed Edhi who became a household name. He had maintained his early lifestyle. Billions of annual donations later and having the largest fleet of ambulances that would respond to any emergency anywhere, and a galaxy of support services had not impacted his simplicity and humility even a bit. Sign of wazadari and greatness as my father had explained to me:
Greatness of a person is measured by his "wazadari" which is a character trait that defines that your behavior and lifestyle should not change for common people irrespective of how much wealthy and resourceful you later become. More on this in a later post.
Metaphysics of NGOs and institutional solutions to abdication of individual responsibility
This post about Edhi in early1980s, his comfortable Old Home facility and Bari Bi, our family's domestic worker for around 30 years raises some serious questions:
- Why did my mother with all her medical ailments and post surgery complications decided to bring Bari Bi back to our home from a rather comfortable and convenient Edhi's old home after only couple of days?
- What tormented her and not allowed her to sleep till she brought Bari Bi back and then cared for her through Bari Bi's last days for the next few months despite her illnesses?
- What is the metaphysical position of my mother's approach vs the metaphysical position of an old home provider NGO?
- What is common among the issues such as issue of caring for children born from illicit affairs, issue of old homes, issue of daycare for infants, issue of one night stands, issue of pollution etc?
- Can we identify a commonality at philosophical and metaphysical levels?
- What is the philosophy of institutionalization that promotes and even encourages abdication of personal responsibility?
- What is the result of making the society pay for the personal irresponsibility arising from unfettered freedom?
Does Western approach wants man to enjoy life and freedom without assuming responsibility for the consequences of man's actions?
- (1) Enjoy illicit sex and shift responsibility of caring for the consequence (birth out of wedlock) to Edhis or government or NGOs.
- (2) Enjoy growing up in parents' home and shift responsibility of caring for old parents to Edhis/ old homes or govt.
- (3) Enjoy marriage n career but shift the responsibility of caring for the children to daycare or schools,
- (4) enjoy fastfood n convenience of disposable culture and shift responsibility of cleaning up the pollution to govt or future generations.
Some more thoughts:
- In Germany, they chase the father through DNA and force him/her to pay for childcare. But, then they are opting for abortion n planning. This has resulted in their race imbalance which has led to immigrants which has led to racism n neo-nazism
- Traditional cultures want man to be responsible for his actions. Allowing the people to not take responsibility is creating serious issues for family, society, environment?
- The interesting issue is about the institutionalization of abdication of personal responsibility!
- Committed and self less people like Edhi are simply trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. Durable n sustainable solution is not to develop institutions to provide child care but to eliminate illicit sex or make the partners pay for the child care. Institutions for treating diarrhea resulting from use of unclean water will never provide a sustainable solution. The cause i.e use of unclean water or unwashed utensils must be treated.
- Dr Bari of Indus Hospital and his team have realized this over the years. They are now focusing more on eliminating the causes of poor people's diseases (mainly hygiene n cleanliness related) realizing that no amount of treating diarrhoea will ever eradicate epidemic like menace unless the cause is addressed.