KARACHI: The Bilquis Edhi Home in Mithadar is silent around Saturday afternoon. As most people from the neighbourhood including some staff had gone for Abdul Sattar Edhi’s funeral, the remaining staff was busy working in a usual manner.
Snuggled within a maze of streets in Mithadar, this particular place, head office of the Edhi Foundation, is a safe haven for many of the orphaned or, in most cases, abandoned women and children. Every Sunday, around 50 girls are married off to men selected either by them or the Edhi matriarch, Bilquis Edhi. She, too, always maintains that the girls are free to come back to them if they find the men “not good to them”.
On the second floor, women and children who had come to refer to Edhi sahib as abba are busy watching the live transmission of his funeral prayers on a TV channel. All too often, someone breaks into tears or comes up with a story about how Edhi sahib said this or did that to make each other smile. The children, who were sleeping at the time, are said to have been crying one after the other since morning. “There’s no way we could pacify them. They keep asking about Edhi sahib, as he used to spend some time with him before their afternoon nap, and want to see him,” said a young girl outside a pink-coloured room where most of them were now sleeping.
Humaira Faiz Mohammad, 30, responsible for the 36 children at the centre, is sitting on a sofa away from the TV set. Sitting with her is Edhi’s granddaughter, Maryam Faisal Edhi. Both of them begin at the same time, speaking about the last time they saw him at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) dialysis centre.
“He was still wearing the same old kurta and shalwar that Mummy [Bilquis Edhi] had bought for him earlier,” said Humaira, who has been working with the Edhi’s for the past 13 years. “The last time he got back from the dialysis centre, he said he’s going to beg on the streets to get enough money for his charity but he was asked not to go,” she added.
“Abba recently got new slippers for himself; only because he lost the only one pair he had for many years during his last visit to the hospital. His cap also had holes in it but he just wouldn’t buy a new one. That’s what I’d remember the most about him; lack of pomp and display,” she said.
Humaira and other workers at the Edhi Home maintained that it was the robbery at the head office in October 2014, in which gold and cash worth Rs30 million was stolen in broad daylight, that “got to him”. Although he was asked by his son, Faisal Edhi, to increase security at the place and put up CCTV cameras at entry points but Abdul Sattar Edhi refused.
The staffers said Edhi sahib’s five children — two sons and three daughters — followed their father for many years. But Faisal Edhi and Qubrah Edhi are the two people every staffer kept saying would carry the torch forward. “They don’t know any other way,” said Afshan Ghani, a former staffer, also present at the Edhi head office. “The grandchildren — Saad, Rabia, Maryam and Moosa — are the same. They give to others before taking anything for themselves,” she added.
“During Ramazan, he’d give us Rs3,000 each and ask to shop from wherever we wanted,” said Humaira, who other girls said was the closest to Mr Edhi. “I used to click pictures with him, in my new Eid dress, and used to tease him by speaking to him in English whenever he called me,” she added and then stopped as tears welled up once again.
“Basically for us, wherever there’d be goodness; there’d be Edhi sahib,” added Afshan.
Outside the head office, an ambulance driver, Raziq Shah, said that a few weeks back, when he was taking Edhi sahib to the hospital, the philanthropist apologised to him. Edhi sahib said, he quoted, “If I had said anything to you or made you feel bad about yourself; please forgive me.” Still surprised by the gesture, Shah added that he hailed from Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and “Edhi sahib believed I should feel at home and not be considered a stranger in a city where I eke out a living.”
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2016