Edhi would not have liked it one bit. His coffin being carried in an artillery gun carriage in Victorian tradition would not have made him happy. The pomp and ceremony at his state funeral separated him from the ordinary people whom he served and lived for. A row of soldiers stood between the VVIPS and the lesser beings who braved the tight security to attend his funeral prayers. Many others were denied their wish to bid farewell to the man who mattered most in their lives.
He would have preferred to have made his last journey on the shoulders of the multitude — ordinary people on the street, the poorest and underprivileged whom he loved. They could not make it to Karachi’s National Stadium that day because of the presence of so many VIPs
He had prepared his grave during his lifetime in Edhi Village which provides shelter to the homeless, the destitute, orphans and the sick. He surely didn’t want to be separated from them even in death. He asked to be buried in the same tattered clothes he would be wearing when he died. He donated his corneas that have now given vision to two persons. His finest moments were with the children in his orphanage and the mentally handicapped. They must miss him the most.
Surely all those dignitaries came to pay homage to the greatest humanitarian this country has produced. But inadvertently, they deprived ordinary souls of a chance to participate in his last rites because of their own security concerns. Edhi had always been against the decadent VIP culture that ironically was on full display at his funeral. The segregation was very obvious.
The philanthropist would have preferred to have made his last journey on the shoulders of ordinary people.
Edhi was the conscience of a nation that has produced very few heroes. There was no contradiction in his charity work and his humble living. He would wear the same clothes for weeks, he said in one of his television interviews. People had blind trust in him; they would give him money without asking questions.
One of Edhi’s greatest achievements was his campaign to save the lives of ‘unwanted’ and abandoned children — a cot was placed outside Edhi centres for mothers or fathers to leave their newborns in, instead of killing them or throwing them in garbage dumps. In this way, he saved thousands of innocent lives. Those children were often given up for adoption thus providing them with an opportunity to live a normal life.
Not surprisingly, this campaign provoked the ire of some self-styled guardians of faith who issued fatwas against Edhi. But that never bothered him. Those fatwas did not distract him from his cause, nor did they affect the public’s unflinching faith in him.
Edhi was not a religious person and never pretended to be one. He was not a bigot. Humanity was his faith that placed him above all religious and sectarian biases. He would never ask anyone’s faith while helping him. His orphanage has children of all creeds. It pained him most to see people killed in the name of faith. He faced threats to his life, but these never deterred him from continuing his mission. He fought fear with hope. Though he dabbled in politics briefly he never had any political ambitions.
Some likened him to Mother Teresa who had devoted herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. But Edhi’s work was far more widespread and had an impact on a far greater number of people. He did not need to be recognised or compared to anyone else: he was Edhi. There is no parallel.
It is also a frivolous debate about him not being considered for the Nobel Prize. He was above such awards. The most important thing is that he served humanity selflessly and was loved by people across the board. Does the question of the Nobel Prize for him really matter?
Surely, he was Karachi’s most prominent resident, but his charity and welfare network was spread across the country. Edhi Foundation has reached out to international communities too in times of disaster. I remember travelling with an Edhi Foundation medical team to Afghanistan in October 2001 during intense American bombing. It was the only humanitarian aid available in the war-torn country at that time. Jalalabad’s hospital was full of injured people, many of them women and children. Medicines and some other essential supplies provided by the team came as a big relief to the patients being treated there.
Indeed, Edhi himself would be at the forefront of any relief work, but he also developed a dedicated and selfless team of volunteers and others who help run the vast network of facilities — ranging from ambulance services, orphanages, clinics and old-age homes to drug treatment centres across the country and outside. More importantly, these facilities numbering in the thousands are being financed through public donations and without any contribution from the government.
Edhi had suffered from kidney failure for some years, yet he continued his work till the end. He repeatedly declined offers for treatment abroad. He preferred to live among his people. He was treated at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation — another institution this nation should be proud of.
Headed by Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, the complex is one of the largest kidney treatment and transplant centres in the region. Operating as a charitable trust with public donations and a Sindh provincial government grant it has been treating for free thousands of poor kidney patients who could not otherwise have afforded the massive cost of dialysis and organ transplant. The success and expansion of the institution is mainly owed to Dr Rizvi and his dedicated team of doctors. People like Edhi and Dr Rizvi have given hope to the poor and disadvantaged population of this country.
Edhi has died, but his legacy lives on. It is not enough to give him a state funeral and declare nationwide mourning. What is most important is to keep his mission alive. Let Edhi be Edhi and let us not turn him into a saint.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2016