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I went to Edhi's grave because women couldn't go to his funeral

Updated Jul 18, 2016 05:59pm

Because I never had a chance to meet Edhi sahib in life, I thought I would meet him in death.

The night he succumbed to his longtime illness, I decided I would go to his funeral.

But my resolve to participate in the funeral procession of the world’s greatest humanitarian was thrown into doubt when I heard women were barred from attending.

Once my family heard this news, they discouraged me from going to the funeral, saying it just wasn’t possible. Funerals were not only dominated by men, but somehow for them as well. If women mourned, it didn’t matter.

Because of a lack of provisions for women, I couldn’t meet Edhi at his funeral. It seemed like an insult to the legacy of a man, who went out of his way to provide for women and girls when he was alive.

If he did that in life, then why did the people responsible for honouring him in death not remember that?

Take a look: 'Edhi, move or you’ll get shot'

And thus, because I couldn’t meet Edhi sahib at his funeral procession, I decided to visit his grave instead.

The day after his funeral, my family and I drove to Edhi Village, the little colony on Super Highway that Edhi founded for orphans and psychiatric patients.

We set out in the clear hours of the morning, right after Fajr time. The sky was greyish white with a light drizzle and the air smelled of dirt, flowers and rain.

On the way to the Edhi Village, I saw sights I’d never seen before in Pakistan. Pillared buildings imitating ancient Greece, and a sprawling metal structure, the likes of which I’d only seen at the Universal Studios in Florida, filling the landscape.

When I asked what it was, I was told it was Bahria Town under construction.

The entrance to Edhi village.
The entrance to Edhi village.

Further on, and in stark contrast, the Edhi Village is a humble abode that took everybody cast out. It resembled the highway hotels and dhabas, but it was much cleaner and more quiet than festive.

As our car slowed to a stop, I saw a block of cement upon which were painted the letters: Edhi Home For Destitute Children

I stepped inside the black gate, nodding salaam to the watchman in the red Edhi volunteer outfit.

Edhi ambulances.
Edhi ambulances.

Ants scurried in our path, made completely of dirt; trees and flower bushes brightened the village with colour. Edhi volunteers outfitted in red walked around the village, mostly empty because of the early hours.

The mood was quiet, reticent, and not very mournful. Perhaps it was a blessing Edhi had died of natural causes at 88 instead of being target killed. Perhaps life simply had to go on in the village.

It’s true Edhi was a saint, but it’s even more true he was human.

When I finally reached his grave, I felt the quiet power of a penniless Partition survivor from Kharadar, who dared to create his own possibilities, while never forgetting his own humanity.

Examine: Edhi, the man, the idea

I felt the power of a man who dedicated his life to the people of Pakistan; who, till his dying breath, did not see himself as separate from them.

Frantz Fanon says:

"I cannot disassociate myself from the fate reserved for my brother."

Edhi embodied this awareness, and even in death, donated his eyes to two blind people who were waiting for an eye donation.

While praying at Edhi’s grave, I noticed pieces of white paper with names of government and army officials on them. They had marked the grave to show they had also paid their respects.

Edhi's grave is strewn with garlands and flowers.
Edhi's grave is strewn with garlands and flowers.

The grave is a burst of colour in the muted landscape of Edhi Village, as the man himself was in the lives of the people he served.
The grave is a burst of colour in the muted landscape of Edhi Village, as the man himself was in the lives of the people he served.

Edhi's grave is adorned with garlands of roses, jasmine and yellow pom-poms — in a manner befitting of the world's richest poor man.

His grave lies vivid in the muted landscape of the village he founded, not for profit, but for humanity.

—All photos by author