KARACHI: Abdul Sattar Edhi was in a helicopter on the way to Ghotki where hundreds had died in a horrific train crash in 2005, when he received a phone call about the death of his beloved grandson Bilal.
“Do not wait for me in proceeding with Bilal’s funeral rites,” his wife Bilquis Edhi recalls him as saying, “A lot of my Bilals are waiting for me in Ghotki.”
But at the Bilquis Edhi Home in Karachi’s Mithadar, it is business as usual. People pour in and out of the modest building of the Edhi headquarters, and in a room in the second storey, Bilquis Edhi is her usual animated self. She misses her husband, one of the greatest humanitarians Pakistan has produced, everyday, but to her it’s almost like he never left.
“He was my life-partner, of course I miss him but he became immortal after death. I feel like he will come here any moment,” she muses.
Bilquis Edhi remembers her husband's exemplary work on his first death anniversary
Bilquis and Edhi were married for 50 years when he passed away, leaving behind a history of dedicated service to humanity.
Sitting on a simple wooden desk in front of white pane windows that overlook a narrow street crowded with tiny shops selling a variety of things — sweets, children’s clothes and prayer mats — she recalls, “I was working as a nurse here when I met Edhi sahib...Two years later, he asked for my hand in marriage and my mother agreed.”
Edhi was as kind at home as he was to the strangers of the world outside, she says. “I used to fight with him, he never fought with me. In our 50 years together, he never uttered a word of disrespect towards me.”
Bilquis and Edhi had travelled to Saudi Arabia by road to perform Haj 40 years ago. After that, she says, she would address him as Haji sahib. “He would call me Hajiani at times, when he was feeling a lot of love”.
A contagious smile lights up her face as she reminisces, “He was the closest to me. We used to talk before we did interviews and he would tell me helpful points.”
'He is directing us'
Over decades of hard work, Edhi had set up a system that would keep the charity’s services running seamlessly. The Edhi Foundation’s work continues with the same passion and zeal as it did before its founder passed away.
“His work will continue,” Bilquis says with absolute faith. “There has not been any pause in the efforts. It feels like he is directing us.”
She adds: “But now we have to be more active because our guide is gone.” Edhi’s death had initially had a minor impact on the donations the foundation received, but now generous contributions from people have brought the donations back to their previous levels, she says.
“He used to say insaan bano, insaan banao,” she remembers. The mantra — be human, serve humanity — lives on with the legacy of Edhi whose philanthropic work served millions of poor and underprivileged.
Such was the reverence and respect accorded to him that when he was required to testify in trials of murder cases, judges would send court staffers to Edhi to record his statement, Bilquis recalls.
Despite all kinds of pressure, the late humanitarian kept away from politics and politicians alike. “My husband used to say: ‘if the moulvi, leader, doctor, lawyer and police of Pakistan became righteous, Pakistan would become a welfare state’,” says Bilquis.
When asked whether it bothered her that Edhi was never nominated for a Nobel Prize, she says she never cared for it and neither would Edhi. “We get Nobel prizes from our fellow Pakistanis every day,” she replies.
Producer: Hussain Afzal
Camera: Muzaffar Aziz
Editing: Kamran Nafees
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2017