It is a day all Pakistanis were dreading, a day without Abdus Sattar Edhi. The passing of the man Pakistan came to call “Maseeha”, or messiah, was met with heartbreak, sadness, and widespread grief across a country seldom united. The state announced a day of mourning, and a state funeral — the latter, a predictable response, but something the great man himself perhaps would not have approved of.
According to Edhi Sahib’s way of life, it should have been the poor and needy who came to pay him their respects, in the front lines at the funeral — and the VIPs at the back. The irony then, that at the Janaza of a man who spent his life in service of the needy, the front row was populated by VIPs jostling for camera space, while those who came from far and wide, with just a wealth of respect and emotion for Edhi Sahib, were left out of the stadium altogether, for the security of the affluent and powerful.
From the day he brought a single ambulance purchased from alms, till today, six decades later, when the Edhi service is the largest private emergency response service in all of South Asia, Abdus Sattar Edhi did not build his wife and children a home. The man seized with the desire to feed, clothe, and house the homeless and destitute, owned himself two pairs of clothing — one of which he is to be buried in as ‘kafan’. Having dug his grave by his own hand 25 years ago, Edhi acted as one never unaware of his own mortality, and constantly in a rush to make his every minute one that provided healing to some, comfort to others, and consequently inspiration to 180 million. Yet, when he was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2013, and informed he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life, Edhi chose a simple single bed in a ward at SIUT, besieged though he was by offers of private treatment abroad, by none less than former president Zardari and current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — no strangers to the comforts of foreign medical treatment.
He refused himself comfort, rest, and indulgence, living by a personal code so meticulously governed that he gave up sugar in his tea, terming it wasteful. A life of continuous, unrelenting, and untiring service of the very poorest, the most vulnerable, and the abandoned; towards the end of which he stated simply in an interview, “I am satisfied with my life.”
Abdus Sattar Edhi leaves behind him a legacy unparalleled. Many mourn selfishly, wondering what is to become of Pakistan without its Meseeha. They forget that we had an Edhi, and we have an Edhi still; her name is Bilqees. The lady who was a tower of strength at her husband’s side, a soldier in his mission, shouldered the mantle of running the organization after Abdus Sattar Edhi’s health troubles began to exacerbate in 2013. In her grief, Pakistan mourns with her. And in her mission, Pakistan stands with her. Edhi zindabad. Pakistan paindabad.