It was the year 1984, I was in school and in those days my mom was heavily involved in community service for the Pakistani sailors. She was passionate about her work and that came to her through my dad’s official designation in the Pakistan Navy.
I remember the day she asked our driver to head to Mithadar Edhi Center where Bilqees and Abdus Sattar Edhi lived. Ami [mom in Urdu] was supposed to invite Bilqees Edhi to be the chief guest at the Naval Meena Bazaar, an annual fundraiser carnival that was organized for the welfare of the sailors. I just happened to be in the car as Ami had picked me up from school.
I had heard of the Edhis and their ambulances. So I knew I would come across a lot of hustle and bustle when I got down with Ami at the center, but I was not prepared for the simplicity ad clarity of mission that radiated from Bilqees and Sattar Edhi.
The car stopped on a narrow side road with double-storied buildings on either side. “Begum Sahib, you will have to walk from here. I will stay by the car,” said our driver.
We both got down and hurried through a cobbled labyrinth, passing through a maze of old houses until we came upon a metal door, which was slightly ajar. Inside, the room was bare. A woman in glasses and simple attire sat behind a desk, hunched on a register with a pencil in her hand. A much worn out armoire with a latch was behind her.
“What can I do for you?” she looked up with wide eyes, her hair neatly oiled and platted. Assuming she was the secretary, Ami told her we had come to invite Mrs. Edhi to a ceremony. The woman simply asked, “Do I have to distribute sweets?” Ami smiled, “Not you, dear. We are here for Mrs. Edhi.” “But that is me!” the woman smiled back.
Such was the accessibility of the Edhis. No fanfare, no attitude, no barriers… immediate access and simplicity. “Edhi Sahib [what she called her husband] told me to expect you and said I should go as it is a good cause.” We were done. It took two minutes of conversation. Someone came to call Mrs. Edhi to the women’s center next door and immediately she hurried out.
Ami and I walked back to the car, pace slowed, in deep thought about the omission of hierarchy. For the first time we looked up at those tiny buildings while walking. Some were orphanages, some a part of a hospital; still others schools. We were impressed.
On the day of the carnival, Mrs. Edhi arrived before time and waited in the small ambulance that brought her. She was dressed simply, no different than that day. She cut the ribbon and was done, all the time aware of the welfare of the people. The carnival was a success. Her name drew crowds. She left in fifteen minutes saying she was needed back at the center.
Fast forward. It is 2016. I am my mom’s age and involved in community work in Austin. I have just heard on social media that Abdus Sattar Edhi has passed away. My mind races to that metal half open door and Mrs. Edhi sitting behind the desk saying,, “May I help you?”
The Edhis have helped so many people and set up a system that will continue to run as simply and efficiently as it did in 1984 when I happened to meet them, her in person and him through her. “Rest in peace, Mr. Edhi. May God be with you.”