One heard of Maulana Edhi and his wife, Begum Bilquis, many years ago, and of how these good people went about Karachi’s streets collecting abandoned babies and adults, so ill that they were barely alive, and brought them to their clinic and cared for them. They also collected unclaimed bodies from the streets where they fell, and from morgues: the men were bathed and put into burial shrouds by the good Maulana, and the women by the Begum, and then given dignified and proper burials.
The Edhi Foundation runs shelters for abused women; unwanted children; drug addicts; the mentally challenged; the homeless and the destitute in need of food and shelter. Even animals, deserted by their owners: ill and hungry and beaten so severely they can hardly walk are taken in to Edhi’s animal shelters. Indeed, he has been known to pick up dead animals off the streets and bury them with his own hands.
While there are hundreds of stories about Edhi and his wife, and dozens of interviews with them in the foreign press in which the Maulana has been called a saint; a hero; one of the greatest philanthropists ever, I know of one first-hand, for it was told to me by my cousin; my nearest neighbour in Wah Village; and my course-mate from the Pakistan Military Academy, the now late Major Farooq Ali Khan (RIP, buddy).
Farooq’s house is opposite mine on the road leading to our village from the GT Road, and on the hill behind it there is a cave which we used to ‘explore’ as young boys when the main pastime for our age was to be out and about running up and down that hill, fishing in the once pristine Dhamra River — now a flowing sewer like most of Punjab’s rivers — for Mahseer. There were no PlayStations and video games or what have you, then.
I digress. It so happened that one day, 20 years ago, Farooq’s cow-herd was grazing his cattle at about 2pm on a winter’s afternoon when he heard a whimpering sound from the cave. He looked in and found a grimy seven or eight-year-old boy wearing only a shirt and lying in his own excreta. The man quickly saw the boy was mentally challenged and reported the news to Farooq, who being the toughest of all of us — ‘horse’ we used to call him (there were four of us cousins in the same course: 36th PMA) — ran up the hill and with the help of his servant brought the boy down to the house where Farooq’s wife bathed and dressed him in whatever clothes could be found that fit him.
What were they to do now? The boy was incommunicado, so Farooq telephoned around to ask what he should do with the poor little chap, quite obviously taken to the cave by his unfortunate and desperately poor family and left there to his fate. Another cousin, a medical doctor, came over and after giving the boy a quick check-up told Farooq that there was a new Edhi Centre which had recently opened in Taxila, about 10 kilometres from Wah. Farooq telephoned the Centre and was told to bring the boy right over.
So off they went, these two, and a servant holding the boy in the backseat. They handed him over to the staff at the Edhi Centre and also made a donation — of their own accord: they were not asked to make one, please note. Farooq was given a note stating that he had brought the boy over at such and such a time; told he wasn’t to worry, and that the little chap would immediately be sent to Karachi where they had the necessary facilities to look after him.
At 12-noon, the next day, Farooq received a telephone call from the Edhi Centre at Karachi thanking him for rescuing the little boy and advising him that he had arrived in Karachi. He was again told not to worry! The boy was obviously accompanied by a staff member on the air journey.
As an aside, while the formalities were taking place in Taxila, Farooq found that every other day the reading of the electric meter; the kilometres the ambulances had driven, and other such returns had to be transmitted to Maulana Sahib’s headquarters in Karachi. With such control, is it little wonder that the Edhi Foundation has grown so huge that they now have over 2,000 ambulances on 24/7 duty even in small towns of our country?
This, dear reader, is Edhi and his great organisation. An organisation which never takes money from the government, because as the Maulana himself says, the people of Pakistan give him so much he does not need to ask for more. This is Edhi, the so-called uneducated person who cannot, they say, even write his own name. What utter brilliance is his; what utter humanity is his! And his wife’s!
And they have not been honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, after all they have done for humanity, and peace, not only all over Pakistan, but all across the world, even in the United States at the time of Hurricane Katrina? What could be more unfair, more iniquitous and more unjust? Whilst governments and national assemblies of individual states and other recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize (among a few select others) only can nominate persons for this prize (as PM Yousaf Raza Gilani did), is it not time that we ordinary Pakistanis started a movement to convince our parliament; government; our superior judiciary to all join in the chorus: ‘The Peace Prize for Maulana and Begum Edhi’?
I would recommend that Malala Yousufzai be the first, as a laureate herself, to nominate them. Why not Kailash Satyarthi, too, for he knows the value of goodness himself. While the Maulana and Begum have received tens of awards and prizes, including the Magsaysay Award, and the Maulana the Lenin Peace Prize, and the Nishan-e-Pakistan, our highest civil award, it is a complete travesty that they have not yet received the Nobel Peace Prize!
Is there no justice in the world?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2015.