No religion is higher than humanity

Abdul Sattar Edhi


The most remarkable man I’ve ever met. If ever a man deserved a Nobel Prize… but then he’s a bearded muslim from Pakistan, so Kissinger and Obama and Peres will be given the Nobel Prize, but Edhi will not. Neither of course did Gandhi!
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The ambulance is more Muslim than you

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The ambulance is more Muslim than you

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis having breakfast in their home in Karachi. Their bedroom that doubles as their dining room. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

‘The ambulance is more Muslim than you’.?That was the answer Abdul Sattar Edhi gave to a question when once asked ‘why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?’ By any stretch of imagination, Abdul Sattar Edhi is an enigma to most people. None of us truly understand him. I often think that Edhi walks a fine line between passion and lunacy. I am not able to comprehend why this man insists on doing what he does, in the capacity that he does it, for as long as he has done it for. The heart wants to register it, but the mind questions the motive.

Motive. What the hell is his motive? Please, someone tell me what this man?s motive is.
Through no easy deduction, I submit that I have discovered the answer to my question. It has taken every critical bone in my body to genuinely understand the answer, but folks, I can safely say that I have finally reached a verdict: there is no motive. There is. No. Motive. Edhi has destroyed my carefully built assessment of Man over the years. He has ruined my calculated analysis of the weaknesses of people. That he has negated all my years of hard earned views on Man single handedly almost leaves me infuriated with him. He has forced me to start over from scratch. For that, I cannot forgive him.
Abandoned family outside Edhi Tower in Karachi.

? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

This is a man that I cannot imagine my own life without. Mind you, I have never met him. I don’t want to. There isn’t a single day in my life that has collectively added up in honor to justify me being able to sit opposite Edhi. I have at best, been able to find the courage to go and drop off some extremely basic things at one of his many, many, charity centers the world over. While there, I stay for just long enough to try to fathom what all this man has done for my country. Being an impossible task, I soon give up trying to reach to the bottom of that barrel and leave very quietly. I imagine it is pretty much what anyone what do.
For those unaware of who this man is, let me put it in a very simple way: Hollywood has Batman, Superman, The Hulk, and Spiderman. Pakistan has Edhi.
A mother grieves for her son in an Edhi ambulance.

? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

What has inspired me to write about Edhi? He certainly doesn’t need any more press validating his incredible efforts or work done. He already has, safely locked away, the hearts of some 170 million people. But yesterday, I was brought to my knees by an action I witnessed that for lack of any other descriptive word, I can only describe as ‘Edhi’.

Continue reading “The ambulance is more Muslim than you”

Witness

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6th July 2005
?This man lying here, brought me to this world. He educated me, clothed and fed?me, stood by my own bed in hospitals, stood in the gap for me at school, prayed?for me unceasingly, blessed me, guided me and counseled me and gave me?strength to take the next step. Yet, I watch him lying here, and there is nothing I?can do to stop him from dying??These were my thoughts on a chilly morning in the last room on the left wing of?Lakeside Medical Centre in Kandy five years ago. I felt helpless and useless.
Here I was seated and watching his life ebb away and I could do nothing.?What use was I? Or anything else in this world, if it can?t save the life of a man?such as him ? my father. ?God, are you really there?? I asked a blank wall.?It was also Terryll?s birthday, so I had plans to go back to Colombo that day and?return the next day, to uselessly stand by him. Yet I wanted to be there, in my?desperation to share whatever he was going through. To let him know I was?there, because I believed that even in his comatose state, he heard our voices.

For only a week before, I had spent the whole day with him near his bedside and?sang all the old Tamil songs we used to sing as children. And I saw a smile and?a tear run down his cheek. So he heard me. And that tiny factor was comforting.?What was I trying to do? Ease my conscience? For all the time I did not spend?with him? For the trouble I put him through as a teenager? For the anxiety I gave?him as an adult? I didn?t know. Perhaps he knew. We bonded that day like never?before. Even in his state, we connected. Like we always did. My father and I.

I stood up to leave, my eyes never leaving the respirator and his one hand on?his belly moving up and down which was the only sign of life. And suddenly the?movement stopped. Just like that. I knew the end was here. I handed my baby?(Zoe was then nearly 2 years) to the nurse and although we were asked to leave?the room, I wanted to stay by his side. To make sure they did everything right.

Suddenly everything was clear to me. This was the end. It was time to let go.?This man lying here will no longer be my strength. I had to be his. I cradled his?head in my hands, I whispered ?Dada I love you. We all love you. Go in peace.??The medics turned him face up. He grimaced with his eyes closed. I put his?hands together, straightened his legs and once again held his head up so the?blood would flow out and not block his throat. I didn?t cry. I wanted him released.

His pulse had already stopped. The doctor asked if they could use the electric?shocks on him as a routine procedure. I told them to leave him alone. His face?relaxed, he looked so peaceful. I put my head down on his chest. There was?nothing. My everything was suddenly nothing. I still didn?t cry. I helped the nurses?take out the tubes and clean him up.

He looked so peaceful, in a long time. Yet through the 7 months since diagnosis,?he never once complained. Not even when they stuck needles in his stomach?to release the fluids. He would smile and thank the nurses and compliment on a?good job done. I turned around and held the doctor?s hands and thanked for the?efforts, I held the nurses hands one by one and thanked them too. That is what?he would have done. Blessed them and thanked them profusely. The pathologist?covered his face with his arm and sobbed against the wall. Dada had coaxed him?several years ago to pursue his studies and make a man of himself. There were?nurses in the room he had recommended for jobs.

I filled out the death certificate calmly. Everything was so clear and programmed.?Name of deceased: Walter Jonathan Sinniah. Time of death: 1.45pm. Cause of?death: General System Failure due to multifocal carcinoma of the liver. Parent?s?name: Peter Murugesu Sinniah and Mary Sinniah. Place of Birth: Deniyaya.?Place of burial: General Cemetery, Mahiyawa. Witness of death: Jeevani?Fernando. Relationship to deceased: Daughter. I couldn?t write anymore.?I wanted to remain a witness to his life rather than his death. I had witnessed 35?years of it that day. And even now, it is his extraordinary life that challenges me?on a daily basis. Not his death.

Jeevani Fernando

On One Eid Day

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Dr A.K.M. Abdus Samad, the director of the mental hospital in Hemayetpur, Pabna, was pragmatic. ?An average of 2% of all populations are schizophrenic, and of course there are many other mental ailments. In this country of 130 million, we have one hospital with 400 beds. What do you expect? The government allocation for food is 18 taka per day (about 45 US cents when we met in 1993). Many mental patients are hyperactive and need more food. A good portion of that 18 taka goes to the contractor, the remainder has to provide three meals a day. So what can I do? I make sure they get plenty of rice. That way they at least have a full stomach. We have little money for drugs, and virtually no staff for counseling, so we keep them doped. Then they don?t suffer as much.?
The other doctors had a different take. ?Pity you?ve come on a Friday they said. On a weekday we could have shown you an electric shock treatment.? It seemed to be a popular ?treatment?. To the uninitiated like me, the violent convulsions and the near comatose state the patients lay in afterwards didn?t seem to be the way to treat anyone. The care givers differed. The treatment was generally given to suicidal patients they said, and the way they saw it, it was ?better than letting them kill themselves.? I didn?t have much of an argument against that one.
I saw the group of visitors come round to the dorms at night and peep through the windows. It was well after visiting hours, but they had paid to get in and have a look at the ?pagols? (loonies). On Eid day, many would dress up and come to the peep show. Some patients did get visitors on Eid, a select few even got new clothes or special food, but for most, it was another day of waiting. Another day of hoping that someone close might come and take them away.
In every ward I went, someone would take me aside, and slip a note in my hand. Invariably, scrawled in that note would be an address. ?You must take it to them (their relatives). Tell them I?m OK. Tell them to take me away from here.? The first few times I did try and contact those relatives. Some addresses had people who recognized them, most didn?t. None seemed keen on responding. Eventually I gave up, but I would still take the notes. In Hemayetpur, even false hope seemed something worth giving.
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As another Eid approaches, I remember the child Shoeb Faruquee had photographed in Chittagong. It won him an award at World Press Photo, but I wonder where the child is now.
shoeb-faruquee-mental-patient.jpg
Patient at mental hospital, Bangladesh
? Shoeb Faruquee, Bangladesh, Drik/Majority World

Mohammad Moinuddin had yet another story to tell:
http://www.newint.org/columns/exposure/2006/08/01/md-main-uddin/
magic-medallion-500px.jpg ? Md. Mainuddin, Bangladesh, Drik/Majority World
I was on an assignment at Domra Kanda, an asylum for the mentally ill in Kishoreganj, Bangladesh, where the only medications provided are these ?medallions? filled with spiritual spells and ?blessed water? from traditional spiritual healers. Illiteracy about medical treatments ? particularly those related to mental health issues ? misconceptions and limited health facilities mean that many parents resort to their faith in such medallions and other blessings from spiritual healers. The clinics which provide such traditional solutions do not offer scientific medications of any type and neither are they approved by any health authority. But for many Bangladeshis, faith in traditional healers and their treatments is more powerful, effective and easily available than scientific medication. The parents strongly believe that it is their faith in such spirituality that will cure their child and bring back the long lost peace and happiness to their family.
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In a world where normality is a virtue, I salute the few individuals who have chosen to be different.
Shahidul Alam
23rd October 2006. Dhaka
ps: Apologies to ZAK on my spelling of Eid: http://www.kidvai.com/zak/2005/11/its-that-time-of-year-again.html

These strangers are family now

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PHOTOS and TEXT by SHEHAB UDDIN

Nepal Times Issue #304 (30 June 06 – 06 July 06)

Most people find shelters for senior citizens depressing and avoid visiting them. But working on this photo feature at the Pashupati Bridhashram over the past six months, I have been inexplicably uplifted. I forget the stress of living in Kathmandu and my homesickness for my native Bangladesh. I feel fortunate that I have a family, as many of the senior citizens once had. But what gives me hope is that even though they have lost families and possessions, they still care. They care for each other and they retain a deep sense of humanity. The story of how they landed up here is almost always the same: in their old age they became a burden on their families who dumped them at Pashupati. For the elderly, it?s sometimes a relief that they are in such a holy place and don?t have to bear the taunts of a home where they are no longer welcome. None of them came here willingly and no one has anywhere to go. The Pashupati Bridhashram is run by the government so its budget is limited, it is congested, short-staffed and shows signs of mismanagement. There are 230 residents, 140 of them women.


GREETING:
?Namaste, aram?? That is how Sankule Lati, 77, greets strangers with a namaste and a quick tilt to her head.


LAUGHING:
Til Kumari Khatri, 71, and Yadongba Tamang, 70, laugh and play like children. Til Kumari has been here since 1998. Her daughter-in-law brought her to the shelter one day and left saying: ?I?ll be back soon.? She never came back.

CHANTING:
Every morning and evening residents gather for bhajans. Those who can?t walk to the prayer room chant from their own beds.

BATHING:
Dhana Kumari Ranabhat, 99, takes a bath with the help of her husband Dil Bahadhur Ranabhat, 90. The couple is lucky, few here still have their spouses. Dhana Kumari was forced here after her husband died but married Dil Bahadhur, a retired soldier.

CHATTING:
Tirtha Maya Thapa, 75 and Man Kumari Thapa, 75, sit and chat. Tirtha Maya was so busy taking care of her parents, she never married. But after they died, her relatives evicted her from her house. Man Kumari?s long lost son came and took her home a few months ago.

EATING:
Bishnumaya Lati, 72, takes her evening meal with her two favourite dogs in attendance. She lives here with her husband.

COOKING:
Kanchi Khatri cooks food in the shelter. She was the maid servant at the home of an astrologer and when she was no longer able to work nine years ago, her employer brought her here.

PRAYING:
Laxmi Thapa, 68, prays to a wall full of pictures of the gods. She doesn?t remember where she was born or her family since she was married very young. Laxmi worked as a domestic all her life. Her alcoholic husband used to beat her up. When she broke her arm, her employer abandoned her so she came here. Now she prays all the time. ?I spent all my life helping others,? she says, ?now there is no one to help me.?

FEEDING:
Dipa Thapa, 75, has two pet cats in the shelter. They are her only friends. She used to sell flowers in Pashupati and when her husband died, she came here.

COMBING:
Ratna Maya Katiwada, 68, has kept to herself since she came here three years ago. No one knows the whereabouts of her family or where she is from.



RECITING:
Shanti Tuladhar recites a poem from her book, Unko Samjhana. She loves poetry and is still writing. Married at 30, her husband was in the army and when he died 12 years ago, she was sent here. Shanti doesn?t like to talk about her son. She reads us her favourite poem:

In my old age
Shanti Tuladhar
My sons have grown up
Huts have turned into high-rises
They?re adding floors one by one
For me, there is just the pyre left
As the house grew taller
We were pushed lower
Lower than the staircase dark and dank
My son has grown up but what has he done?
I became a burden and he brought me here
My family is foreign forever,
These strangers are family now.
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