urban pakistan


Today I am wearing a bigger, droopier shalwaar than usual. It is my grandmother’s. It is white, and white is the colour of the shalwaar kameez women wear to court. White, pure, virgin-like.

This morning I went to the Sessions Court with my colleague, Sajjad. He rides a motorbike. He drove, and I sat behind him, enjoying the cool March breeze on my face, through my hair, as we whizzed through the Mall Road. Past Anarkali, Tollington, and my favourite building - the old, beautiful Punjab University Campus. Lahore is grand.

The Mall is shaded with peepal trees. The oldest ones are labelled neatly. The labels tell me that the peepal belongs to the Ficus Relgiosa species. Sacred Fig. The same sacred shade under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
On our way back we stop at a traffic light. It feels strange when Lahori traffic halts all of a sudden. More so when you are on a motorbike. You are exposed and vulnerable, especially when sitting with both legs on the same side, floating unsafely with the city reeling in front of you. But today I was sitting normally. The way men sit behind other men, with my legs apart. I was scared my big, droopy shalwaar would get caught in the bike and I would fall on my face.
So here we are. Waiting. Talking. Another man on a bike stops parallel to us. He is a lawyer too.

Man: Can I say something to you?
[ Sajjad and I stare at his face ]
Man: You shouldn’t be sitting like this.
Me: Why?
Man: Because only children sit like this (referring to girls). You are a lawyer (meaning I am a woman)
Me: I am sitting like this for my safety. It is dangerous to sit with both your legs dangling from one side (side saddle)
Man: But you don’t understand what I’m saying. Only children sit like this.
Me: I think don’t understand what I am saying. I can sit however I like. You can look away
Man: But It looks very bad.
Sajjad [interrupting]: …no actually I think she is scared of sitting the “right” way
Me: [feeling even more furious]: THIS is the normal way to sit. It is more safe. All women should sit like this.
Man: Aren’t you scared of god?
Me: What does god have to do with anything? Why are you bringing god into this?
Man: [Rides away].

And suddenly, I notice how dirty the road is. The shade of the peepal is not enough. I am sweating and it is hot.

- Noor N Zafar



Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, NI, LPP, RMA, IBP, GPA, MSP is a prominent Pakistaniphilanthropist, social activist and humanitarian. He is the founder and head of the Edhi Foundation, a non-profit social welfare organization in Pakistan. Together with his wife, Bilquis Edhi, he received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. He is also the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize and the Balzan Prize. In 2006, Institute of Business Administration Pakistan conferred an honoris causa degree of Doctor of Social Service Management for his services. In September 2010, Edhi was also awarded an honorary degree of Doctorate by the University of Bedfordshire. In 1985 Edhi received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from the Government of Pakistan. On January 1, 2014, Eidhi was voted Person of the year 2013 by the readers ofThe Express Tribune.

He was born in 1928, in the city of Bantva in what is now western India. Edhi’s first interaction with human suffering occurred at the age of eleven, when his mother was physically paralyzed and later suffered from mental illness. Edhi spent his waking hours caring for her, and her worsening health and eventual death left a lasting impact on his life. In 1947, at the age of 19, Mr. Edhi’s family was forced to flee their hometown and relocate to Karachi. Finding himself in a new city without any resources, Edhi resolved to dedicate his life to aiding the poor, and over the last sixty years, he has single handedly changed the face of welfare in Pakistan. Edhi founded the Edhi Foundation, with an initial sum of a mere five thousand rupees. Regarded as a guardian for the poor, Edhi began receiving numerous donations, which allowed him to expand his services. To this day, the Edhi Foundation continues to grow in both size and service, and is currently the largest welfare organization in Pakistan. Since its inception, the Edhi Foundation has rescued over 20,000 abandoned infants, rehabilitated over 50,000 orphans and has trained over 40,000 nurses. It also runs over three hundred and thirty welfare centers in rural and urban Pakistan which operate as food kitchens, rehabilitation homes, shelters for abandoned women and children and clinics for the mentally handicapped.

Edhi has remained a simple and humble man. To this day, he owns two pairs of clothes, has never taken a salary from his organization and lives in a small two bedroom apartment over his clinic in Karachi. He has been recommended for a Nobel Peace prize by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. On June 25, 2013 Edhi’s kidneys failed and it was announced that he will be on dialysis for the rest of his life, unless he finds a kidney donor.

Early life:

Edhi was born in 1928 in Bantva in the Gujarat, India. When he was eleven, his mother became paralyzed and later grew mentally ill and died when he was 19. His personal experiences caused him to develop a system of services for old, mentally ill and challenged people. Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He initially started as a pedlar, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi. After a few years, he established a free dispensary with the help from his community. He later established a welfare trust, “Edhi Trust”.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple have four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarter in Karachi and organizes the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies.

Charity worr:

Edhi Foundation runs the world’s largest ambulance service and operates free nursing homes, orphanages, clinics, women’s shelters, and rehab centers for drug addicts and mentally ill individuals. It has run relief operations in Africa, Middle East, the Caucasus region, eastern Europe and US where it provided aid following the New Orleans hurricane of 2005. In November 2011, Edhi was recommended for a Nobel Peace prize by the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Abdul Sattar Edhi suffered renal failure as announced on 26 June 2013 at SIUT and needs kidney donation.

Travel issues:

In the early 1980s he was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, US immigration officials interrogated Edhi at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for over eight hours, and seized his passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention, Edhi said “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress."In January 2009, Edhi was refused entry to Gaza by Egyptian authorities.

Honors and Awards:

International awards

  • Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1986)
  • Lenin Peace Prize (1988)
  • Paul Harris Fellow from Rotatory International Foundation, (1993)
  • Peace Prize from (USSR former) for services in the Armenian earthquake disaster, (1998)
  • Largest Voluntary Ambulance Organization of the World - Guinness Book of World Records (2000)
  • Hamdan Award for volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services (2000) UAE
  • International Balzan Prize (2000) for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, Italy
  • Peace and Harmony Award (Delhi), 2001
  • Peace Award (Mumbai), 2004
  • Peace Award (Hyderabad Deccan), 2005
  • Wolf of Bhogio Peace Award (Italy), 2005
  • Gandhi Peace Award (Delhi),2007
  • UNESCO Madan jeet sing Peace Award (Paris),2007
  • Peace Award Seoul (South Korea), 2008
  • Honorary Doctorate degree from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi (2006).
  • UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize (2009)
  • Peace Award (London), 2011

National Awards:

  • Silver Jubilee Shield by College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan, (1962–1987)
  • The Social Worker of Sub-Continent by Government of Sind, Pakistan, (1989)
  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz, civil decoration from Government of Pakistan (1989)
  • Recognition of meritorious services to oppressed humanity during eighties by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan, (1989)
  • Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992)
  • Shield of Honor by Pakistan Army (E & C)
  • Khidmat Award by Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights Society

    Quotes By Abdul Sattar Edhi:

    So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned, "Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” And I was still saying, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.” (Mirror To The Blind)

    “Despite his selfless deeds, Edhi is often attacked as "un-Islamic” by Pakistan’s hard-line mullahs, who cite his policy on infidels. He has none. Edhi never asks whether an abandoned child, a psychiatric patient, a dead person, or a battered woman is Sunni or Shiite, Hindu or Christian-or, for that matter, Punjabi or Sindhi, Baluchi or Pashtun, Mohajir or Kashmiri. “I’m a Muslim,” says Edhi, “but my true religion is human rights." (Struggle for the Soul of Pakistan)

    "I am a beggar for the poor,” he says, stained teeth showing in a wide smile, eyes sparkling after a week touring flood-hit areas. “Serving humanity is the biggest jihad. It is the real thing.”
    (Aging philanthropist is Pakistan’s Mother Teresa)

    There are Muslims, Hindus and Christians, but all their teachings are based on humanity. Where humanity is concerned, all religions are immersed into it. (Ali Kapadia, Seerat 4)

    Humanity in itself is a religion, and from it other religions have been born. Allah’s books also teach humanity. (Ali Kapadia, Seerat 4)

    “This is very difficult work, because of fundamentalism,” Edhi interjects. “Our society does not want to give any facilities to females. When political opponents criticize us, we never fight them-we ignore them.”

    “Still, it’s very hard to survive if you are working for all the people, not just your particular religious or ethnic group,” he acknowledges. “With so much discrimination and growing religious divisions, my children will have a very, very tough time.” (Humanitarian to the Nation) 

Photo by Haroon Khan/MSF

MSF medical staff tend to a young patient in Karachi, Pakistan. The MSF clinic in Karachi provides basic health care and emergency services, including maternal healthcare, to people living in Machar Colony, a densely populated area that suffers from a lack of sanitation, high pollution, and few affordable health services.

Lahore lives and breathes like the people who live in it. It is like a massive organism in which red buses crawl around, cars whir and bikes sputter as smoke rises and envelops the city. There is always some movement. There is always something going on. During Ramazan, most people try to get their work done before evening so they can be home at iftaar. However, the massive city keeps on breathing when workers do the dirty work from dawn till midnight to keep the organism alive. They do not have the luxury to sit at their homes and break their fast with their families. At the exact moment when maghrib azaan resounds in different corners of the city, everything suddenly halts for a few moments. Many working class people are unable to make it to their homes for iftaar. People know that. So, they come out of their houses and their shops and offer food or water to the people on the roads so they can break their fast. They signal at rickshaw drivers to stop and hand them free rooh afza. People in buses who have never even met each other pass around dates and say their duas together. When someone cannot find a mosque and time is running out, they spread a cloth on the ground, on pavements, in parks, and offer prayer as others run and join them and it becomes a jama’at. It happens everyday. The masses, regardless of what they do, where they are going, who they are, become a part of this moment of intense unity when they share food and break their fast and pray together. And after a few moments, the city starts again. The buzzing engines continue coughing smoke. The massive trucks keep on scaring passersby with their loud honking. The vendors resume their shouting. The city keeps groaning and creaking like a centuries old machine.


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