Through the eyes of Ashfaq
If you were to visit the departure floor of Jinnah International Airport between 10 am and five pm on a weekday, you would be awestruck by the melodious sounds created by a blind flute player. Ashfaq is a 42-year-old man who has been at the airport for the last 20 years. Born as a blind child, his childhood was pain ridden, troubled and filled with tales of ill-treatment.
As soon as I heard about Ashfaq and his optimistic attitude towards life, various questions came to my mind, so I decided to meet him and find out more about him.
When I finally got the chance to meet him, he spoke about how he had lost all faith in humanity and used to pray for death because his parents used to curse his blindness. Rejected and despondent, he received no financial or moral support from his family, even though his father was a businessman and owned a grocery store in Orangi which is now being taken care of by one of his eight siblings.
Despite the mistreatment he faced at the hands of his family, and our social system, he has worked hard to keep going. Even after being brought to his knees repeatedly, he strongly believes that the airport has been a blessing, and for this reason, he has been playing and continuously entertaining people here for over two decades.
Such is his will power.
When I asked him if he had received any education, I was surprised to learn that he attended Ida Rieu, a special needs school near Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi, free of cost for the blind. He also mentioned that after getting through 10th grade, he approached the government for a job as a telephone operator but has not received a response to-date. Since then, he has been playing the flute at the airport every day – a self-taught talent.
Perhaps what was most surprising to me was the answer I received when I asked him if he was married and he excitedly responded saying, for over 13 years. The story was truly moving. One fateful day, a family noticed him at the airport and offered him their daughter’s hand in marriage. Without any hesitation, he accepted the proposal and has been extremely content with this decision as he believes his wife has been one of his greatest support systems. Their marriage was solemnised in the simplest way possible; free from all financial obligations, since his in-laws too came from a similar financial background.
He continued to talk about his wife, mentioning that even though his family (a wife, two daughters, aged five and six, and his son, aged one and a half-years) solely rely on his income of Rs500 per day, he is perfectly content with his lifestyle and thanks God every step of the way.
Life and circumstances may have constantly pushed him down, but he swore to never let his children feel the pain that he had felt throughout his life. His children attend a madrassa, which is located in the suburbs of Orangi Town and his wife is a housewife.
I was curious to know how he managed to get to the airport every day, unable to drive himself. Ashfaq explained he travels from Orangi Town to the airport in a minibus. He is normally given a lift by airport officials/passengers at the bus point near the airport. He also mentioned that in the past, passengers on the bus would be kind enough to offer him their seat. Now, he feels, people do not pay as much heed to him being blind, so he spends most of his time on the bus standing rather than sitting.
As I pressed further with questions, he only divulged details on the premise that the information would stay between us.
What I am at liberty to say though, is that despite his struggles, Ashfaq emerged as a hero to his family. It’s inspiring to see someone who has battled numerous emotional and physical barriers in life, to emerge as one of the most optimistic and content people I have ever met.
All photos: Gaity Khan
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