I simply cannot forget that particular time and date. It was 4:25pm on November 26th, 2014, right after I had come home from burying my father.
A man, who I had never seen before, dressed in a police uniform, approached me. He must have been in his late 50s, with thick grey hair and beard. His eyes would open slightly and his skin showed signs of aging. He was a rather tall man, at least two inches taller than me, with a towering presence. He had been asking for Ahsan Rashid’s son and someone directed him to me.
“Assalam-u-alaikum. Are you the son of Ahsan Rashid?” He spoke rather gently.
I merely nodded my head. So exhausted was I from the last so many days tending to my father at the hospital, I didn’t have the energy to keep up my strength to even say anything.
“You don’t know me, my son,” said the man. “My name is Ashraf and I work as a city traffic policeman. I am very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. You are very kind,” was all I could muster, something I would try to say to everyone who offered their condolences.
“Your father wasn’t just a great man, he was a huge lifesaver for me.”
“You see, I was just out of my job and I had my family to support. I was so poor no one was willing to hire me. Someone told me to go meet Ahsan Rashid saab (sir). I went to his office to seek his help.”
At this point, Ashraf eyes started to tear up. I felt like everything around me went silent– all the noise from the large number of people who attended the funeral– and I couldn’t hear anything, but this man standing in front of me.
“I asked your father for some money, and he gave me some cash to help me. But not only that, he also arranged for someone to hire me. I now work as a city traffic policeman. I just wanted to tell you that your father saved my life. I can support my wife and children and give them a life they deserve. We were literally out on the streets, but now I have a home. You will be happy to know that I also recently got a promotion. I cannot help but thank your father for all what he has done. You know my son, I came to the funeral after having traveled for more than two hours…that is how much I am thankful for him.”
It was at this precise moment that hit me hard. This particular moment was not about
Ashraf the city traffic policeman, but all about the kind of impact and influence my father had on people like him.
My father, Ahsan Rashid, wasn’t just a father, but a “lifesaver” to many people like Ashraf.
In the days that followed after my father’s funeral, I met numerous people, from all walks of life, who had similar stories to share. Some of them were people like Mr. Rizwan Khan, the country manager for Coca-Cola and Mr. Ashiq Hussain, the honorary counsel of France as well as Dr. Faisal Sultan, the CEO of Shaukat Khanum hospital. Then there were people from Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (the political party he founded along with others and Imran Khan in 1997) from senior leaders to grassroots level party workers.
Then there were those people who come from underprivileged backgrounds, such as our cook’s brother who now works in Saudi Arabia, whose lives were touched by my father. It was indeed a remarkable experience, and a privilege and honor, to be able to hear all these powerful stories about how their lives were affected for the better.
They all had stories about his generosity, his kindness, his charitable nature and his ability to relate to those from an underprivileged background.
While I can write pages upon pages of these stories, there was one that made me realize the far-reaching impact of my father’s generosity.
Mr. Zeeshan, who narrated his experience, shared how he was going with my father in the car. While at the traffic light, a child selling fruits approached my father. As always, my father asked the child why he doesn’t go to school. When the child merely replied that he’s so poor he can’t afford to, my father drove all the way to the child’s home and met his parents and paid for his school fees. That child and his parents, who up until a moment ago were complete strangers, lives were completely changed. It was a simple moment but one that had a lasting impact.
These were stories I was hearing from other eyewitnesses, from friends, from relatives, from the political workers who worked with him. I hadn’t realized the great impact my father had on other people. This was something I started to discover that he kept to himself. He didn’t want his charity to be advertised. He became an example of extreme humility to me.
I personally remember the times when he would go for his regular chemotherapy at Shaukat Khanum Hospital, and while lying down on the bed, he would make a huge effort to talk to the nurses there as well the patient on the hospital bed next to him. These patients would be a tailor or a driver, and my father would give them utmost respect and dignity. They never knew who my father was, but I could see their spirits uplifted from having a conversation with him. In those moments, others didn’t know that my father is a very senior leader, but they would relate to him as if he were one of their own. At times, he would walk over to the children’s wards and just say a quick hello. The compassion in his heart was evident.
Why am I writing this today? Today, 25th November 2016, is his second death anniversary.
I haven’t fully grieved his death. A part of me still wishes that he would walk through the main door and join my mom and me at the dining table for dinner. There are moments when I wish I could call him up and tell him about the pay raise I got at work. I feel like he’s gone on one of his business trips and will return soon. I definitely block out certain parts in my mind in order to not confront the idea that he is no longer living. I am not able to look at his pictures—it’s a scary reality. Being in the same city and the same house where we lived together, makes it more difficult to confront and accept the reality.
I do wonder at times why my father doesn’t appear to me in my dreams. Many around me have shared how they’ve seen him- and he seems to be in a very happy place, dressed in white with a radiant, beaming huge smile. I feel slightly envious. How come they all are seeing my father and not me?
Having said that, there are definitely some life lessons which he successfully imparted not just on me, but on everyone in my family.
I was told on 1st January 2009 that my father has cancer. My journey with my father and family began on this day as we all huddled together and strengthened our connections to be there for our father.
During his five years of struggle with cancer, he never stopped living his life.
He traveled the world over- from the United Kingdom and Europe to the Middle East to Turkey to India- and didn’t let his cancer bother him. In fact, he would be so brave about it, he would never let anyone one of us ever feel that he’s unwell.
He also took part in the elections and fought like a brave soldier. He attended all meetings and traveled all over Punjab, as far as to Waziristan, a region where heavy fighting with the militants took place. Anyone who would meet him would never realize that this man has cancer.
He had this beautiful spirit within him to keep living positively and to develop a curiosity to enlighten his mind to keep on discovering what the world has to offer. He was very fond of reading and some of the last biographies he read were on Louis Armstrong, Modi the Prime Minister of India, Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs.
Even during his visits to the hospital for his radiation or chemotherapy, he would stay positive and cheerful, greeting all the doctors and nurses with a huge smile. He would enquire them about their health and families. He would never make his trips about him but rather about those who are treating him.
It this spirit that I have embodied: to stay positive.
I recently underwent a complete extensive body test at the same hospital my father was treated at. It was a four-hour long procedure where I had to undergo several tests and scans and x-rays. Throughout the whole procedure, I got a glimpse of what my own father would go through and at times he would be in a lot of pain. I reminded myself over and over of the way my father would handle a tough situation. If he can go through such painful moments in his treatments, I should not be complaining about anything at all and stay positive. I did just that and I sailed through. It’s not an easy characteristic to have, but it’s one that everyone can imbibe in their lives over a period of time by consciously focusing on staying positive.
The doctors had given him three years at the most to live with his cancer—yet my father defied the odds with his sheer willpower and positivity and lived for five years. He had gained two extra years. He became a living example of what mind power and positive thinking can achieve.
Give, Give, Give
My father also had a very generous heart. He would give and give and give. His heart was so generous that at times we would tell him to not give money to someone who we think is cheating him- he would still give. “My intentions are pure. I am giving in good faith. Rest is up to God.” That’s something I really admired in him, and personally speaking, I haven’t got a heart as big as him, but am working towards that.
I remember I was still in school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia when in one of our drives down the corniche by the Red Sea, he shared an important life lesson: “Mansour, when you give money to others with good intentions to help them, trust me, you will see more money coming back to you.” At that time, my finite mind could not grasp this all-important truth. Today, as I am nearing 40, I’ve seen this principle work in beautiful ways.
I imbibed that principle in me. Every opportunity I get to donate, to give, to treat my friends, to buy gifts on occasions, I would give with an honorable intention. Almost always, I would get some money back from one place or another.
A prime example was back in 2014 when I had gone to Dubai for a short holiday. I was told by my uncle there that my bank account (which I had forgotten about) is still active. He suggested to close it if I want to. I went to the branch to close it down and the teller there told me that I have 1000 Dirhams in the account. I withdrew that and became 1000 Dirhams richer completely out of the blue. It’s not the amount that matters but the principle that when I would give money, I would get more money back from someplace somehow.
I am not sure how this works in the universe, but it works. The more I give, the more I get.
Count Your Blessings
The greatest lesson I’ve learned from him was to “count your blessings.” This was something he would repeat over and over. When I would travel with him to far-flung regions in Punjab during his tenure as Punjab President PTI, we would pass through small towns and villages where the inhabitants had a very backward life. Dilapidated houses, unclean water, no sewerage and pitiful living conditions would arouse a huge moment of gratitude for all the blessings we have.
Moments like this my father would say to me, ‘count your blessings Mansour.’
This inculcated in me to develop an attitude of gratitude. Throughout the day, I am grateful for one thing or another. With the result of this attitude, I’ve managed to complain less and less as I would realize I have so much going on for me. Having an attitude of gratitude leaves no room for complaining, thereby having a more contented life.
If a situation would be a negative one, my father would find the positive in the situation. If he had come back from an MRI that didn’t go too well, he would still be grateful that he was able to get a scan to diagnose his results. He hardly complained about anything in life. If I were going through a hard moment, he would hear me out and help me see the positive in the situation. “Count your blessings Mansour,” and I would.
I can go on and on about numerous more life lessons, but for that, I have to write a biography. My father’s life was a larger than life story- starting from the moment he left India during the partition with his mother and sister, to settling down in Lahore at Temple Road. Destiny took him to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where his hard work allowed him to rise to a prestigious position eventually becoming the President of Fuchs Petroleum. Throughout his rise, he never forgot where he came from, always keeping himself grounded in reality. His calm demeanor showed a lot of strength and resilience. He fought his battles with grace and dignity. He was a thorough gentleman, giving respect to others always. He rarely scolded or shouted at us but treated us with love and honor.
It’s only been two years since he left us. My last living memory of him was on the morning of 24th November 2014. I consider myself lucky to have fed him his last meal while on the hospital bed: two pieces of bread with fried egg. After having fed him with my own hands, he requested me very clearly to get him two packs of mixed fruit juice, which I got from the hospital cafeteria. I had to rush to the airport to receive my elder brother who had flown in from London, and upon our return to the hospital, our father had already started slipping away.
A day after the funeral, a very dear friend told me one thing: “Mansour, your father lived a grand life. His life is not a life to mourn, but a life to celebrate.” These profound words revived a spark in me; indeed my father’s life is a life to celebrate. Through this humble piece that I’ve written, I only wish to keep his legacy alive. His life was about integrity, honesty, charity, kindness, and love and we should celebrate that.
I shall never forget his words to me: “Mansour, whatever you do in life, never forget to count your blessings.”