By Zubeida Mustafa
Asad Husain Shah, 35, is Project Manager at the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust (AHMMT) in Khairo Dero (KD), which was set up in 2008 by the late Mr Mangi’s granddaughter Naween. Its goal is to create a model village.
What distinguishes Asad from numerous others in his village is his sensitivity to his environment and his immense capacity to think issues through philosophically. In fact his colleagues have nicknamed him ‘The Philosopher.’ It is this quality that gave him courage to shun the ‘privileges’ that birth bestowed upon him and adopt a lifestyle that he believes has given him self-esteem.
Born to a Syed family in Balochistan, Asad remembers his childhood as an unsettled one. His father migrated to Sindh and was constantly on the move. Being the imam of a mosque, he enjoyed a special status in society. By virtue of his ancestry that he traced to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), he could claim the privileged position of a pir in Sindhi culture.
Asad and his four brothers stood to benefit from their father’s following. They were not required to work for their living as the mureeds took care of their physical needs. It was a reciprocal relationship as the pirs provided their mureeds with spiritual sustenance.
Asad was not too comfortable with this arrangement. He went to school in KD and passed his Intermediate from a higher secondary school in Bungel Dero. After that he was required to join a madrassah for his religious education. Of his two-year stint at the madrassah Asad says, “Wahan mera dil naheen laga” (I was not interested), because he had to learn his lessons by rote. “I didn’t trust my memory,” he remarks modestly. But it is more likely he was put off by the restrictive approach of a madrassah education. After all, he is a thinker.
Thenceforth life was tough for Asad. In spite of his brothers’ exhortations, he would not go to his mureeds. “I hated myself when I had to accept offerings from the downtrodden. I felt I was exploiting them,” he speaks candidly. He preferred to struggle for a living, doing odd jobs as an agricultural worker, selling pakoras on push carts and working briefly in a factory in Karachi.
Life changed when the AHMMT was founded and he was offered the Administrative Assistant’s position. Later he became Project Manager. Today there are 22 people working under him. Asad is truly a ‘people’s man’ as he connects with them with great ease and looks for solutions to the community’s problems by going door-to-door to understand their point of view. He mobilises them to visit AHMMT’s community centre to weld them together.
Asad feels that we have lost many of our old values such as compassion, integrity and self-respect. KD’s male population is notorious for gambling, drugs and idling. And Asad says it is difficult to shake the men out of these evils, but he is hopeful for the younger generation. He insists that teachers should let children think for themselves and explain their ideas. His biggest success? Children are happy to go to school and, what is more, he believes that every child in KD will soon be enrolled in school. With seven schools for a population of 6,000, this dream may well come true.