People

Bashir Ahmed a Camel Cart Driver – A Unique Real Story

By Ahmet Abdulaziz …..

We come across different people every day. Each of them has their own story, different from the rest.

Yet in general our lives are full of the same routines, we all face the same sort of problems mostly, and most of us usually sort them out. In short our lives, although are different from each other, yet we all pass through the same life cycle. We all see happiness and sorrow. We all face setbacks and successes.

But there are very few persons who lead a very different life from all of us. Their life stories seem unbelievable, yet true. We usually read about people, born in a wealthy family and then lose everything and become penniless. We also come across write ups about people who were initially penniless but become wealthy all of a sudden. However, we rarely come across such people in our lives.

photo courtesy: jaho jalal

Today I will here narrate the life story of a Pakistani poor camel cart driver, who rose to unexpected and unbelievable heights of popularity during the 1960s, found unexpected international media coverage and became wealthy.  He became wealthy, but then all of sudden lost everything and died in a miserable state. I happened to meet him during the 1980s, when he was having a very difficult life, as a low paid watchman. I took him to Mr. Wahab Siddqui, the then editor of weekly “The MAG”, and a cover story about Basheer Ahmed was written and published jointly.

His name was Bashir Ahmed, a simple, kind hearted, hard working camel cart driver, in Karachi (Pakistan) who used to earn his living by carrying heavy luggage from one place to another.

photo courtesy THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE BLOG

The year was 1961, and the then American Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was carrying out a goodwill visit of Karachi (Pakistan). His cortege was passing through the main road leading to the presidential house, and people were waving hands to him from the sides of the road. Bashir was also among them, standing with his camel cart, clapping, when Vice President Johnson found the scene interesting. He stopped his car, and came out called Basheer near, and shook hands with him. The way Bashir was standing along with his camel, and  waving  hand had impressed the Vice President.

photo courtesy: THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE BLOG

The journalists there took photographs and the next day Bashir “Oont wala” (camel driver, was on the first page of all the local newspapers. He had become a celebrity overnight. All local newspapers had put up the details of the incident, with photographs. Some of them had published his short interview too.

Bashir was officially told that Vice President Johnson had invited him as his guest to visit America. Now everyone, including the government officials were also running after him. They arranged for everything. After some time Bashir flew off to America as an official guest.

I was a young school boy when all this had happened. I remembered that I had read all this in the newspapers then. However I would like to copy here from  Wikipedia, as under:

“Bashir was personally greeted by vice-president Johnson  on his arrival in New York  Bashir was then invited to Johnson’s private ranch in Texas. During his week stay, the Pakistani was also taken to Kansas,where he met ex-president Harry S.Truman as well as to Washington. where he was taken to the Lincoln Memorial, the Senate floor and to President Kennedy’s office.

photo courtesy THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE BLOG

Finally, at the end of his stay, as a gesture of further goodwill, vice-president Johnson made arrangements for Bashir to visit the Islamic holy city of Mecca on his return to Pakistan. This act of friendship brought tears to the eyes of the destitute camel driver.

Liz Carpenter was Johnson’s press secretary. According to Liz Carpenter’s account, the press coverage of Bashir’s visit was beginning to turn ugly. The vice president visited with several press representatives and convinced them in his trademark fashion to shape the nature of the coverage to avoid an embarrassing incident.

Bashir Ahmed camel cart driver

One of the things that had been reported was that Bashir might not know about silverware. She reported that the problem was addressed in an interesting fashion. She says, “When we dined together, we had a menu that made it possible for all of us to eat with our fingers, such as fried chicken, stuffed celery, deviled eggs, potato chips. On one such occasion during a visit to Dallas, I looked around the table and saw the presidents of four banks and Neiman-Marcus all eating with their fingers to make the camel driver feel at home.”

Later on I read in the newspapers, that Vice President Johnson had given him many costly gifts, and the Pakistan government, came out with financial support to establish business for him. As I learned then from newspapers, he had opened a petrol pump, and had started a transport company, having a big fleet of transport trucks. He had become a wealthy businessman and his life had changed totally.

Then there was a long period of over 15 years, he remained out of news. I do not remember coming across any news about his whereabouts.

photo courtesy: dawn.com

It was mid 1980s, when one day Sohail, a close friend of mine, came across Bashir Ahmed. As I used to write freelance in those days, he told me of his whereabouts I was shocked to know that Bashir had lost everything, and was penniless. He was working as a watchman, and living in a makeshift hut. 

As he told in his interview, his life had thoroughly changed . He had become a successful businessman, but as he told, there were people who had not digested his rise to fame. They repeatedly created hurdles in his business activities,  He had started suffering losses due to their conspiracies.

His downfall had started, but he was struggling, when one day someone abducted his son. He was still searching for him everywhere, when I met him in mid 1980s. He had spent the whole of his wealth to find his son but failed. With the passage of time, he had lost his everything.

As Wikipedia mentions, Bashir died in the year 1992, at the age of 79.