Entering the cool environs of Tofiq Pasha Mooraj’s home provided much needed respite from the sweltering heat. Built on his 6.5 acres farm, an oasis in Malir, about 45-minute drive from Karachi’s city centre, every nook and corner and the various artifacts strewn carelessly about the living room seem to tell a story and describe the owner.
At times one had to crane one’s head to hear the pony-tailed Mooraj over Bob Dylan music coming from an inner room. Dressed in blue jeans and white T-shirt with (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah’s sketch and a catchy tagline, “Bring Jinnah Home” the bearded, slender fifty-something Mooraj appears every bit a non-conformist.
Zohare Ali has known Mooraj for over two decades and describes him a “classic bohemian,” who cares little about “money, status or power.” It is this rare quality that distinguishes Mooraj from others although people have often taken undue advantage of his generosity,” Ali said. After his early education at the Habib Public School, Mooraj studied horticulture at the Sindh Agricultural University, Tando Jam, and learned about cultivation and processing of tea, coconut and rubber in Sri Lanka.
“You can’t take the boy out of the farm or the farm out of the boy,” he said. His farm was more like a soul in a body which he inherited from his father. Mahboob Mooraj and Serene Mooraj, his parents, had bought this 200-year-old farm back in 1970s. His friends believe that living on the farm and closer to nature has made Mooraj the kind of man he is today.
Naheed Moini, his wife of 30 years, a candle-maker, calls him “an idealist,” who loves to farm and garden. “It’s a tough lifestyle. You have to make many sacrifices and must have a passion to live this way,” said Moini. She recalls the long commutes they made for their three kids, growing up and studying in schools in Karachi.
Mooraj’s parents moved from London to Karachi in 60s. They traveled home by road via a London cab, later settled at the farm. Mooraj choose to live and look after the farm as a teenager. Likewise, he let his children pursue the lifestyle they like. “I don’t expect any of them to retain the farm after me,” he said.
Mooraj is a man of action who believes one can do anything one wants to do. With around 35 years’ experience in horticulture, floriculture, and landscaping, he claims to be a pioneer in transplanting full-grown trees. In addition, he has introduced varieties of cash crops that need very little water in different parts of Sindh, particularly in the Indus delta.
Saleha Atif, who works at the Hisaar Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working on water, food and livelihood issues, of which Mooraj is a founding member, speaks highly of him. “He is a very simple, down-to-earth and a friendly person,” said Atif, who has known him for almost a decade.
Mooraj has conducted several training programmes across Pakistan for growing vegetable as a source of food and income generation benefiting over 250,000 people, specifically women from the low-income segments of the society. “There was a time in the past when it was a challenge to invite Pasha to the city,” Zohare recalled, term him a “farm boy” who preferred to invite his friends over to his farm. However, things started changing when he received recognition for hosting gardening programmes on various channels, including the Pakistan Television, Hum TV and Masala television. Now he is interacting more with urban dwellers through his TV shows.
Mooraj has not only improved the lives of scores of urban dwellers, but small farmers in Pakistan’s villages to become food secure through practicing kitchen gardening and conserving water. As for climate protection initiatives, Mooraj thinks recycling needs to be emphasised if we want this world to be restored for the coming generation. For example, he said water draining from an air conditioner can be collected and used for watering the plants. Placing a brick in the tank of a WC flush can displace water so that less quantity of water is used to flush.
Mooraj believes he was destined to do what he is doing and feels blessed “to have the exposure and opportunities in life which many talented people might dream but never get.” He is a true son of the soil with bare minimum needs. “One can live a much contented life if one learns to live within resources at the cost of little adjustments,” he said. Mooraj’s dream is to see the day when hundreds and thousands of Pakistani expatriates return home. “That would be the day when Jinnah’s vision would come true and he will be brought back to his home,” he said earnestly.