Unexpectedly Ilyas took seriously ill. So serious in fact that, although I had been with him on a buying trip just a couple of weeks earlier, I immediately flew back to see him. He had no idea that I was coming so my arrival on his doorstep at 9.00 on a Saturday morning was a complete surprise – I told him I had just “popped over for the weekend”.
We spent the two days together, Ilyas propped up in bed, me sitting on the other end, talking, joking, reminiscing, and finally,covering all those things that two friends shouldn’t wait for twenty years to say to each other. It was a wonderful time, but on the Sunday evening just as I was about to leave for the airport to fly home I was very much aware that there was still one matter that we hadn’t discussed.
This was something I had always been curious about but too embarrassed to ask. I didn’t want to leave it unresolved so I finally put it to Ilyas: Why all those years ago did he go out of his way to help me when he didn’t even know me? His reply humbled me: “Richard, I loved you from the first day when you walked into my shop” – he had always known me. I was almost reduced to tears. As a good “kiwi bloke” I might think in these terms but I could never, never speak them out. Ilyas could. Mahomet Ilyas Butt was the sweetest, most generous, and given the country he lived in, where it was absolutely against the norm, the most morally courageous man I have ever had the good fortune to meet. But Ilyas would have disagreed with me – there is no such thing as good fortune – it was “Kismet”, fate ordained by the Will of Allah that we should meet. It was always going to happen.
When I look around me, the success of my business, the house I live in, the car I drive, in fact all my family’s material well being, I acknowledge that all these things came about because twenty years ago this man took a chance on me. And again Ilyas would have disagreed. Chance, what chance? It was the will of Allah! I can hear his voice now, “Richard, when will you learn these things?” Slowly, my dear Ilyas, slowly.
While putting my thoughts about Ilyas down on paper I suddenly realized the obvious; that I could be using the exact same words to describe the qualities of my new agent, his son Bilal. Bilal, although he is, relatively speaking, still quite young, commands a huge amount of respect from both the Afghans and Pakistanis and some of the most important carpet dealers in the world, and he has inherited all his father’s very fine qualities. What a legacy for a man to leave behind him.
Forgive me if you find this epitaph self-indulgent but it seemed to me that in this day and age and particularly in my kind of business, the life of a good man, a truly decent man is such a rare thing that it would be less than honourable on my part not to acknowledge it.