“Some people think our friendship is fake and can’t be real. It’s a message that we want to send the world – friendships between people with and without intellectual disabilities are true and genuine.”
Syed Ali Roshan first got to know Haseeb Abassi, a Special Olympics athlete leader with autism, when he watched his TedX speech 5 years ago. Roshan became an instant fan. Today, the pair are best friends, having stood by each other through their proudest milestones and worst setbacks. They have travelled the world together, advocating for inclusive environments that allow people with intellectual disabilities to thrive. Meet this inspirational duo, who share what makes their friendship tick!
Q: When and how did you meet?
Haseeb: I met Roshan for the first time on Autism Day in Islamabad, at a cycling event. With a big smile, he shook hands with me. I was shy at first, but when he told me that he heard great things about me and watched my TedX talk, I was so happy! He was really impressed with my cycling as well. That day, we even cycled together. I introduced him to my mom too.
Roshan: I had the opportunity to listen to Haseeb’s TedX Talk a year before I actually met him, so meeting him wasn’t any less than meeting a celebrity for me! His speech was captivating, and I was struck with awe. I introduced myself to him and told him that I was extremely inspired by his journey.
Q: Over the course of your friendship, what did you learn from each other?
Haseeb: Roshan always gave me the confidence, support and encouragement I needed. Whether I’m about to go on stage for a speech, or preparing for a presentation, he’s always right there next to me. He has helped me become a more independent person. I used to struggle with money management but Roshan has helped me to handle cash competently. He also taught me how to use tools like MS Word and MS Excel, which really helped me grow my business and find a job. Yes, he’s the reason I can use technology comfortably now.
Roshan: I’m Haseeb’s mentor and friend, but most importantly, a huge fan of his! It’s incredible to be in his company and watch him accomplish anything he sets his mind to. His achievements are extraordinary for any person, regardless of ability or disability. His ambition and consistency towards achieving his goals is unbelievable and it remains the most valuable lesson he’s taught me in life. He always wanted to get higher education and despite being rejected from several institutes, he got a diploma in special education and went on to the Allama Iqbal University in a bachelor’s program. He wanted to earn his own living but despite his best efforts, no one wanted to hire him. So, he became an entrepreneur and started his own juice bar, Squeezy, and this enabled him to get his first job at a university. He doesn’t accept no for an answer, he keeps trying, no matter what.
Q: How do you usually spend your time together?
Haseeb: I love to travel and Roshan is my travelling companion. Singapore is my favourite place to be outside Pakistan. I love having ice cream at Marina Bay. We’ve also been to Indonesia and UAE together. At home, we love going on cycling adventures together. In fact, one of my greatest achievements that I’m so proud of, is the time we went to Khunjerab Pass, the highest border crossing in the world.
Roshan: I enjoy Haseeb’s company. I feel a sense of comfort in talking to him about anything, including personal issues. He’s probably the best person to confide in and he keeps all my secrets safe. We love going to movies and concerts together. Being the certified foodies that we both are, we love to explore good food and hang out at different restaurants. These days, nothing beats sitting outside Squeezy, Haseeb’s juice bar, and enjoying each other’s company with a refreshing drink in the afternoon.
Q: What is your fondest memory together?
Haseeb: Roshan’s wedding last year! I danced like no one’s watching, took amazing photos, met all his friends and cousins, and had the yummiest food. I’ve never been happier for him. I was in such a good mood that it was one of the few times I wasn’t afraid of the fireworks. Other than that, the 2019 Special Olympics Summer Games in Abu Dhabi is also one of my favourite memories with him. Going for desert safaris, riding on camels, watching the sunset and sandboarding for the first time – that’s just a glimpse of the amazing trip we had!
Roshan: I’m not sure where to start. My favourite memories would be from the time when I used to travel with Haseeb. The World Games in 2019, where Haseeb was owning the stage, while I was backstage, with my legs shaking. Going to different schools all across Pakistan and inspiring kids to be inclusive, playing unified sports together, going for hikes and cycling, visiting each other at home – my list might never end!
Q: Describe your best friend in one word.