Of Trials and Triumphs
Moving to Kashmir, my life underwent a drastic change
ASMA KHAN LONE
Having the opportunity to live ones dreams is an experience many aspire. I was lucky to embrace a part of mine.
Growing up in a setting where materialism occupied backstage and ideals such as conviction, integrity and legacy took precedence, I from a young age gravitated towards the unconventional. Being an only child didn't help. While little kids dreamt of becoming doctors and other professionals I wished to become a news analyst, idolising them as the epitome of knowledge and wisdom. Visualising details as my parents narrated anecdotes of great feats of great men (and women) in history - which doubled as my bedtime stories- it left deep imprints on my own sense of being and direction. Every evening would also find myself involuntarily watching the 9 o’clock News and the political commentary that followed. So while little girls my age would play with dolls I’d inadvertently role-play a world leader proving my mettle amidst world crisis! The only time I’d play with dolls was while impersonating the fortitude of virgin Mary with the doll being Jesus Christ !
With time and reality check I, however, overcame the grand designs of being at the centre of world events, the desire to carve a niche nevertheless continued. During my growing up years I became a bit distracted but remained mindful of the fact that I had to leave a mark and make a difference, even if not academically, maybe through some facet of my character, some service to my fellow beings, a source for meaningful change. Academics however wouldn’t go away. The fact that the subject I did best in school was English especially creative writing only complemented my father's prodding of honing my writing skills. Himself a prolific writer it was also by default that to avoid my inquisitive and incessant questioning he'd engage me in writing. Years later I opted out of medicine as a prospective career, wanting to pursue the more creative and expressive discipline of architecture. I, however, took to International Relations instead. A Master's degree later I weighed my options for a career. Personally preferring the more "hip" corporate world my father nudged me towards academics. This was also a time when my contemporaries both in the family and at university had started to flex their professional and academic muscles. While the former scaled professional brilliance my batch mates evinced academic prowess including bagging prestigious scholarships such as the coveted Rhodes Scholarship and entering sought after programmes at institutions such as Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford etc. These accomplishments raised the bar for me and impressed my own sense of purpose.
Joining the Think Tank ISS in Islamabad I got to interact with the intellectual elite both of the country and beyond. It provided ample opportunity for personal and academic growth. Interacting with intellectual heavyweights I too sought a sense of parity and started writing and contributing in leading newspapers. My pieces started finding appreciation and I the confidence to continue and improve. Soon I discovered that I had a proclivity towards political research and thus besides providing a platform to evolve professionally I also enjoyed my work. My Boss the then Chairman of ISS Tanvir Ahmed Khan also influenced my writings and was a source of profound inspiration. Everything seemed to be progressing perfectly. However this was just a stepping stone, to truly attain any achievement I needed to further broaden my vision and refine my thought process. The key I concluded was exposure at one of the eminent seats of learning abroad.
Destiny however took its own course and I got married instead. The first serious conversation I had with my husband after the marriage was my desire to further pursue my studies. The additional degree I gasped would enlighten and empower me. He acquiesced and I was delighted.
Moving to Kashmir, a violent conflict zone and that too into a politically pro-active and as I would later experience vulnerable family, my life as I knew it underwent a drastic change. Amidst the security restrictions and political demarcations I felt circumscribed and the linguistic and socio-cultural barriers made me an outcast of sorts. The shrunken avenues for professional and personal growth exacerbated my despair. Though I moved into a more comfortable lifestyle and felt blessed in so many ways yet that was not my mooring. I wanted to experience, to grow, to push the barriers and raise the bar, to “leave an indelible mark on the sands of time” as the favourite quote from my childhood went.
Soon crisis struck the family with the assassination of my father-in-law and the plunging into politics of my husband. Being killed for airing his beliefs and taking a pro-Kashmiri stance, what was then blasphemous, my father-in-law met his end with the prized martyrdom yet for my husband the path of trials had just begun. Having encouraged him to take to writing, a flair which came naturally to him, he utilised it as a means to vent his anger and disseminate the truth as he knew it. This created a lot of ill will and foes. No one wanted the boat to be rocked, the conflict bore its own set of fruits. My sense of insecurity and anguish only entrenched.
“Adversity brings out one’s true colours” I had read somewhere and this was to be my moment of truth. Amidst the maelstrom of crisis I had to prove that my colours typified resilience, determination and above all dignity. Keeping away from any controversies either within the family or otherwise I had to rise above the mundane and carve a dignified position for myself, more so being a woman. I had also to provide an emotional cushioning to my husband, be there for him and stand right besides him. The path, I knew, would be filled with difficulties and setbacks yet I had to endure. And endure I did, seldom off guard I tried to transcend the trivial and abide by the truth. Along the way I faced hardships and personal losses both emotional and physical and at times got swayed in moments of weakness, yet my underlying aim remained consistent – dignity and an unblemished conduct.
Through all this I tried to retain a sense of purpose by taking refuge in my writings. My writing became an integral link with my dreams. Despite the rollercoaster ride recent events represented I still had faith and yearning to attain my aspiration - an enlightened and evolved state of mind. So much had changed over the years, this inspiration remained constant. With an extremely busy and politically active husband, young children and a visa regime that made travelling and stay at my home in Kashmir difficult, I found sanctuary in my dreams. Still nurturing a desire to pursue my studies I however realised that it wasn’t happening anytime soon and focused on my home and children instead. My children provided the means to channelize my passion. Even if not myself, I thought, I’d live my dreams through them. Towards this end I endeavored to stimulate them academically, build on their inherent talents and above all keep them grounded and humane. I wanted them to excel, to outshine and become versatile achievers, equipped to push their way through any imposed barriers – probably a reaction to my own resignation.
With the passage of time as my own aims became increasingly distant, my preoccupation with my children intensified, their progress and growth became my catharsis. I nevertheless continued writing as that gave me a sense of achievement and confidence. Through it I also envisaged to be able to make some contribution, bring about some change some empowerment for the people by providing access to information and an alternative view. It also provided a flickering hope for my own empowerment. However I also began confronting a conflict. While I wanted to pursue my own dreams I also started to sense the twinkle in my children’s eyes the birth of their own dreams and the spark of their aspirations. Their total dependence on me made me ponder, would I be taking away their due, robbing them of the chance to their own dreams if I were to pursue mine. My husband’s evolving indifference towards my studies also chipped away at my confidence. He had genuine reasons. He was away as it is the children couldn’t afford an absent mother too.
At about the same time my husband began penning his vision document on Kashmir. I became very excited. This gave me a chance to be a part of something I cherished and felt passionate about- both the subject matter and the exercise itself. Though the produce of my husband and the fruit of his own toil I however felt empowered in assisting him delineate the approach. Pushing him ahead in his moments of fatigue and fears I felt part of what I perceived as his most important achievement and legacy.
The longing for my own individual legacy however continued and my heart would still miss a beat each time I thought about it, yet the possibility of returning to my studies and with it the elusive enrichment seemed remote. A restless soul I however couldn’t settle to a completely mundane lifestyle either. I was conditioned otherwise. The gibes of relatives of how I’d wasted myself and the genuine concerns of well-wishers urging me to pursue my abilities may have mattered in the early days but now I was responding to my own innate call. Even writing needed ample food for thought and experiences and it too was ceasing to represent the flight of fancy it earlier depicted or the measure of contribution I aspired. I also realised that to make a positive difference in the lives of others around me especially my children and my family I needed to keep myself going. I was slipping down the slope of resentment and regrets. I had to reclaim my life. My kids were at a stage when neither were they too young and nor at an academic advanced stage where my brief absence would profoundly impact them. I took up the matter with my husband. This time I explained, it was not just a matter of personal enrichment but probably a matter of my life and its eventual course. After some reflection my husband agreed.
Ecstatic I looked up courses and zeroed in on a part time degree at the University of Cambridge as it also enabled me the flexibility to stay focused on my kids. However the eligibility seemed exceptionally competitive. I felt daunted but applied anyways. Once accepted my joy had no bounds, it seemed so surreal. Realising the sacrifice I put my family through especially my children, I strived to keep my focus and achieve what I had set out for. Seeking inspiration I derived signs even from the coincidence of being seated next to female academics each time I’d be travelling, drawing motivation from their tales of balancing young families, their education and careers. I also tried to minimise the impact of my studies on my kids often with just a few hours of spacing/rest between the end of my studies in the wee hours and the start of the kids day early next morning. Prohibiting myself from any engagement but my studies, I put in an exhaustive effort. It eventually paid off. My first year has now ended. I feel a sense of contentment.
The degree does not represent a mere advancement of education for me but has come to symbolise so much more. It has provided me a perspective on my life which suddenly seems to hold everything together. Looking back I now see the sequence of my life fall into place. The delayed opportunity not only gave me time to concentrate on the cognitive and physical development of my kids during their important foundation years but also gave me the opportunity to spend time with my parents and being an only child provide them the emotional and physical succour that they required. Taking up responsibility of my kids completely on my own I was also able to allow my husband the independence and focus to concentrate on his career and its struggles. In retrospect I realised that I had been given the opportunity to do justice to my diverse roles and fulfill their respective obligations. The crisis both personal and otherwise also enabled me to harden my resilience and garner the strength to eventually push the frontiers. My constant struggles and their overcoming empowered me to take up my cause and strive towards attaining it. My sense of loss spurred me to strive further and contributed in imbuing relative maturity and vigor to my writings. Above all it gave me the confidence, will and self assurance to compete for one of the most coveted academic spots in the world. All this would not have been possible without my move to Kashmir, the experiences it had to offer and their influence in shaping me and my outlook. Looking back I believe God has everything figured out for us but we as humans are unable to appreciate it due to our own limited vision.
I may not have left a mark, yet, or so I hope, but nonetheless I feel a sense of fulfillment and humility when young girls come up to me telling me the ways in which they look up to me or the hope I hold out for them; more so because of the later stage of life and the obstacles I overcame to reclaim my dreams. I have a long way to go yet, I however hope to be able to bring about some change, inspire some hope, be the driver for some betterment even if just a smile on a desolate face or faith for a sunken heart. God has been extremely kind to me and with it comes responsibility especially towards those who have not been so endowed. I hope to fulfill this responsibility and maybe through it attain the true sense of achievement and fulfillment. Every life is borne with a purpose, maybe this is the purpose of my life, its true calling.
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Lastupdate on : Mon, 22 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 22 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 23 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST
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