Friday, May 06, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part II)

Rewa, the master of words, wrote articles and stories that were published in various magazines. One such article was this. Abbu had just rejected my plea of continuing my education. I was to take my final year exams and get married to a well-settled boy from a good family. He was already on the lookout of such a candidate. And I knew, like always I would accept his wish, killing my dreams for my own future. Just as I'd done before. After all, I was a girl. I was to keep my family's honor by mutely accepting my elder's orders. One afternoon, I saw a classmate of mine waving a magazine in her hand.

"A fab article by Rewa. It's a must read. "

She passed the mag around. A few saw it and passed it on, a few read a couple of lines. I read the whole of it. And the words are etched on my mind forever.

"For how long will we be suppressed under the guise of culture? Which culture says you have one set of rules for some people and another set of rules for the others? Who gave men the right to decide what to do with our lives? And if we don't ourselves protest and fight for our rights, then who will? What are we women waiting for, that an angel will descend from the skies, wave a magic wand and all our problems will disappear? No, nothing of that kind will happen. Problems have to be worked upon, else they remain. If we have to improve our position, we have to act ourselves. You have every right to fulfill your wishes. And to do that, if you have to break the shackles of loading, then break them. Live your own life."

It seemed that she had written this for me. Rewa's face was staring out of the pages of the magazine, her voice saying,
"Live your own life Saira, follow your dream. You let go of one, don't make this a habit. Fulfill your dream, after all, its your life."
Her words inspired me so much that I decided to live my dream. It wasn't easy then, convincing Abbu to let me study further after my graduation. I used logic, tears, and pleas, all that I could, and finally Abbu relented. Maybe it was my broken heart, maybe it was the difficulty of finding a groom for an average looking, average educated girl from an average family. I was so happy the day he said yes. I wanted to meet Rewa and thank her. But, she had moved the day before.

Over the years, I went on to do my masters and become an asst lecturer in my college. And that is where I met Aftaab. He was studying in the same college where I taught. Final year CA student. A year later we were married and Abbu was glad the last of his responsibilities had been suitably fulfilled. Ammi was happy that I found such a well-educated husband. All these years she had been my support. Silently encouraging me to go on. Perhaps she had once felt the need to break her own shackles, but she never could utter a word in front of first her father and brothers and then her husband. Perhaps she saw a reflection of her own unfulfilled desires in my freedom. When I was getting out of their conservative world, she let me go with smiles on her lips, tears in her eyes and blessings in her heart.

Aftaab encouraged me to study further and I went on to do a Doctorate in economics. Years went by, he is now a successful finance consultant and I am the deputy HoD at my college. Three months back, I read about a book on the best seller list - Sudha by Progati. It was a story of a middle class girl and her progress. I heard a lot of acclaim for the author's views expressed in the book. Her philosophy on women's position in society and their progress were charted out in the book through her protagonist Sudha's life. And when I read it, I immediately though of Rewa. Progati's opinions were very similar to those of Rewa, and soon I read all of her four books. About the same time, my own book - The Common Man's Economy was released, and before I knew it, not just the academic circles but also the man on the street was reading it. My book was a bestseller! I still remember the day I showed Abbu the card - guilded letters on a rich cream background, announcing my nomination for the award in the best in non-fiction category. A nomination for the Indian Writer's Association Awards may not be a big thing for Dr Saira Bashir, but it was a big thing for Saira Sheikh, the timid girl who was dead scared of her Abbu. The very man who now read the invitation card with misty eyes. He read reread and re-reread it. He clutched the card the whole day like a little child clutches his favorite toy. Finally, I had proved that I was right – a daughter could bring as much honour and pride to her family as a son. Ammi would have been so happy today. And I saw her smiling photograph, her eyes seemed to be saying,
"Saira, I am proud of you"