“Mother, buy me a pencil. I don’t have any for school.”
“I don’t have, my son. As a matter of fact, I don’t have any at all.”
Such conversations I have had with my mother when I was small. Often, I used to argue stubbornly about my necessities which kids of my age were easily getting. If I had known then how my mother was managing everything, then perhaps I would not have said a word. But poverty above all was poverty, and it irritated my childhood self just like it would to any other, following me around like a name-tag or an identity. It represented not only a noun or a class for me, it felt like a forceful verb, a situation, a state riddled with thousand petty humiliations every day. And I had to wear that pendant of poverty at a very early age when my father passed away, leaving us a meagre 1800 pension money after he retired early from the army.
I do not know how my poor mother managed everything, but she always did, churning out food, clothing, shelter and school expenses from this negligible sum for both me and my sister. This has remained a mystery that I could not fathom to this day. She would plow the fields with expert grips on the shovel, collect the apricots with meticulous hands and carry the woods home without complaint. Then she would cook, wash and sweep the house besides doing the laundry. She never wore any shoes while watering the fields, or carrying the hay-load or during the milking of the goats, the habit persisting to this day.
And off course I helped, as much as I could. I would work with shovels in the fields when the sun would be high, jerk the apricots down from precariously positioned branches and sometimes stay whole nights awake to get our turn at the meagre water supply for our fields. But most importantly I would cut the dry woods which was a complete no-work zone for women. Though it was dangerous to say the least. One false step, and down you come in the blink of an eye with rocks as your ground. And I had fallen, but not on rocks luckily.
But I was not perhaps so lucky with life itself, where poverty sprung up rocks everywhere. I got bruised from one rock, I tread a little carefully the next time. The bruises healed, but taught me so many things along the way. Most importantly, it taught me the blessing of self-dependency. I started a tuition center on my own when I was in my 8th standard which runs to this today. It had helped in bearing the expenses at my home. I started pedaling my bicycle to Khaplu when I took admission in KPS. Though the competitive environment there made me suffer for a while, but I plodded on and got good at it.
Perhaps the biggest reason for my hard work was my mother- the biggest living, breathing and walking inspiration in my life, an embodiment of hard work, perseverance and courage. So, the results also showed. I remained topper till my 8th grade in my home-town school Barah. My matriculation and college marks were also more than satisfactory for me.
Along this whole way, I wish I could say that money did not create a big problem, but it did in all honesty. It would have halted me at any step along the way, forcing me to choose what most Barahwis choose at my hometown- waitering, cooking, washing at restaurants either in Pakistan or outside. But something always came up and I was saved. It was like Allah was helping me at every stage. Right after my 8th standard, the Baduwa Foundation approached me, unasked and bore all my expenses at KPS. A local businessman also helped me a great deal when he saw my passion towards my studies. A friend of mine let me stay at his house when I was getting tuition during winters of my FSc.
However, I blundered into a mistake which subsequently cost me heavily. I sought career advice from acquaintances who had not stepped outside the confines of GB themselves and believed them blindly.
“Biology equals doctors which is costly. Choose the engineer making Maths son if you want frugality, economy and cost efficiency.” They said with conviction. I slumped and had chosen Maths although I had a natural inclination towards Biology. After all money was the only consideration I could not compromise on. I did not know then that biology equaled to so many other things that could also be pursued as a respectable career choice.
So, I moved to the cities with no proper guidance but “biology equals doctors and Maths equals engineers” dangling around in my head. By the time, I had reached most of the tests were already finished. There were a few where I applied, among them Sargodha University where I was selected on the basis of nomination for BS (Physics). I lasted a week there. Besides the communication and cultural problems there, I left because of my mother. She had taken it hard that her only son was so far away. Although she would not say anything, but often broke out in tears whenever I talked to her.
I could not bear then, and came right back to do BSc at degree college Skardu, where I got about 2 to 3 months only for study, and so consequently my results were affected, poorly. But during the subsequent years after many failures and struggles, I finally settled at Karachi University.
This is where I am doing my Masters in Physics now. I am very happy. I am supporting myself fully from the tuition that I teach, and paying my fees through that means.