Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Dreams may come true

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In March 2010, eleven year-old Shahdad Marri could not comprehend the question regarding what he wanted to be when he grew up. I rephrased and asked what work he would like to do as a man. “I will do whatever work I can get,” he said.

Surely, there was something he would like to do. Like being a doctor or an engineer, I pressed. Shahdad silently shook his head staring straight at me with his pellucid brown eyes. “Surely, you have a dream of being someone when you grow up?” I tried again. What he said is a stab into the soul of all of us who call ourselves Pakistani. It is enough to make us hang our heads in shame.

“I have no dream so far,” Shahdad said with heart-wrenching simplicity. “I have no dream so far.” His exact words: “Abhi tuk koi khwab nahi hai.”

In its sixty-third year, Pakistan had failed to give dreams to Shahdad Khan Marri. If truth be told, we gave him only poverty. Poverty so abject that it took away his capacity to dream the dreams that any eleven-year-old should. Another child his age in another place in Pakistan would be in the fifth or sixth grade of school. Young Shahdad had only just started kindergarten in Jahangir Marri School, Kohlu, a school named after an army lieutenant who gave his life in the anti-terrorist operation in Bajaur.

The eldest of seven siblings, Shahdad had to go to work at a very early age in order to help his daily wage-earning father. There were few skills to pick up in remote Kohlu and so the boy worked in a tea shop across the road from the school. For two thousand rupees a month, he toiled from an hour after sunrise to well after nightfall seven days a week. Every day, as he brought the mid-morning tray to the office, the bursar would watch the boy stop at the door of each classroom he passed to stand motionless and look into the roomful of neatly turned-out pupils at their lessons. One day as the boy put the tray down in front of Zafar Iqbal, he looked the bursar in the eye and said he too would like to be a student. He was obviously from a very indigent background, unable to pay tuitions fee and cost of books, etc. But the appeal was so fervent and genuine that it touched the bursar’s heart. This good man approached principal Khaula Amir and suggested that if she could waive the monthly fees, he would pay the admission expenses.

Now, the school maintained a small kitty from teachers’ contributions to maintain nine deserving pupils in the school. To add yet another would have been impossible. Seeing the boy’s ardour, this wonderful woman offered to pay the monthly tuition herself. And so it was that young Shahdad Marri began school only three days before I met him.

In Kohlu, grown men do not speak Urdu. Here was illiterate Shahdad who had never left his hometown but spoke the language perfectly. He said he had picked it up from the constant stream coming off the TV set in the tea house. To have been able to do this, Shahdad Marri had to be a gifted child. I knew then that if he remained in school, he would excel and grow up to dream and realise great dreams.

However, as I was leaving Lieutenant Jahangir Marri School, a niggling thought remained. The usual practice was that the wife of the Commandant Maiwand Rifles at Kohlu did as the school head. When I met these good people, Colonel Amir was already halfway through his two-year stint. Would it be possible that the next five principals would all be as infused with the spirit of largesse as Khaula?

Two years have gone by since I met the boy and I have no way of knowing how he fares. For his sake and for the sake of that beautiful land we call Balochistan, I hope he is still in school. Zafar Iqbal and Khaula Amir gave young Shahdad Khan Marri the ability to dream. I hope for the sake of all that we hold dear that those who follow help him realise his dreams.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Trek to the Source of the Khenji River

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 08:30,


At 9 August 2014 at 11:09, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir countless Shahdad s are waiting peoples like Zafar And Khaula in this country. Collective efforts at Govt levels are required to over come this problinm


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days