MY FINEST HOUR
Saturday, 24th October 2009
A few months back, I started teaching at a local university as visiting faculty. The reactions I got varied from extremely flattering to downright insulting to my decision. One foreigner I know mocked it with a very derisive “So what will you achieve by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms?” Honestly, at that point in time, I had no idea how to respond to that scathing comment. I seriously did not know what I am supposed to do as a teacher apart from imparting knowledge on the subject I teach.In the past three months that I have been teaching, I have had my highs and lows. I have had some very good days and some not so good days, but one remarkable change that I have seen in my students is that they want to discuss issues instead of just going through the lectures like they did in the first couple of weeks. They question, they debate, they ponder, they contest, they deliberate, they argue and they have learnt to respect different views even when they don’t agree with them. This is something that we don’t often see in Pakistan and for a teacher, it is one of the most encouraging and heartening sights.
On Wednesday, I got an email from my student Bemisal saying that the student body is extremely distressed at the twin bombing incident at Islamic International University. What irked them most was the government’s cavalier attitude towards the safety and security of the students and the fact that most provincial governments refused to provide security to the institutions of learning and closed them down till October 26th. They wanted to protest against the acts of terror and government’s apathy towards its citizens. They also wanted to show solidarity with the students who died at the twin blasts on October 21st 2009.
In two days time, they managed to not only mobilize other students and made their presence felt with out any prior activism experience; they did so in face of opposition from their parents and families who tried to discourage them from stepping out of the secure confines of their homes. They did it when a local tv channel aired the news that a suspected bomber wearing a suicide jacket was seen in the vicinity of the area of protest.
Seeing my students at the protest, demanding their constitutional rights with a consciousness and confidence not common amongst most Pakistani, was perhaps my finest hour as a teacher. Arfa, Sabah, Danish, Hiba, Umair, Bemisal, Farwa, Aqsa and Ahmed, you guys made me proud today (most of them are girls, so double hurrah for them). Looks like all those debates in the class and gargles I took after every three hour session were well worth it. If anyone mocks me any more and say what have I achieved by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms, I would say that I played my tiny little part in bringing them out on the streets. They don’t need to be out on the streets but they decided that they don’t want to stay apathetic and stepped up to claim their right and space. How is that for an achievement?
Jaag is a potential powerhouse. I have seen how they have evolved. As dispersed individuals, agitated with the condition of Pakistan, they have today been able to form a solid identity and like-minded group. Today they are bound together by a genuine motivation to help the quickly dilapidating situation of Pakistan.
The best part about them, as far as i am concerned, is that they have their thoughts in the right direction. i know that many people today are chanting the slogans for “change!” and “help!” and it makes it quite difficult for us to see what these people are really offering us behind these noble slogans. What kind of change are they inviting for us to support? The variations are plenty – from supporting fascist groups, corrupt political parties, fundamentalist groups, apologetic NGOs and you name it.
Jaag, along with other reputable organizations now, is giving a voice to the “masses” of Pakistan – the silent and dying majority of Pakistan. The middle class. The electrician who rides a motorbike all day and gets ravaged on the streets. The small-time exporter who has had to close his unit because of electricity costs soaring up. The golden-hand-shaked academic who has a house to sit in but no welfare systems to see to his sustenace. The commercial artist who can’t make a living with his skill anymore.
The middle class which is a depleting resource of our country needs a voice and needs a quick revival. Jaag, along with many other groups of political and social activism, understand that the political regime needs to look out for the interests of these large silent masses. No more interests of the elite – feudal, armed forces, corporate or religious elite. The time has come for the youth to safeguard the itnerests of a group that has been made Pakistan, and yet has been neglected until now. Thus, it istime for all of us to Wake Up! Jaago!
Architect, Uraan Project,
currently doing Masters in Muslim Cultures.
In the summer of 2010 volunteers from Jaag Taalib e Ilm raised 60000 rupees to make Ramzan packaged for the 70 women and 20 children who are living in the Women’s Prison in Karachi. After coordinating with me, we came up with a list of goods that the volunteers would pack for the women and children. Then we visited the prison and distributed the packs to the women and children. Overall, I had a wonderful experience with Jaag Taalib e Ilm because they took the initiative from the start to the end. We will continue to create volunteering opportunities for students who are involved with the group. And I am very honored to be a part of this dynamic, and student-driven process.
My message to students in Pakistan is that service is an integral part of developing your heart. To give your time and effort towards any cause that you feel is worthwhile, however small or large your effort, creates positive ripples throughout our world. Don’t ever get discouraged!
Some old traditions say that no man is adult until he has become opened to the soul and spirit world, and they say that such an opening is done by a wound in the right place, at the right time, in the right company. A wound allows the spirit or soul to enter.