Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chapter 6. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

From 6th to 9th grade, my life as a village boy remained monotonously the same. The hard, unremitting work of the dairy farm, the boredom of school, and the predictability of the general store seemed as though they would never end. I wasn’t learning what I really needed to. The real world experience of working at the shop and on the farm had forced me to grow up. I ruminated over many things while feeding the cattle. One day, I realized that my decisions would shape my future: sound decisions might secure a bright tomorrow, while unsound ones would likely lead to harsh consequences.

At 15, I decided that I would take a bold step to change my life. I realized that if I didn’t help myself, then nobody else would. I thought that my brothers could never make better decisions for me than I could make for myself.

Irfan was happy with working in the shop, but I felt it was not for me. I had a good understanding of how to persuade the customers and how to make deals with them. I knew there was nothing more for me to learn at the shop. It was time for me to study and learn. However, I was not able to say anything to my brothers. Unlike them, I didn’t want to be a shopkeeper all my life.

I thought a lot about my future, although I never shared my thoughts with anyone. “I need to educate myself. I’ll have to find my own way. If I remain on my current path, I’ll end up being an uneducated shopkeeper,” I said to myself while mixing the chaff in the buffaloes’ feeding trough.

I wasn’t satisfied with the mediocre education provided by the local government school. Regrettably, many teachers seemed lackluster and disengaged from teaching.

It wasn’t easy for me to leave the shop completely. I reached 9th grade, but nothing seemed to change. I wasn’t good at any subject. Even my English hadn’t improved since entering middle school.

In the 9th grade, a new boy from a nearby village—Masoo Hub—joined our class. His name was Rashid, and he was much smarter than the rest of us. I found out that he studied at a private institute in the city after school. I learned about the coaching centers in the city from him.

The next morning, I woke up with new ideas. The bright August sun threw down shining rays. A bird in the Neem tree behind my room was singing a revolutionary song. I felt that I was free to do whatever I wanted. I had forgotten my responsibilities for some moments. I woke up late and didn’t go to the farm. In the afternoon, when I came back from school, my both brothers were at the shop. “Where were you? You were supposed to be here at 12:00!” said Papoo, in a surly mood.

I didn’t reply him. Jamil looked at me silently. “I have to talk to you,” I said to Jamil with confidence. “I want to enroll in an English coaching center in the city.”

“Ah what? You won’t be an Englishman! The local school is enough for you. If you can read and write Sindhi that’s enough for you,” commented Papoo, making fun of me.

“Going to school here is nothing but a waste of time,” I replied him looking into his eyes.
“I don’t want to run the shop for the rest of my life! I don’t want to look after the buffaloes all my life! I want to attain a higher education.”

Jamil was astonished when he heard this. He stopped Papoo from remarking. He perhaps had seen my spirit. He went silent for a moment and then hesitantly said, “I don’t know... much about coaching centers.”

“I’ve already chosen an institute. It won’t cost much. You just have to go there with me once. It’ll only take an hour or two,” I explained, using a soft and persuasive tone.

Jamil was impressed that I had worked out how it could be done. With his support, I was admitted to the institute. A new routine began. I would go to school in the morning for one or two hours, then I return to the shop and deal with customers there until around 2:00. Afterwards, I would go to the coaching center, which was a good distance away. I would catch one of the village’s old riding vans to get to the city, but I had to cover some of the distance on foot. I found it a challenge to ride the vans and walk on foot, especially during the summer months, but I put up with all of the hardships and continued attending my classes.

My brothers couldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted; they couldn’t dissuade me from pursuing my dream of completing my studies. I believed that once a man decides to do something for himself, persistence makes his goals achievable.

After some months, I joined the computer center too. By that point, I had become confident enough to take further steps on my own. I now spent very little time working in the shop, only in the late evenings. After a year, when I started teaching the children in my neighborhood, I had no time for the shop at all.

Irfan started remonstrating with me because I was no longer sharing the burden of the shop with him. I couldn’t help thinking that if Irfan had followed my example, our older brothers Jamil and Papoo would have found a way to manage the shop themselves.

One day as I was going to the coaching center, I saw a boy of my age selling potato chips on a wheelbarrow. I had seen him selling chips at the gate of the school many times. After the class, when I was returning home, I saw the wheelbarrow boy again. I decided to stop and talk to him and ask him about his life.  

“My father runs a tractor,” he told me. “He didn’t allow me to go to school,” he added sadly, while chopping the potatoes. I listened quietly to his life story. It was clear that he would have liked to go to school. It occurred to me that while it was understandable that parents sent their children out to earn money when times were tough, it was nonetheless shortsighted of them. Educating their children might seem unaffordable to them now, but failing to give them a good education meant they were condemning their innocent children to a lifetime of poverty.

I was starting to run late. Before leaving, I shared with him the wisdom that I had acquired through my efforts to educate myself. “In life, you may not be given many opportunities to learn and grow,” I told him. “Nevertheless, you still have to make an effort to change things for yourself. After all, it is your life; you need to take care of it because no one else will. One day everyone has to make his or her own way. You have to carve your own path to reach your aspirations and achieve your dreams. Aim high and never lose the passion and desire to learn and explore new things. This will bring you success and will make you an inspiration to many.”

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