Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chapter 9: Innocence and Foolishness

A Tough Milestone
Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

Hemayat, one of my good friends from Commerce College Larkana, where we completed our 11th and 12th grade education, was also fortunate to be selected for the prestigious, undergraduate program at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro—the city famed for its gales. When I heard the news of his acceptance, I was reminded of the depressing fact that so many of our other friends had failed the test, but they were still pleading their case with the school officials for an admission. Unlike so many of our other friends, we had managed to pass the admission test. So, with some youthful apprehension, we decided to take the long, arduous trip by coach to the university together. The eight-hour trip was relatively uneventful, except for the poor condition of the coach’s suspension that made every pothole seem like a crater. With both of us chatting about the things guys usually talk about—girls and sports—the time passed quickly.

“Have you ever fallen in love?” asked Hemayat.

“I don’t know, but I do like a girl whom I met when I was five.” I replied.

“Does she know?” asked Hemayat.

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Then it’s a one-sided love, huh?”

“Yeah. I have talked to my brothers about meeting with her parents, but they disapprove of my plan to marry her.”

“Well, to me it seems like you live in a dream that’ll never turn into reality,” Hemayat observed. Before I had a chance to reply, our chat was cut short by the rising force of a song the coach conductor was playing at full volume.

When we finally reached our destination in Jamshoro, the burly coach conductor with a bad haircut barked at us to get off. With one arm and in a single motion, he lifted our overstuffed bags full of clothes and books. Perhaps the long trip was getting to him, too. Since we were not allotted a hostel room yet, we decided to stay off campus at a nearby house owned by Hemayat’s close friend. When we put our feet on the stony earth of the city, where the campus was located, we were greeted by furious gusts of wind that fought back against any attempt to move forward—making our journey on foot into a little battle that was being pressed step-by-step. However, we didn’t mind. Our excitement and joy at having been selected made the struggle against the wind seem minuscule. We walked briskly to our new residence. The excitement of beginning a new era in our lives had created a lively, happy silence that trailed us as we marched together. We spoke a little and when we saw Hemayat’s friend’s house appear, we hastened our steps. First days are always fascinating for me, but would life at the university still be exciting after more time passes? Would this enchantment become a novelty that wears off? Those questions floated around in my mind.

The immaculately kept, moderate house where we stayed consisted of one large room where Hemayat’s friend lived alone. The first night, we neglected to use the Mourtine spray, and as a result a swarm of mosquitoes rudely interrupted our sleep. The next day, we woke up at 07:00 and prepared for the lectures on campus. To our amazement, we found the campus bus, waiting for us at the corner of the nearby intersection. With anticipation and a bounce in our steps, we got on the bus, and within 15 minutes, we entered the impressive, arched main gate of the university. The university covered so many acres that walking on the long, winding roads was tiring at first. Although we had the campus map given to us, there were so many different department buildings, that we were struggling to find the right ones. We parted ways, and Hemayat went searching for his class as I did for mine. When I entered the building, my class had already started. Using the correct protocol learned years ago, I asked the teacher for permission to enter. He warmly welcomed me in English and asked me to introduce myself. I introduced myself to the students confidently and fluently. 

After the class, one bespectacled young man with unkempt hair came to me, and said in his broken English, “Me Imran. From country what are you?”

“I am not a foreigner. I am Pakistani and I am from Larkana,” I quickly replied with a smile.

“Oh, we thinked you had a foreigner because you had speak English so well.”

His English made me laugh. He became my first friend at the university that day.

Our first day at the university flew by, and it was a great experience. The next day, the university was closed because of a protest by a national political party. Some students told us that there was great political unrest in the university, and the conditions seemed to be getting worse. I am still not sure what they were protesting about. They told us that they have seen students being killed in the political conflicts on campus. For six days in a row there were no classes, so I decided to go home. I was feeling very homesick. I missed my village, and the kids I taught. Adding to my malaise was a slight fever from the mosquito bites, and my body’s reaction to the hotel food and the new environment.

Weakened from my fever, I complained to Hemayat, “I’m so bored. We don’t have any classes. What if this happens all year long?”

“Everything will be alright in a day or two,” he consoled me. After I roamed the city taking in the new sights, a nagging doubt began to pollute the joyous and excited mood I had held earlier.

Everything which had happened until now—my fevers, my boredom, my doubts—was welling up within the depths of my body and drowning my earlier hopes and excitement. I felt as if I wanted to give in to the welling and the drowning and just drift away.

Dejectedly, I took some of my clothes and left for home. I figured I would get the rest of my luggage later on.

After a long day of travel, I finally reached home. My mother was ecstatic to see me, but my brothers had mixed feelings. I told them that I would quit attending the university. “What? What will people think?” Jamil asked anxiously. He always worried about public opinion!

“He’ll never amount to anything. Haven’t I told you this before?” Irfan added, pointing to me.

“Why do you all keep taunting him? You never went to a university. You never even learned how to use a computer!” my mother finally silenced them. I went to my room. Tired and ready to finish my day, I retired to my bed.

The next day, I went to Sir Shah Nawaz Library and met some of the Commerce College fellows who were very dejected because they could not pass the university entrance examination. I told them that I was going to quit. “No, Rizwan. That would be a huge mistake. Look at us; we feel unlucky because we couldn’t even pass the test. You are a lucky student. You must continue for your future.” I stared at them silently. There was an air of confusion and sadness.

After a long day contemplating over the undergraduate program and battling a sense of ennui, I reevaluated my decision by nightfall. I made up my mind to continue no matter how hard the situation might be. I told my mother that I would go back to university. “Why? You could continue your studies here in Larkana. This is hard on me. I don’t like you being so far away,” said my mother.

“Yes, it is tough. But if I don’t have a university degree, it will make things harder.”

“I understand. I will pray for you.”

“Thank you. If I quit, I’ll be depriving myself of a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” I added.

Speaking about our family, my mother said, “Did you know that your uncle has given Seemi’s hand in return for a girl for his son, Ayaz?” In Sindhi culture, many families give a girl in marriage and take a girl from the other family in return.

“No! Really? So Seemi is engaged now?” I asked, a slight tremble in my voice revealing my shock and sorrow.

“No, the boy refused to accept her hand after Ayaz’s engagement.”

“That’s not fair. Now I see why Seemi was worried the other day.”

“Yes. He shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have agreed to the first proposal. But now that his sister is engaged to Ayaz, he refuses to accept Seemi’s hand. Seemi is worried because it might damage her reputation,” said my mother.

“I hate this give and take system in our culture. I don’t know when women will have their equal rights in this male-dominated society,” I sighed. “Oh, my poor childhood friend, Seemi.” I don’t know why I felt so sad after I heard about her situation. I felt a burning pain in my heart that ate through my body like waves crashing terribly on a shore and gradually devouring the land itself. I wished I could do something for her.

My mother went to sleep as it was late at night. I walked out of my room to look at the starry sky. I could hear the eerie sound of an owl hooting in the neighbor’s tree. That day, I felt that there is no purer love in the world than a mother’s. She always wants to see her child happy. If she had the power and authority, she would do anything to make her child happy. I wish women at the very least had basic rights in my society.

The next day, the 8th of January, 2010, I left once again for the university with renewed ambition. On the way, I thought to myself that opportunities don’t come knocking every day. And I reminded myself that a great goal requires hard work and consistency in order to be achieved. 

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