Kindling knowledge ( Aqsa Rashid )
Written By Khalid Irshad

It was fateful January 1, 1984 when Muhammad Abdul Rashid, a manufacturer of Daska, died in a road accident, leaving behind his wife of six years Surriya and four daughter; four-and-a-half-year-old Uzma, three-year-old Faiza, one-and-a-half-year-old Saadia and three-month-old Aqsa.

As the family members were wailing and weeping over the sudden death of Rashid, Uzma was unable to understand as to why her father was lying motionless on a cot in middle of the courtyard. She is unaware that she had been orphaned and she had to travel a long journey of life from day-one in school to M.Sc in Psychology without her fathers readily available compassionate love and care.

Weeping bitterly, Surriya is promising with Rashids corpse that she would fulfill all his dreams and rear the girls like a father and make them so strong that no hostile condition would be able to shake their confidence.

Though the eldest daughter Uzma would not forget the scene of her fathers departure to a graveyard, the youngest ones would come across their fathers persona only in photos. At that New Year day, no one had imagined that these orphan girls would bank on charity and alms to pursue their studies and that these sisters would perform so outstandingly that well-off people would enviously watch them progressing in their academic fields, giving a good name to their family.

No one had visualized on that day that the three-month-old, Aqsa, would one day bag 741 out of 850 marks in Gujranwala Boards matriculation examination in Science Group and would write to an esteemed digest for financial help to carry on her studies.

I came to know about this gutsy family through a letter written by Aqsa Rashid which indeed jolted me into telling their gallant story to thousands of people who conjure up excuses against fighting stagnation and also into telling the dejected people that Man gets what he simply strives for and that Allah has created every human being with a declared objective. And, in fact, its because of every humans own deeds that after failing to overcome miseries and pains, he strays into darkness of depression or he conquers his destinations on the strength of his resolve and endeavor.

Publishing the tale of these four siblings is an anecdote and has some hints of positivity and high moral character for the readers. Hafiza Aqsa Rashid wrote the following letter: We are four sisters only. My father expired in a car accident three months after my birth. Our mother has contracted Parkinsons disease since then. People give us charity and alms with which money we run our house.

The eldest sister has got married after doing an M.Sc in Psychology, the next one is in fourth-year of M.B.B.S at Rawalpindi Medical College (RMC), the next one has taken F.Sc examination while I had secured 741 marks in matriculations Science Group last year but could not continue my studies owing to financial constraints and mothers illness. I still want to get admission to F.Sc but my mother is unable to finance my studies and I fear that I will have to abandon my academic career for want of money.

I have come to know that your organization helps out needy and deserving students, therefore, I am writing to you to help me out. I was shocked after going through the contents of this letter that how Allah puts his subjects to the test; on the one hand He gives someone resources to buy as many books as he or she wants but would not bestow upon them aptitude to peruse these books and on the other hand He gifts some people curiosity and will to learn but wont empower them financially to even buy books and quench their academic thirst.

What kind of system this is that a student who bagged 87 per cent marks could not carry on her studies merely owing to her inability to buy books and pay fees and for how long this poverty will continue to take a heavy toll on brainiacs of this homeland?

After reading Aqsa letter, I asked another girl of Daska city who had secured third position in Gujranwala Boards matriculation examination for year 2002 to collect more information about Aqsas family and her contact number. That girl responded positively in a few hours. Talking to Aqsa I expressed my desire to publish their story in the Urdu Digest. She told me that she would consult her mother and if she agreed, then I could visit them.

On my next call, Aqsa said that her mother does not want to get their story published. She said that in fact they dont want people take pity on them after reading their story and God willing, we (the sisters) will complete education with the help of donations offered by our near and dear ones.

Aqsa and her mothers response wholly impressed me. In an attempt to convince her again I said: In fact, I wanted knowing that how an ailing woman reared her daughters magnificently without ample resources at her disposal and a shoulder to cry on after the death of her husband 19 years ago. In response to my reiterated request, Aqsa said that her elder sister studying in the RMC would come from Rawalpindi at the weekend and she would talk to her so that she could convince our mother to get their interview published.

A couple of days later, I received a telephonic call from Faiza Rashid. She said that being a religious family, their relatives were not allowing their mother to get her interview published. However, she said, if your objective is pious and you want to publish our story for the guidance of parents and youths, then she was ready for an interview which would, of course, cover their years-long ordeal.

Two days after that conversation, I reached Rawalpindi on June 6 to interview Faiza. She received me in the guestroom of her hostel in Chaklala. I asked her to divulge how she and her family coped with battalions of misfortunes. My father had four brothers and a sister. All the brothers manufactured motors and small machines which is in fact our family business.

Though boys would not normally prefer studying over business concern, my father had inclination towards learning so he did a B.Sc besides working in the factory. Because of his aptitude towards knowledge, he married a graduate woman in 1977. He was of the view that an educated woman can nurture her children better than any other woman, which proved true in our own case after his death. This is all because of our mothers superb rearing that I and all my sisters got top education despite facing enormously hostile conditions,Faiza Rashid said.

My father and all my uncles and grandparents happily lived together in a joint family when unlucky January 1, 1984 arrived. My father along with his friend was going to Sambrial when their car met an accident that left us orphaned in no time. Uttering these sentences, tears welled up in her eyes. The ambiance at the RMC hostels guestroom had turned gloomy as she fought back her tears to recollect how she kept on missing his father on several occasions in her life.

I guess this conversation had reopened all her wounds of helplessness and hopelessness in the wake of untimely death of her father. There was a deafening silence in the room. An old ceiling fan was producing shrilly sounds more than throwing currents of cool air. A few miles away from this Chaklala accommodation where a brilliant daughter of this nation was recollecting her stark memories, the people at the helm of affairs were trying to hoodwink the masses in the name of presenting annual budget while the opposition members were preparing themselves to decide whether or not they should lodge a protest during that session.

After a couple of minutes, Faiza broke the heavy atmosphere. My father was treasurer of localitys mosque and had updated the accounts a few days before his death. Our mother told us that he had never regretted the birth of only daughters during their wedlock. He would often tell our mother that he would impart quality education to all the daughters. Our mother virtually dedicated every moment of her remaining life to fulfill our fathers desires and dreams.

The shock of becoming a widow six years after marriage shatters any woman, particularly the mother of small children and, in our case, all daughters. Ominous thinking that who would help her in upbringing the girls landed her in depression and anxiety and she finally contracted Parkinsons disease, Faiza said. Didnt your father leave any bank balance for you? I asked her. Only Rs300 that he had earned after a temporary bank job for a couple of months, she replied.

After his death, our elder maternal uncle started taking care of us financially. The elder brother of our father (paternal uncle) also helped us out according to his capacity as he had to look after his parents and a widow sister. Similarly, our maternal cousin, who lived in Kuwait, and some generous people of the area also helped out. Though the money thus collected would be peanuts, our mother would spend each and every penny carefully and considerately. She admitted us to government schools where fees are not so exorbitant, so this way we kept on progressing in our studies even with meager financial resources.

We would always purchase used books at concessionary prices. One of my teachers, Mst Hamida, extended enormous help to me. She is still helping me out financially. She took great care of me in Class IX and X. She also referred me to a teacher, who happened to be one of her relatives, for taking tuition whereas she would pay fee. This way, I secured 751 marks in the matriculation examination.

We had been allotted a small room in the house and I and my elder sister Uzma faced huge inconvenience in preparing ourselves for the exams, especially during nighttime. Despite her illness, our mother again took great pains to give us an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the exams with focalization. She would not sleep despite our insistence to take rest until we quit studying. My teacher, Mst Hamida, again helped me get admission to the college. I was unable to pay fee for taking private tuitions of major subjects. In the meantime, I also started giving tuitions to children of the locality to meet my college expenses. However, my teacher again sent me to a teacher to take tuitions that indeed enabled me to get through the F.Sc examination in good grades.

This is how I and all my sisters got education with the financial help of our relatives and some kind-hearted people. Whenever anybody helped us out, I and my sisters would make a solemn pledge to ourselves that we would not only become self-reliant but would also help out needy students. Did receiving financial assistance from others bother you ever? I asked Faiza.

Yes, sometimes donors demeanor would be very disappointing and that of course at many occasions took us to despair and despondency. But we had to accept it as destiny had restricted our options from the very beginning, she added. How you got admission to this medical college? I asked her. At the time of my F.Sc result, we were facing acute scarcity of money. Our ailing mother, who at times would not find adequate amount to even buy medicines, how could she have paidmy medical colleges fee? In those days, however, our uncles sold their ancestral house, and we got some bucks out of our fathers share in the inheritance with which money we purchased a separate small house.

My elder sister was soon married though she was keen on doing a job after her M.Sc in Psychology to pull through the remaining siblings. She too had greatest desire to study science subjects but she could not, first owing to a lack of resources and second owing to her preoccupation in attending to our bedridden mother. Even after marriage, she still wanted pulling us through by doing some job.

My mother did not hesitate giving me Rs25,000 out of the inheritance share to get admission to the medical college. I had also won a Rs1,600 scholarship after Class-V examination, Rs2,000 after Class-VIII, Rs2,100 after Class X and Rs4,500 after Class XII from Gujranwala Board. These scholarships contributed a lot to my educational expenses as the time went by. If government ensures provision of scholarship to intelligent students, right from Class-V to their Ph.Ds, they will not come across any financial handicap while pursuing any discipline of studies.

We met unpleasant eventualities owing to dearth of money at several occasions. Our mother could not get proper treatment from the outset. She underwent oriental practitioners treatment that further deteriorated her condition. Regular medication is a must for any patient, particularly of Parkinsons disease. Many a times, she doled out the money meant for buying her medicines to all us siblings so that we meet our educational expenses before any other could come forward to help out.

I am in my fourth year of M.B.B.S. I paid full fee for the first year; however, my second years fee was waived on a representation. Still, I needed Rs: 2,500 per month to meet my boarding and lodging expenses, she added. How you met your educational expenses during past four years? I asked her. The Pakistan Science Foundation had sent informative material for students of our school when I was in Class X. I needed some books and helping material for which I wrote to them and they provided me the same.

The Foundation did provide me F.Sc books and then continued providing me M.B.B.S books every year as well. Still, I face great difficulty in meeting my boarding and lodging expenses. Hostel fee for the M.B.B.S first year was Rs: 9,000 out of which my schoolteacher Hamida paid Rs: 5,000 while an RMC teacher contributed the remaining Rs: 4,000. Later, the college started giving me Rs: 1,000 monthly stipend. Another RMC teacher arranged for another Rs1,000 monthly stipend from a charity. The second years hostel fee was Rs: 10,000 and my teacher Hamida and an RMC teacher contributed equally to deposit the same.

Third years hostel fee to the tune of Rs: 12,000 was wholly paid by an RMC teacher. This is how I have been able to gather the support of my kind and affectionate teachers to continue my educational pursuits. I have to pay Rs: 20,000 hostel fee for the final year in August and every passing minute and hour is getting me closer to another difficult task of finding a patron to do another good to me.

I fear, my failure to arrange for the money may not hamper my studies. My mothers condition is deteriorating with every passing day. She also needs up to Rs: 1,500 to purchase medicines every month. My younger sister Saadia has taken F.Sc examinations. She is also learning stitching and embroidering to contribute to run the house as we still dont have any permanent source of income. So far, we are spending our days and nights aided by our relatives and some philanthropists. Yet, we are badly in need of financial security.

About her future plans, she said: After becoming a doctor, I will first cure my mother and then serve the entire nation in line with a few of my teachers desire who helped me reach here and excel in my life. I pray that may Allah grant as financial strength and fortitude so that we should become independent of donors.

As I was leaving the RMC Hostel after getting swept along by Faiza Rashids heart-rending tale, the sun was setting behind Margalla Hills the threshold of the Himalayas and heat had depleted considerably.

However, I was pretty satisfied that nobody could stop from progressing the country and the nation having mothers of the likes of Surriya Rashid teachers of the likes of Mst Hamida and students of the likes of Uzma, Faiza, Saadia and Aqsa Rashid.