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A book about hope, passion and a young girl’s struggle in a remote area in Pakistan, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography written along with Christina Lamb is much more than inspiring. It stays on a long time after you have read it.
There are books that interest you; some entertain, some remain with you for a long time, while some carve a deep imprint on your mind as they are more than just inspiring. Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013) is one such read.
You have to read it to believe what this young lady from a remote province in Pakistan went through and how she overcame all odds, even a life threatening attack on her, to become an advocate for girls’ right to education.
“When I got home, I cried and cried. I didn’t want to stop learning. I was only eleven years old but I felt as if I had lost everything.”
Malala’s passion for education is avidly described in the book. It is a telling journey that she undertook from the Swat valley in Pakistan to becoming a celebrated campaigner and activist for girls’ education, both in Pakistan and the world over. It begins with a story told in her own words, her birth (Chapter 1 – A Daughter Is Born), the story behind her name and the circumstances of the family at the time of her birth. She then recounts her childhood in Swat, her time at the Khushal school and the inspiration she drew from her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. The initial chapters establish Malala’s background, her struggles, experiences from her childhood and affirm the close bonding that she shares with her family.
The turning point in Malala’s life was the attack by Taliban in October 2012. The book builds a plot around this as Malala narrates her experiences of the gradual Talibanization of Swat, the emergence of Radio Mullah (Maulana Fazlullah) who succeeded in terrorizing people and her blog diaries for the BBC about the rise of extremist elements in the valley.
At a point in time when the world increasingly faces the threats of extremism, religious intolerance and widespread violence, the book is an important read for the present generation, particularly for young students. When education should be a right for every young girl in the world, forces like the Taliban and Boko Haram stand against the idea of education for girls (western education to be specific), since in their world view, education will only corrupt young girls and alienate them from their true culture.
From a position of privilege, we tend to think of education as a basic and integral part of our lives. Going to school (without the threat of being gunned down) is extremely normal and routine; so much so that it becomes difficult to imagine the struggle that this young girl went through to gain education. It is an important realization for us, who occupy this privileged position that even today, in a time of globalization and proliferation of technology, simple access to education is a dream for people in some parts of the world.
In a world full of violence and extremism, Malala is a beacon of hope. Reading her story, one is convinced of this young lady’s passion for knowledge, her bravery, struggles and the harsh circumstances she faced to realize her dream of ‘going to school’. It is an inspiring journey that one can feel as one reads, reiterating the message that if a young girl can fight it out with a mighty force like the Taliban, there is still hope for this world.
Malala dedicates the book to girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. For her, it represents an effort to stand together against those who suppress women and curtail their rights.
There are many Malalas in this world, ones that we do not know of and those who were not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Their story needs to be told just as Malala’s has been. In fact, Malala dedicates the book to girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. For her, it represents an effort to stand together against those who suppress women and curtail their rights.
Malala stands out as an icon of inspiration for the women of South Asia. The truthfulness, transparency and whole-hearted commitment she shows to the cause of girls education was quite clearly reflected in her Nobel Prize winning speech where she said amidst resounding applause, “Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult?”
Malala’s story also introduces the reader to a very beautiful SWAT valley, one that was robbed of its diverse and rich culture by the Taliban. It reflects the richness of Pakistani culture beyond the Punjabi mainstream that is often identified as the ‘only’ Pakistan the world knows of.
Each section of the book begins with a traditional Pashto couplet, reaffirming Malala’s pride in her Pashtun identity.
Khairey ba waley darta na kram
Toora topaka woranawey wadan korona
(Guns of Darkness! Why would I not curse you? You turned love-filled homes into broken debris)
The book narrates a story of hope, grit, and determination in the face of odds and gives voice to those women who are being denied their rights by a system embedded in patriarchy and authoritarian regimes. The reason why Malala is looked up to and admired is simple: She stood up for what is right and spoke against what is wrong. Most importantly, the book tells us that Malala attained fame only after being shot by the Taliban. However, she was quietly and committedly carrying out a lot of ground work in support of girls education.
Why then is Malala looked upon by some sections of Pakistan’s population and media as an agent of western powers? Why do people resent her to the extent of spewing hatred against her? Is this the mark of a society so deeply absorbed by violence that suspicion is cast on a young girl’s fight against human rights abuse? Many view her as an agent of the west conspiring against Pakistan. Whatever the criticism and its validity may be, there is no denying that Malala has emerged as a winner in the most difficult of times.
As she famously said, “One Child, One Teacher, One Pen And One Book Can Change The World’. Malala with her work offers us a window for hope and inspiration for positive change in this world.
Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent researcher based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She has a Ph.D
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