I was introduced to Mahekan through a short video. It showed my friend Munir Musiani, the deputy commissioner of Balochistan’s Kharan district, standing at the head of a classroom and this lovely little girl speaking with him in her mother tongue, Balochi.
From what little I could make out, her address — it was nothing short of that because of its formal tone and vehemence — was about the absence of a watchman and cleaning staff in her school. The movement of her hands was measured and appropriate as she spoke. In a remote village of remote Kharan, she seemed an exceptional child.
I understood next to nothing of her Balochi, but I wanted to meet this bright child. However, I was advised against travelling to her village Ari Kallag, an hour’s drive west of Kharan town in Balochistan.
Instead, Mahekan took the day off from school and came to Kharan with an older cousin to talk to me. Her name in Balochi means ‘Moonlight’ and one day she is sure to light up the darkness of Kharan, or wherever she happens to be.
In a remote village in the remote Balochistan district of Kharan, an eloquent and exceptional 11-year-old schoolgirl dreams big
Eleven years old and in grade five in the primary school of Ari Kallag, Mahekan of the tribe Rind is the youngest of five siblings, whose parents are both teachers. While her father heads the local boys’ middle school, her mother teaches in the primary school that Mahekan attends.
That might explain the confidence the child exudes. Her unaccented Urdu was remarkable, given that a Sindhi, Pakhtun or Punjabi child her age would only speak it thickly accented. The following is translated verbatim from her conversation with me.
“Children have a longing to be educated, and it is up to the state to provide us an environment conducive to learning. And that means a clean and hygienic place. Why, even a dog looks for a tidy place to rest and we have no watchman in the school, whose duty should be to clean up the place before the schooldays.
“We go to school to be educated. But we have to clean up before lessons begin. Now, how can you expect children to concentrate on their studies, when they have this chore to attend to first thing in the morning. I asked the DC sahib to give us a watchman who will take over this duty from us.
“Children have to be equipped with all school supplies so that their urge [she used the word jazba] to excel in studies is not dimmed. But our school is ill-equipped, so I requested the DC to help our school. I think senior people in Quetta believe that Baloch girls are not interested in education. It is not like that, we are very much for education. So I asked the DC to please ask the senior people in Quetta to improve our school.
“Female education is imperative. The father is away at work and an unlettered mother alone in her home with an ailing child with some medication at hand will be at a disadvantage. When she cannot even read, how will she ever know what to give her child? Such a mother will endanger the child’s life. It is very important that girls be educated. So, I asked the DC to get some people in Quetta to visit our school and see the condition in which we receive our education.
“There is a pit by the path we take to school. We have to be very careful walking past it. Only some days ago, a girl fell into the pit. Fortunately she was only slightly injured, but it could have been worse. I asked the DC to order someone to fill up the pit before something serious happens.”
I asked her how she, as young as she is, could think of all this.
“What is the mind made for? It is made to think. If you use your mind to think, you can get these ideas. Without thinking, there is nothing. We must learn to use our minds.
“When I was very little, I wanted to join the army. Then I thought I should study law and become a judge to provide justice. But not anymore. The other day, when the DC visited our school, I wanted to be like him. I want to be like him going to distant villages to inquire after the condition of others and try to improve things. I will not think only of myself, but of others too. People in Balochistan feel we have been neglected. I will help people to change this feeling.
“I want to be like our DC. We’ve had so many deputy commissioners before, but we never saw one in our village. No one ever came to visit and ask how we survive. This was the first time we saw our DC. If the DC cares, they can change the feeling of neglect that some people feel.
“Look how far ahead the rest of the world is from us. And in Ari Kallag, we don’t even have electricity. One is hard put to finish homework after dark. Or even to read anything. And just forget about hospitals. Our village has a building for a health unit, but we’ve never had a doctor. Quetta is more than 300 kilometres away, and a sick person being taken there can easily die half way out.
“I have so many dreams, and I have them because I am educated and I use my mind. But my siblings tell me I am a poor student, even though I have always stood first in class in exams. Only once or twice I came second. When I am doing my homework, I don’t need any help from either my siblings or parents and my siblings still say I am a dullard. But that makes no difference to me.”
Mahekan told me English was her favourite subject and, even in this foreign language, she did not need her siblings’ help.
“I spend my free time reading books that my father gets for us. When I was little, I played with dolls like every other girl, but now I play cricket. I know there is a girls’ cricket team, but I don’t think much of that, because my father says I should concentrate on studies.
“After I finish my fifth grade, which will be in two months’ time, I will come to live with my grandmother in Kharan to attend middle school. In our village, we have so few girls going past primary education, because they do not have the funds to live in Kharan for their education, nor do they have relatives to stay with. And then, there are no scholarships to aid poor students.”
I told her these were matters she should again address to the deputy commissioner and Mahekan nodded vehemently. Better yet, I said, she could sort these out when she herself reached that coveted station. “But there is so much time to wait before I get there,” she said.
In anticipation of joining the middle school in Kharan, Mahekan has already visited the school with her father and approves of it for its cleanliness. “They have a watchman who takes care of the premises and students don’t need to come early to clean up in the morning!”
Clearly, this bright light in remote Ari Kallag of Kharan district is very gifted, even though she insists that she is not the only child so vocal, that there are others too. Among the many dreams that she says she has, completing her education and becoming an administrative service officer is the primary draw.
Talking to her leaves me in no doubt that one day, very like her name, Mahekan will be the light of Kharan.
Post Script: Speaking later with Deputy Commissioner Munir Musiani, I learned that he was planning to institute a fund to see young Mahekan through to college. This will be the most appropriate step and one that should then be replicated for other bright students.
As Mahekan herself stressed, she is not the only child who is doing well in school; there are other children equally bright. Surely, they should not have to wait for Mahekan to come to their village as the deputy commissioner.
The writer is the author of several books and a fellow of The Royal Geographical Society.
He tweets @odysseuslahori
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 15th, 2023