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Malala vs. Vanilla

Published Oct 18, 2012 12:05pm


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There is a period in everyone’s life when ‘I’ becomes the hero; talks, walks, thinks and feels like one; lives a hero’s life … wholly or partly in one’s head.

Teens, 20s, thereabout, ‘I’ see myself doing a lead role in the film. Hear my thoughts expressed by poets and artists. The world is created for a purpose, and that purpose is ‘I’. All that can be imagined is real, is achievable. And there is so much more that is still to be imagined! Life seems too short even to reckon all the possibilities out there, where is the time or the clue for making a choice? Deciding on one imagination and setting about making it real?

So the hero, lets imagination runs amok. Jagjit and Chitra’s ‘mil ker judah huay toh na soya karein gey hum’ can evoke an emotional state of pain and suffering ‘we’ will endure ‘if we meet and separate’, notwithstanding the fact that there’s no ‘we’; and ‘I’ have no curiosity about the double chance of meeting and separating. And yet ‘I’ have wept at ‘ek doosray ki yaad mein roya karein gey hum’. It’s not the power of lyrics – which is lazy poetry created for Dubai’s Indian mujra joints, to introduce to patrons late in the night, when desi men of all ages are suitably drunk, and wish for stupid things that remind them of their days of living like a ‘hero’.

It is the power of imagination of the ‘hero’. Imagination is what makes ‘I’ the hero, for as long as it lasts. And not everyone’s imagination dwells only on ghazals for the drunk. Some ‘heroes’ dream of higher things, they recognise their aspirations, their ambitions, and refuse to accept or even acknowledge the limitations set by society. Rarely, the hero zeroes in on one area and builds his or her imagination within that sphere. They become artists, artisans, writers, scientists, teachers, doctors, social workers, politicians, sportspeople … for life. They become heroes for life.

For the majority, the power of imagination leaves. As suddenly and inexplicably as it had arrived. Priorities change as reality hits home. Learning stops and yearning for regular income through regular means begins. Excitement is replaced by routine, zeal by caution, and exuberance by introspection. Another dreamer turns into a boring, conformist human being of the vanilla variety the world is teeming with. Another individual surrenders their uniqueness and becomes part of a homogenous mass seeking upward mobility. Some of them get the comforts they chase, some don’t. Some are happy with a normal non-hero life; some hate it and hold it against everyone who is anyone’s hero. It’s the desire and drive to imagine when everyone else’s imagination fails, that separates heroes from others.

When Swat was ruled by terrorists, its residents took the orders from an illegal FM broadcast and obeyed them in letter and spirit. If the terrorists said ‘no school from tomorrow’ they kept their children home. If they said people could come out of homes, residents crowded the markets for grocery shopping. And when they were told that the headless bodies hung upside down in the town square are not to be removed; men, women and children went about their routines pretending not to see the terror installations. The religious leaders, the political leaders, the social and community leaders, they were all silent out of fear. They could see, they could think and feel, but they couldn’t talk about it.

A little girl of 11 years or so chose to talk. She shared with Pakistanis and with the rest of the world, what it was like to live under Taliban rule. She didn’t bring in religion, politics or even ethnicity in her blogs. She was a student eager to get education and she saw the terrorists as anti-education. She – and her parents who must get credit for their courage in letting her speak out – imagined the terrorists could be defeated; that education was a right that could not be taken away by gun-wielding thugs; that millions of Pakistanis would come out in support of this right. She imagined. That little girl was the only one who could. And that is what makes her a hero.

Malala Yusufzai is now 14, and fighting for her life after being shot by the Taliban. A nation that has not seen a hero in its lifetime was reluctant in accepting one as young as Malala, but the attack on her did the trick. Pakistanis spoke as one, in favour of education and against ignorance, in favour of Malala and against the Taliban, in favour of those who can imagine and against those who want barricades on imagination.

The girl in critical care has done us another favour. She has pulled the mask off the faces of those who are the enemies of education and imagination. She has forced the ‘leaders’ of people to choose their place across the line. Everyone has had to condemn the act, under public pressure, but the partisan ones have given themselves away by attempting to side-track the issue with drones, Waziristan operation, funding sources and what not. They are all on record – Fazlur Rehman, Sami Ul Haq, Munawwar Hasan, Imran Khan, Chaudhry Nisar – and they have all spoken for their parties. So there. Half of our political class chooses to defend the terrorists who sprayed bullets at young girls, with the intention to kill. Giving us this realisation is what makes Malala a hero.

There are millions of children growing up in Pakistan without a healthy imagination. There are another few millions who have no access to education. Malala has given a voice to these millions and who knows, the historian may record that she gave a whole nation hope. And courage. And that’s what makes Malala a hero. A hero for life.


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (17) Closed

Usman Ajmal (@dodgy_helmet) Oct 19, 2012 04:08am
Not that anything better was expected of Pakistan's so called 'civil society', it seems the quality of debate has fallen to the following narrative: "Only TTP is to be blamed for the carnage in FATA and Pakistan, if you bringing drones into the issue, you are a Taliban supporter." Easy to join the bandwagon when everyone else is on it, but where was this civil society when drones were raining down terror on FATA? Or are some school girls more 'equal' than others? All I see is hypocrisy around me.
TAIMUR Oct 18, 2012 03:37pm
I totally agree with masud on this that atleast all the religious scholar unanimously gave verdict against terrorism thats I believe is a very healthy thing But it took like more then 10 years and loseof thousands of life including unsung MALALA'S. I am really looking forward to hear some positive and unanimous verdicts on SECTARIAN KILLING from them without any further lose of lives.
From Indian Oct 19, 2012 04:45am
Dear Masud, Great article again. But, as i always say, please start writing in URDU papers. With a pseudo name if you are scared.
Ali Abbas Oct 18, 2012 03:47pm
5 political leaders you have mentioned have certainly shown their true faces. My point is, does any one cares? Will any one take real actions and not just political rhetoric? These political leaders will keep using cheap slogans and continue to create hurdles so these terrorists can keep their rein of terror as usual. Lets talk about lack of courage of leaders who have unequivocally condems this violent act. Will moderate forces get together and pass a law declaring any support for terrorists as illegal. Will parliament pass a law that will outlaw these political forces from taking part in election or any public discussions?. Will SC that is too busy demonising dual citizens take a suo moto notice and say that people who are essentially working for and supporting these terrorists are not legible to participate in any election because their actions are against "true spirit on Islam"?. Will military once and for all take actions against these savages? Will media look within their own ranks and shun the voices of intolerance? I think not. Pakistan is set to doom and unfortunately this courageous girl wont be able to change the tragectory of Pakistan decline to oblivion.
BRR Oct 18, 2012 02:10pm
It is the depth of cowardice and the height of shame to hide behind a small girl who is the only one to confront the wicked armies of hate and ignorance.
GZ Oct 18, 2012 09:34pm
A 11 year old girl, living in swat has a mind to think, a heart to feel and courage to write. but there are people who don't have a mind to think, a heart to feel and courage to hear, but coward enough to silence an innocent muslim voice. is this jehad? Noooo
Kausik Oct 18, 2012 08:10pm
I compliment MA blog on the true conditions that exist in swat valley about 3-4 hrs of drive from Islamabad.It is shocking to the world how Pakistan government can allow TTP to dictate in swat valley.For get Kashmir forget India fix the home problems first same goes to India also.
raika45 Oct 18, 2012 02:10pm
Your statement Malala has given a whole nation hope has a ring of positive response towards the perpetrators that shot her giving rise to nation wide protests will change things?Look at what your Government is saying.No gross attack on the Taliban.We will look for the person involved.Give it time and the uproar will dissipate .What is Malala compared to the votes they want in the coming elections.Self preservation is more important than going after trouble creators.You moderators will not display this , but you must face facts.Moreover I love shaking your moderators conscious thinking ability.
Bakul Oct 20, 2012 02:50am
She did not become hero by getting shot at. She was already a hero when she stood up and talked in favor of girl eduction, when big poiiticians and great cricket hero could not show that courage.
dksharmaDKS Oct 18, 2012 12:42pm
Little girl Malala Yusufzai is a big hero. May God bless her with long & happy life.
Sarmad Oct 18, 2012 04:44pm
No need to be emotional.We are living in a country where heroes are made on Media. People are told that who is a hero! Malala wasinnocent, but hero? What she did actually! Some gunman shot her and she became hero?
Raja Afridi Haq Nawaz Oct 18, 2012 05:09pm
Yes she is a hero. What she has set in motion no tank, warship or aircraft can. The power of "free will" it is every human's BIRTH RIGHT!
Human Oct 19, 2012 04:04am
What a great hero for this country? Hats off ! How cowardly, greedy and barbaric establishment if nothing is done against these Taliban Demons.
Cyrus Howell Oct 18, 2012 06:24pm
"Fazlur Rehman said he had always opposed all military operations whether in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, adding that he neither belongs to Taliban nor to the government." . These people do not believe in Pakistan. These people won't stand up for Pakistan. These people just like Fazlur Rehman are not your countrymen. They have deserted a modern Pakistan in favor of austerity and forced prayer.
saif Oct 18, 2012 07:10pm
Many big political leaders like Nawaz shareef and Imran khan are afraid of Taliban and they never condemned or said any thing against Taliban.
Agha Ata (USA) Oct 18, 2012 01:49pm
I like your article and especially the phrase "healthy imagination" Not only children but most adults lack it, too.
G.A. Oct 18, 2012 09:40pm
In all honesty, I did not expect much from the mullah-maulvi brigade. But silence from Imran Khan was deafening.