At the beginning of the year, when I was setting up my reading goals, I made a vow to read more Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs this year. In my bid to fulfil that vow, I chose “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” written by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb as the first book to read and I must say, I am pleased I did. I am inspired and intrigued by the life story and works of Malala. I knew about her. The news about her tragedy was global news. Most of us heard about it but I never took time to read more about her except the little I had access to through news portals. I never knew there was more to her than just the girl who stood up for education and got shot by the Taliban. This book gives a layer to that singular line everyone knew about her. This book offers a walk through her life and major events of international interest. I didn’t only enjoy reading, I also learnt!
Some unpopular opinion on most review platforms, especially Goodreads, is that the book reads more like a collection of memories or family stories interwoven with Pakistan and the Swat valley’s history, and they mostly struggled to keep track. Surprisingly, I felt the opposite. Truth be told, It does read like that. It is more of historical accounts than a full focus on Malala’s life but I enjoyed them! I was hooked by those historical accounts, all the details on the Taliban. Every bit. More so, I was taken aback by the journey Malala embarked on and her fight for what she truly believed in—a cause that nearly cost her her life. I feel you cannot understand Malala’s story without these accounts. They were necessary.
From the “Dedication”, you get thrown into what to expect as a reader: To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together we will be heard. It is only after you have immersed yourself in the book and its story would you get exactly how much power the dedication holds. To grow up in a land where barely anyone had their total freedom (and was even worse if you were a woman) and have a voice wasn’t an easy feat. Pakistan is known to be the world’s second most dangerous country for women, according to a 2018 expert poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll.
“I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children.” — Malala
Pakistan is a patriarchal culture in which males hold the highest positions of power and women are considered subservient. Gender is one of the structuring elements of Pakistani society, and it is one of the most important. Gender has a social worth that is determined by patriarchal norms that are established in local traditions, religion, and culture. There is no place for a woman to have a voice. But Malala was born differently. Even as a girl, his father knew she was different.
“He told people, ‘I know there is something different about this child.’”
“Malala is free as a bird.”
Most people need people like her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who was the backbone to the wake of her voice. He was different from most men in Swat. If Malala’s father had been like other men, she is unlikely to have been encouraged to express herself in the manner in which she did. Her situation, on the other hand, was one in which the trifecta of circumstances conspired to allow her to communicate her message of peace and equality to the world at large. Her father is the kind of man most girls who aspire to be like Malala need, a father who understands the importance of being different, of being a girl with a voice.
“The media needs interviews. They want to interview a small girl, but the girls are scared, and even if they’re not, their parents won’t allow it. I have a father who isn’t scared, who stands by me. He said, ‘You are a child and it’s your right to speak.’ “
“My father used to say the people of Swat and the teachers would continue to educate our children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive. My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever.”
The book is also eye-opening. It is a habit of humans to assign the bad deeds of one individual to where they come from or the people and place they belong to. One bad apple can spoil the bunch, we say. We often misjudge people due to their race or religion or beliefs just because of the actions of one person or persons belonging to that group. I am guilty of that. We all are (If I am bold to say). But this book taught me one thing—a lesson summarized in the quote below.
“Because of the Taliban, the whole world is claiming we are terrorists. This is not the case. We are peace-loving. Our mountains, our trees, our flowers – everything in our valley is about peace.”
I can’t begin to fathom how it would be like to live your life in constant fear, always afraid for your life. No one should ever have to go through that. In this book, through Malala’s accounts, you get relive (with her) the terror they had to endure because of the Taliban. This is captured in the historical accounts of how the Taliban came to be, how they operated and the fear they injected into the bloodstream of the people.
“One day I saw my little brother Atal digging furiously in the garden. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.‘Making a grave,’ he said. Our news bulletins were full of killings and death so it was natural for Atal to think of coffins and graves. Instead of hide and seek and cops and robbers, children were now playing Army vs Taliban. They made rockets from branches and used sticks for Kalashnikovs; these were their sports of terror.”
“I was scared that if the Taliban caught me going to school they would throw acid in my face as they had done to girls in Afghanistan.”
“My mother used to tell me to hide my face when I spoke to the media because at my age I should be in purdah and she was afraid for my safety. But she never banned me from doing anything. It was a time of horror and fear. People often said the Taliban might kill my father but not me. ‘Malala is a child,’ they would say, ‘and even the Taliban don’t kill children.’”
“Lots of buildings were surrounded by concrete blocks, and there were checkpoints for incoming vehicles to guard against suicide bombs. When our bus hit a pothole on the way back my brother Khushal, who had been asleep, jerked awake. ‘Was that a bomb blast?’ he asked. This was the fear that filled our daily lives. Any small disturbance or noise could be a bomb or gunfire. On our short trips, we forgot our troubles in Swat. But we returned to the threats and danger as we entered our valley once again. Even so, Swat was our home and we were not ready to leave it.“
Yet, through it all, she found her voice and never lost it. Not even when they forced it out of her.
I can’t say how much I have been inspired by reading this book.
“We held an election for speaker and I won! It was strange to stand up there on the stage and have people address me as Madam Speaker, but it felt good to have our voices heard. The assembly was elected for a year and we met almost every month. We passed nine resolutions calling for an end to child labour and asking for help to send the disabled and street children to school, as well as for the reconstruction of all the schools destroyed by the Taliban. Once the resolutions were agreed, they were sent to officials and a handful were even acted on.”
I would recommend it to you if you have no problem with all the history as others did. Also, if you need to be motivated to fight for what you truly believe in, regardless, then this would be one of the books to start with.
All in all, it would be a 4-star rating for me.
Featured Image Credit: rishabh