Lessons from the past

The girls

The girls got ready to go to school. They packed their bags, donned their burqas, stepped outside the house and started walking towards the school. Two men were stood by the roadside chatting. One of them noticed the girls walking past and turned to his companion. “Who are these girls who are going to school?” His companion knew the owner of the house he had seen them come out. He told his friend the father’s name (who was a well known gentleman in those parts). His companion was incredulous. He shook his head and said,”No, can’t be! He can’t be sending his daughters to school!” You see, this was India in the early 1900s when it was very rare for girls to venture out of the house, much less go to school.

The boys

Fast forward a few years. Place is still British India. This is now about two boys, or young men to be more exact. These two brothers also belonged to a family which placed a great emphasis on education. One of the brothers found Law fascinating, graduated and joined the legal profession. A few years into his practice he decided that the way Law was practiced was, at times, at odds with his moral values. For example he had to discredit others to ensure his client won.  He decided that law wasn’t the career for him. In search of something else to do, he moved to the other side of the country and bought a farm. He had found something he loved, something he was very good at. He slowly bought more land and soon became the owner of one of the biggest landholdings of that area.

His brother took a different route. He was interested in science. He did his BSc in Agriculture and was awarded the Sir Michael O’dyer Gold Medal. He was awarded a research scholarship for studies at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad. This was just the beginning. He went onto become one of the most, if not the most, eminent agricultural scientists of his country. He was recognised for his contributions by various governments and received various awards (such as Mayyard Ganga Ram Prize, President’s Pride of Performance, Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, de La Oren Merito Agricola by the Spanish Government, Honorary citizenship of State of Tennessee, USA). He was the founder member of Pakistan Academy of Sciences.

The daughter

One of the girls got married to the older brother. Their 5 children, sons and daughters, all went to school. One of the daughters did her Masters in Islamic History. She taught in a school for a while, not because she needed to, but because she wanted to and her parents were happy with her decision.

The son 

The younger brother went on to have 5 daughters and one son and each and everyone received an education. The son took up science too and eventually became the Vice President of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee and served with the United Nations. He is widely read and can talk on almost any subject!

The granddaughter

The granddaughter is one of three siblings. Again, all three went to university. The granddaughter went abroad for higher studies. Alone. Not something which was commonplace at that time.

The great granddaughters

The granddaughter has three daughters. One is at university and the other two will soon join her. The way they have been raised means that they do not look towards role models for aspirations, they look within themselves.

What’s the one common theme in the above stories? It’s the fact that in every generation, every boy and girl, every man and woman did what they wanted to and accomplished all they wanted to. At no point did they think they couldn’t do something because there were no role models they could emulate. They did not let the fact there were female or living in colonial India, or non-white stop them.  In fact, they didn’t/haven’t let anything stop them.

In case you haven’t worked it out, I’m the granddaughter. It’s because of my rich family history that I can’t understand why people say they don’t go after an opportunity because they don’t have role models. I can understand, just about, why a child may need a role model, but for the life of me I can’t think why grown ups need one too! My family has been my role model and what they’ve modelled for me is that role models aren’t necessary if you have self belief and self confidence. I’ve never let the fact that there isn’t anyone of the same race/colour/religon/gender doing what I want to do to stop me doing what I want to do. If I did let me stop me going after what I want, what sort of a role model would I be for my daughters?!!

“Role models are only of limited use. For no-one is as important, potentially powerful and as key in your life and world as you.”  Rasheed Ogunlaru


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