By Rabia Hassan and Farah Haq
When Farah walked in, I had just logged onto Skype for the scheduled interview call. I ran to the kitchen to make tea for her, and on impulse, made myself a cup too, despite not being a tea-drinker. This cup of tea was my saving grace over the next hour or so. Every month, FUCHSIA’s personal story touches me. This month’s story made me tear up repeatedly – at times because I was so inspired, at times ashamed of my complaints and at times overwhelmed by the determination of a woman that seems to have no boundaries.
FUCHSIA is honoured to bring to you Muniba Mazari’s story, in her own words.
There I was, on the bed with a broken body, half paralysed with a deformed hand, painting. Thinking that, maybe, someday, these colours will add life to the story of my life. My painting is what kept me alive in the hospital. I was always smiling, I never cried, but deep inside I was scared of the unknown, of never being able to walk again. Doctors had said miracles do happen, but spinal cord injury is disastrous.
When I saw people who were supposed to be so strong, like my father, leaving my mom and I in this condition, I thought to myself, “This is the time; I have to stop looking for superheroes in other people.” I was married at that time, but my father remained my hero. When I saw him leave us, I realised I have to be the superhero in my own story. It’s just me now; others will leave me, time and again.
My mother, on the other hand, was my pillar. My mother never cries in front of me; she just hugs me and says, “When I see you growing, I feel like days of my life are growing.” My mother is my strength.
These two girls on the other side of my computer screen, on another continent, are listening so intently. They say they want to hear something that I haven’t shared in interviews to date. They want FUCHSIA to tell a different side of the story.
Seven years back, I met with an accident. After taking me out of the ditch, I was put in a Potohar jeep as there weren’t any ambulances in Baluchistan. I asked people where my legs were, and that I couldn’t feel them. They said, “They are right here.” I was very composed, I didn’t cry. At the hospital, I told the doctors, “I am half paralysed, I can’t feel anything.” I was in severe physical and psychological pain, but I didn’t cry.
Where did I get the courage to stay calm? I don’t know, all I know is when you have lost something, you cannot cry.
Was my courage due to a false hope that I will walk again? NO – I was very clear. I knew I would never recover. I would hear everything the doctors discussed, and all X-rays were in front of me. A person with three missing vertebrae cannot walk. Unfortunately, poor medical services meant I developed pressure ulcers. I was bedridden for 2 years as a result. I used to beat my legs; I was so tired of those sores. I just wanted to be in a wheelchair. Those two years were dreadful.
Now when I look back, I laugh at the tantrums I’d throw. During the two bedridden years, I couldn’t brush my teeth or make my hair properly. Once, the brush got stuck in my hair. I was so annoyed I took a pair of scissors and chopped it off! I still remember my hair was long in the front, and short in the back. Now I think about it, and laugh.
During those days, when people visited me, I would feel jealous. I would think they are trying to rub it in, that they can walk, and I can’t. I guess when you are down, you think the worst possible of things. Mom used to say, “Har vaqt guzar jaata hai, achcha bhi, burra bhi (All time passes by, whether good time or bad.) This too will pass. There will come a time when you will laugh at what you used to do.”
In the hospital, everything was white and depressing. I saw people leaving me, the doctor said I’d never walk again, people commented “Oh poor girl will get divorced – who will keep a wheelchair-bound wife?” There was so much negativity, such colourless-ness. I was tired of wearing white, of the hospital, of the negativity. Doctors asked my mom if there was something I used to do before the accident. Mom told them I used to draw.
I laughed when the doctor said “Why don’t you start painting?”
My hand was deformed; I wasn’t even able to grasp a pencil. He said to draw whatever I want, but just to start. So, 2 weeks after surgery, I asked my mom for colours. She asked if I was sure, and I replied “I will try.”
When I started painting, I would completely forget the pain, saying that if anyone wants to leave me, they should do it then.
That doctor, Orthopaedic Surgeon Imtiaz Hashmi used to come to me, and tell me to stay strong. Some time back, he called me and said, “I am holding Hello Magazine, and it has your picture on it.” Then, he saw my Ted talk video, where I had shown my X-rays that he had taken. He still remembered them.
When I painted, my brother used to tell me that one day, I’d exhibit my work in an art gallery. I used to laugh and tell him to stop joking.
I think I trust men only because of my brothers.
The first job I got, I faced much resistance from all around me. I decided to call my brother. I said, “I have gotten a job as a content writer. It is the brainchild of Salman Taseer – the first website of Pakistan. I want to do it.” He said, “Nobody will stop you. If you roll out on the wheelchair today, every other girl on a wheelchair in Pakistan will follow you. You have to break the taboo.” If he hadn’t supported me, I would have never done it.
Salman Taseer had purchased all 20 to 25 of my paintings. I was surprised, asking why he would buy such gloomy, sad paintings. He said that to me they might be sad, but to him they were a source of inspiration. He also told me never to leave art, no matter what I did.
That is how I started.
I smile remembering that incident, and the girls from FUCHSIA ask if I miss the old Muniba?
I used to be a cribber. I was the female in every Pakistani household, spending life making the in-laws happy and thinking about the husband. After this accident, I was reborn. It wasn’t just that I had seen death so up close – Allah has just made me a very different person now. I am strong, and I can sense it. With each passing day, I can feel the strength growing. That old Muniba was too weak to sustain. I am glad she is no more.
I can see the surprise on the faces of the FUCHSIA girls, as I tell them I never ask Allah to make me walk again.
I only tell Allah, “You know what is lacking in me. You know what I need, what is best for me, so give me that.” He is giving me everything, except life in my legs. That makes my belief stronger that I am the chosen one, who He has planned bigger things for.
The day I gave the Ted talk, I realised that words have the power to change people. After the talk, a girl came to me, held my hand and cried. She said, “Your 15-minute talk has solved 15 of my problems. I asked how, and she said “Because you have made me realise that those 15 problems never existed.” The standing ovation, people coming to me, saying thank you for making them realise if we are healthy we are lucky – that was when I decided that if my life can change someone’s life or their thought process, then that is what I want to do.
I hear my name being called out, and I ask the two FUCHSIA girls to give me a minute. It’s Nael, my son. He calls me Muniba. I can imagine how big my smile must be as I introduce him to them. They seem unable to get over his hairstyle.
When he watched my Ted talk, he told me how proud he was of me. He knows me – when I am tired, he pushes my wheelchair. I remember the day he asked for 2 glasses of milk so he can grow up faster and be the one to help me. “I don’t want anyone else to help you.”
I have achieved whatever I have in my life at the cost of losing relations at every step. It’s been a 7-year-journey. I have changed, but one thing that is constant is my hard work. I know I don’t have much time, being wheelchair-bound. If I don’t work hard I won’t be able to achieve what I want. People think to themselves that “She looks good, she dresses up nicely; she belongs to a well-off family, so it’s easy for her. Would a girl from a poor family have been able to do this?”
But, you know what?I am a Baloch girl, living in a country with no awareness on disability, a single mother. I had no job when I started, just one lakh Rupees in my account, and I moved into an apartment. I am now doing 3 jobs all at once, but I don’t tell people all of this. It is my journey. Fame, praise – everything comes your way when you are persistent and you know what you want. Yes, when an opportunity comes my way I never say no. Allah makes ways for you.
I hope things will change, and people will accept persons with disabilities. Whatever comes your way always changes things for the better.