This book is a self-por­trait of Malala Yousafzai, the fear­less fron­tier girl who took on the Tal­iban

India Today - - LEISURE - By Gil­lian Wright

When Malala Yousafzai was re­cently in­ter­viewed by an In­dian tele­vi­sion chan­nel, the 16-year-old was asked if she was afraid of the Tal­iban that shot her, that is still threat­en­ing to kill her and that has forced her and her fam­ily into ex­ile. She replied, “I ad­mit I am a lit­tle afraid of ghosts, but of the Tal­iban, not at all.”

The hype that sur­rounds Malala can make you won­der if she is purely a me­dia cre­ation. The an­swer that comes from this book is that the me­dia cer­tainly made her fa­mous, but jus­ti­fi­ably so.

Malala has writ­ten her book with Christina Lamb, an award-win­ning Bri­tish jour­nal­ist whose con­tri­bu­tion seems to have been to give it a struc­ture and ef­fec­tively in­ter­weave the story of Malala and her fam­ily with the po­lit­i­cal events in Pak­istan from the time of Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto to the present day.

The re­sult is a story told in a voice that is recog­nis­ably Malala’s—sim­ple, straight­for­ward English, with bold, clear state­ments and nar­ra­tive. There is a beau­ti­ful evo­ca­tion of her home, the Swat val­ley, with its rivers, moun­tains, emer­ald mine and Bud­dhist re­mains—the per­fect place for pic­nics she en­joyed in pri­mary school and for the af­flu­ent Pak­ista­nis who flocked to its ho­tels. Un­til 1969, when it was fi­nally in­te­grated into Pak­istan, Swat was semi-in­de­pen­dent and ruled by the Walis who in­tro­duced mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion in the early 20th cen­tury. Be­ing part of Pak­istan brought politi­cians and of­fi­cials as well as the ju­di­cial sys­tem—the for­mer of­ten cor­rupt and the lat­ter re­spon­si­ble for long de­lays in jus­tice de­liv­ery—that was very dif­fer­ent from the tribal sys­tem the val­ley had be­fore.

Through all th­ese changes, how­ever, the peo­ple of Swat re­tained their cul­ture, one that is rich in poetry and mu­sic. Malala’s fa­ther is a poet whose am­bi­tion was to run a school for girls as well as boys. Re­belling against his fa­ther’s sup­port of the age-old cus­tom of feuds, he worked to bring peace to the val­ley. Dis­mayed by de­for­esta­tion and the dump­ing of garbage in pris­tine rivers, he formed an or­gan­i­sa­tion to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment. And de­spite hav­ing no cap­i­tal or land, he set up a school in Min­gora, the main town in Swat, and, by dint of hard work and the un­fail­ing sup­port of his wife, made a suc­cess of it.

Out­spo­ken and fear­less, Malala’s fa­ther comes across as the kind of Pathan that Khan Ab­dul Ghaf­far Khan, the Fron­tier Gandhi, would have em­braced and called his own. Malala im­bibed his val­ues. There are many sen­tences in her book that be­gin thus, ‘My fa­ther says….’ One of the things he said was ‘ nimhakim kha­tra-e-jan (a half-doc­tor is a dan­ger to life)

fol­lowed by ‘ nim-mul­lah kha­tra-e-iman (a half­baked mul­lah is a dan­ger to faith)’. Malala’s first-hand ac­count of the ar­rival of nim

mul­lahs who came to their val­ley, de­stroyed their Bud­dhist her­itage and blew up their schools is well told. It is not a sim­ple tale; it in­volves the com­plic­ity of the gov­ern­ment and the army and it in­volves the grad­ual takeover of peo­ple’s minds. Malala’s fa­ther de­bated with the Tal­iban and fought to keep ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions open. Malala joined him. The me­dia was an im­por­tant tool in their strug­gle.

To be­gin with, Malala was not the sole spokesgirl for what was hap­pen­ing in Swat, but her class­fel­lows went into pur­dah as they passed pu­berty. She spoke with pas­sion be­cause be­ing de­nied ed­u­ca­tion made it all the more valu­able to her. She wrote a blog for the BBC Urdu Ser­vice, gave speeches and ap­peared on Pak­istan TV. Al­though the fam­ily knew that her fa­ther was on Tal­iban’s hit list, they never thought the mil­i­tants would come for a lit­tle girl.

They were wrong. Malala was shot in the head as she was re­turn­ing from school. That she sur­vived is for her a sign that her life has a pur­pose. Any­one who reads this spell­bind­ing book can only praise her courage, and hope that she suc­ceeds.

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