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“The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau.” (Dan Rather)

To me, every person who has inspired me to acquire a part of them is a role model. I have met a lot of such people in my life. Memories of some of them have become hazy while others are imprinted on my soul. Ms. R. Fikree is one such imprint.

Who is Ms. Fikree? When I close my eyes and go back to my primary school days, I see someone walking toward an exquisite, red Toyota Corolla, which is parked under the shady neem tree. I see a petite lady with a persona that is hard to describe in words. Excellent figure that gave a hint to a perfectly healthy routine; lovely, short hair set in different layers; beautiful eyes behind her glasses that went well with her lovely face; and a perfect posture showing self-confidence. She used to teach secondary classes in the morning shift while I was studying in the afternoon shift. Days turned into years and came the day when I transferred to the morning shift.

My formal interaction with Ms. Fikree didn’t start until I was promoted to the 10th grade. I couldn’t wait to be in her English language class. She was just as I had imagined her – kind and caring. The persona did not disappear with the personal interaction. Instead, it grew stronger. I remember observing her intently during the class. The way she talked, the way she walked, the way she held the book, the way she turned the pages of the book, and the way she explained the meanings of different words. It was magical!

Ms. Fikree had her own style of teaching. She always spoke in a soft tone. I never heard her shout in the class, not even when she needed the students to stop talking and pay attention to her. She used to read a chapter from the book, writing the meanings of new words on the blackboard and explaining the grammatical structures. I also remember doing grammar exercises in her class. She would explain a sentence and then ask the students about the remaining ones. She made sure that we understood the concepts we were studying, careful enough not to spoon-feed us while giving us a push in the right direction.

During her class, we learnt not only about the English language but also about the different things we read about. She kindled my interest in the English language and literature, especially English poetry. I remember her transporting me to the English fields full of daffodils. Through the poem “The Voice of God” she helped me find a path to self-realization. From the trip to the mango orchard to the conversation between the rickshaw driver and his passenger, to the village fair and the glories of the Abbasid dynasty, she took me to the virtual tour of different places during each class.

It was so obvious that Ms. Fikree enjoyed teaching! I cannot recall a day when she was not there in the class. She made us feel at ease when we were with her. Our repetitive mistakes and silly questions did not seem to tire her. I never saw her getting angry at a student, not even when she caught one of them cheating in the exam. She did not believe in using harsh words for the students. The most important thing that I learnt from her was the meaning of the word “dedication”. She was a teacher par excellence. She always tried her best to provide us with enough information to quench our thirst but, at the same time, increasing our thirst for more. She also taught us about self-respect and respect for others.

During Ms. Fikree’s class, I learnt how to find alternative solutions to a problem. I remember, one day before our exams, there was going to be a special full-day transmission on the national TV channel (it was way before 24×7 channels). All of us were excited about it. The only problem was the tough exam scheduled on the next day.  Young minds are very productive in such situations. So, we ended up thinking ‘what if we could get some other exam rescheduled on that day’. Started the English language class and someone mentioned the exam. That was our cue. Everybody started talking about the TV programs and the cruel exam. I think Ms. Fikree knew what was coming. We asked her if the exam could be rescheduled and she agreed to it immediately. By listening to all of us and by appreciating and understanding our needs she taught us how to appreciate others. It is events like these that have shaped up the way I am. Ms. Fikree’s positive influence inspired me to become a positive person. Some people might find it trivial but to me she has always been an inspiration.

I had not met Ms. Fikree since the time we passed 10th grade. I wanted to see her again but some dreams remain dreams until one day (or night, in my case) you realize that those dreams must be turned into reality. That is why I decided to go to my school and get her contact number. The trigger behind this decision was an incident that took place 15 years ago. This event had a lasting impact on my life.

It was a usual day at school except that we had a test scheduled for Henry Longfellow’s poem titled “Children. I was not in a good shape. I had tried to go through the questions related to this poem but somehow all the ideas and questions related with it looked the same to me! Needless to say I scored badly; 4 out of 10 – what a shame! Even that wasn’t bad enough. The worst part was to listen to what Ms. Fikree said while handing me my test paper. She didn’t get angry at me or use any harsh words. I don’t even remember her exact words but I remember that she was disappointed in me. I wanted to tell her about the reason for my bad performance and that disappointing her would be the last thing I could ever think of doing in this lifetime. But I couldn’t. I just sat down without saying anything. Maybe I thought that she wouldn’t find it a good enough reason for such a low score. Maybe I wasn’t satisfied with the reason myself. Or maybe the shame of being a source of disappointment to her didn’t let me speak. With just one simple sentence, she gave me the zeal to work harder and perform well in the future tests and the board exams. Despite the benefits of this experience, somewhere at the back of my mind the thought of not letting her know about the real reason kept pinching at me, until the day I finally decided to contact her. I asked her if I could visit her and succeeded in that. The day I met her again was a very special day. I got to know that she and I share the same alma mater. I had a chance to talk with her as a student and as a grownup. I told her about the things I had always wanted to tell her about and asked the questions that had been on my mind for so many years.

Some people think that the way a teacher can inspire their pupils is limited to what they teach in the class. Some talk about the importance of the way things are taught while others emphasize the things a teacher says. But, as Henry Brooks Adams put it, “a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Even though, on an average, a teacher barely has a minute or so to spend on a student during class, they can still have a great impact on an individual’s life. To me, each and everything a teacher does or says is equally important; the way they dress up, the way they talk, walk, stand, sit, play and express their feelings – not only within the realm of the class but also outside it. My request to all the teachers: be conscious of your importance in a student’s life. With your words and actions you can serve as a true role model for hundreds of individuals, for you communicate with them even when you are not talking. Ms. Fikree has been a living example of that! Through my experiences with her I understood the importance of being able to speak up. I learnt how to plan for my tasks and to be ready for the consequences if I fail to have one. She taught me the meaning of appreciation – to let people know how special they are. And, above all, she taught me to believe in my dreams and work hard to turn them into reality.

My sincere advice to the young lot: love your teachers.  Know that sometime later in life, when you sit and think about your experiences, you’ll find tiny candles burning with great brilliance. The candles that have kept your soul illuminated through the darkest and the brightest periods of your life. And when you try to see the people holding those candles, you’ll most probably find a teacher’s face smiling back at you.

Blessed am I to have walked on the path where my teacher once walked.


Note: I wrote this piece over a decade ago. My feelings are still the same and my respect for Ms. Fikree has grown manyfold. Finding her number was a task in itself but meeting with her was a blessing! 

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Last night, I was at an event talking to a fellow volunteer. While sharing about life experiences, I recalled the time when I used to commute a long way to pick my brother from his office. It took about 30 to 40 minutes to reach his office. Despite being a daily encounter with rush hour traffic and hot weather, this trip had its positives. For one, I had the opportunity to observe beautiful sunsets on my way to the West Wharf area. Living in a congested megalopolis often means less opportunities to observe sunrise and sunset. For years, we had a good east-side view from our balcony allowing us to observe beautiful sunrises. Then, they built tall buildings and the beautiful view was gone. The west-side view is also blocked by buildings. So, the sunsets on my daily commute came as a breath of fresh air, especially after a long day at work. I enjoyed watching these sunsets and writing my reflections in a notebook or on some scrap paper (blessings of having someone else drive the car for you).

On these trips, I noticed that the sun looks different in summer and winter. The summer sun looked like a fireball .. orange or reddish-orange depending on the month and the temperature. On the other hand, the winter sun reminded me of molten ice cream with its cooler colors. I could also see the circular boundaries of the sun without putting my shades on, unlike with the summer sun. The winter sun felt like a cool yellow ring. The sky, too, looked different with its different shades. Jarod Kintz puts my feelings into words with “The sunset faded and blended from pink to peach to mango in a smoothie in the sky.” Yum!

There is a long, straight road that leads to the West Wharf with unobstructed view of not just the sun but also the surrounding area. For a city dweller like me, observing this open landscape (even if a barren one) resulted in feelings of opening up.. as if my heart burst open and my soul started breathing. Same thing happens on the nights when the sky is clear and I can appreciate its vastness. It’s as if my heart opens up and becomes part of the universe. Sometimes, when we take a particular route which makes us drive on a bridge, I can observe the sunset. But we don’t always take that route thanks to the traffic conditions. I miss my sunsets and want them back.

I wonder if this distance from nature and natural phenomena affects us as human beings. Does it affect the way we think and act? Does it affect our stress levels? Do we get used to the natural phenomena even if we can enjoy them without any physical obstruction? Do we forget to notice them? Last year, I was on the Bernina Express traveling to Swiss Alps with other tourists. We boarded the train in Italy and stopped at St. Moriz. The weather could not have been any more perfect than it was then. It started snowing. Light snow with us in the downtown area, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and with a view of the lake. It was as if we were in a postcard. Later on, we walked in the streets and could still see the beautiful mountains. While observing the people in the streets and those riding in their cars, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if they observe the beautiful natural landscape around them or if it has become part of their routine background which they do not notice. Did I find the place breathtakingly beautiful because it was new to me; or because I was a tourist with the time to laze around; or because I came from a megalopolis with an estimated population of over 20 million? Whereas the residents of St. Moriz had lived their lives surrounded by beautiful mountains, were busy with their daily chores, and did not find anything new about the landscape? Of course, I couldn’t come to a conclusion but I would love to know if there are any studies on the impacts of people’s interactions with nature. Maybe a google search should be the next action item on my list? 🙂

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Fizza aka Fizzoo aka Fizzy aka Fizz Fizz is a five-year-old who happens to be my next door neighbor. She has practically grown up in our home, visiting us on daily basis since the time she was only six months old. For a year and a half, during my consultancy phase, I looked after her during the day – almost everyday. Fizzy loves colors, coloring, and art work. We started our recreational and educational activities when she was about 2 years old, making collages and learning stuff. In Feb 2014, we started trying water colors. Now, she and her three-year-old sister work with me on various art activities.

I love Fizzoo’s choice of colors and the color combinations that she opts for. I noticed that at her school, when she colors something, she keeps it neat and clean – within the boundaries. However, when she works with me, she lets it all go – choosing her own patterns and boundaries (if any). She has no preconceived notions about which colors go with which other colors; how to color; and which color to put where. This is why her art work truly represents ‘her‘.

I decided to keep a track of Fizzy’s art work. Hope it serves as a gift for her when she grows up 🙂

Fizzoo’s Art Book is up and running at: http://fizzooartbook.wordpress.com/

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Melody Queen - Madam Noor Jahan

Melody Queen – Madam Noor Jahan (One of my favorite photos of her)

Been listening to Madam Noor Jahan’s Ghazals since this morning. Somehow, I was reminded of her ghazal Dil Ke Afsanay this morning. So, I thought I’d search for it online. My search landed me to the page referenced above. Been enjoying Madam’s ghazals since then. I can’t thank my Lord enough for being born into a family where both the parents appreciated and enjoyed good music and movies. My dad was a diehard Madam Noor Jahan fan. Hence, my childhood was spent listening to her music on tape recorder and Radio Pakistan. It’s only now that I understand what a blessing it was! I remember listening to Dil Ke Afsanay on our tape recorder (good old days of analog music). It instilled in me the love and appreciation for good music. Now wonder that I simply can’t relate to the idea of music being evil. It just doesn’t feel natural to me. The whole phenomenon of poetry, music, and singing affecting something very deep inside a human being is just amazing. If you ask me, the very idea of banning any and all forms of music is pure crazy.

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Intrigue..

“You intrigue me.”

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OK.. so I’ve ditched Martin Lindstrom‘s book Buyology in favor of the book titled Rumi’s Daughter by Muriel Maufroy. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing against Lindstrom or his book but the circumstance in which I was ‘reunited‘ with the latter book convinced me to pick it up. Here goes the story:

My sister (a teacher) is enjoying the 15-day summer break these days. Two days ago, she decided to clean the three cabinets where we have dumped all sorts of things. Old network cables, phone set, audio cassettes from 80’s, VHS cassettes from 80’s and 90’s, dad’s old documents and beautiful pen sets (which he never used and didn’t let anyone use either!), old cassette players, and books.. lots of books. The ‘cleaning spree’ continued till last night. This spontaneous cleaning spree has brought back so many memories from childhood days. It also made me wonder if there are coincidences in life or if it’s all a big plan..

Case-in-Point: My sister was rummaging through all the books, deciding which ones to keep and which to donate.. and where to donate. This is when we found some books that I had bought years ago (from the date on price tags, I can deduce that it was sometime in 2006/2007). The book Rumi’s Daughter is one of those books. I remember the cover page very well. Remember seeing it in the bookshop. From my tiny, makeshift paper mark I can deduct that I had read this book about half way through before I stopped reading it. However, I have no recollection whatsoever about this book’s contents. It was interesting to learn that this book is about the story of Rumi‘s adopted daughter Kimya. Now, it is nothing extraordinary. However, what is interesting is the timing and the way I was reunited with this book. I have just finished reading ‘The Forty Rules of Love‘ which is the story of Rumi and his spiritual companion Shams Tabriz. That book also presented some part of the story from Kimya‘s perspective; however, the main storyline revolved around Rumi & Shams. I was empathizing with Kimya while reading that book. So, it was quite surprising to be reunited with a book that revolves around her story. A book I bought years ago when The Forty Rules book wasn’t even published! And a book I found again, by coincidence (?), a day after finishing The Forty Rules book! At a time when I had already read 20+ pages of Buyology. Now, I find it quite difficult to take these as coincidences. To me, they are more like ‘signs’. A sign that I should read this book, and leave the Buyology book for later.

There were other great things that we found during my sister’s cleaning spree. Will write about it later. So.. Rumi’s Daughter wins!

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(c) William Wallace Gilchrist Jr.

Who hath heard of such cruelty before?
That when my plaint remembered her my woe
That caused it, she, cruel more and more,
Wished each stitch, as she did sit and sew,
Had pricked mine heart for to increase my sore.
And as I think, she thought it had been so:
For as she thought “This is his heart indeed”
She pricked hard, and made herself to bleed.

William Shakespeare, “Epigram 1

I don’t remember where and when I read this epigram. I do remember it was a long time ago. The last line captured me when I read it for the very first time. All these years, this is the line that I still remembered. Not sure which way Shakespeare wanted to take his epigram but when I read it, it represented to me not the cruelty of the maiden but the situation where many of us find ourselves at times. It’s when you do something supposedly cruel to hurt the person you love, but end up hurting yourself instead. Why? Because if the person you love is hurt and bleeding, it in turn hurts you and makes you bleed.

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