I was born in a poor household in a working class neighbourhood. It is adjacent to an industrial area so our neighbours were mostly factory workers and their families. My father was a trade unionist and a labour leader. We didn’t have a lot of money in our house, but my father’s social and political life earned us respect and dignity among the people in our town. Still, respect does not put food on the table and I never really experienced financial stability in my home. My mother is a housewife: her unpaid, unrecognised and uncelebrated labour was perhaps the only thing that made our home liveable.
My parents, like most people, wanted me to have quality education. We lived in a small town but they sent me to one of the best schools there. By enforcing a combination of love and discipline, they made sure I got good marks throughout my school days. My friends from the neighbourhood went to public schools and dropped out in a few years. Very few completed their primary education.
Due to the financial conditions at home, sometimes it became really difficult for my parents to pay my tuition fees. This caused me inexplicable pain. I developed an inferiority complex, often losing confidence in myself. But it was always the love of mother and encouragement of my father that uplifted my spirits and morale. I passed matriculation exams with good marks, even though I didn’t achieve the score my parents and I desired.
I applied to a prestigious institution for higher education: Government College University in Lahore. I was shortlisted but my parents didn’t have enough money to pay my fees. I stayed silent but I began to despise the world. I hated everything. I saw my mother crying while trying hard to hide her tears. My father asked a friend to pay my fees and I secured admission. Despite all this, my parents never imposed any ‘subjects’ on me: they just wanted me to read. They let me choose what I wanted to read.
This was the time when my two younger brothers also started school. My parents were unable to provide them with quality education. My father earned a very meagre amount despite all the hard work he did. In poor households, providing all children quality education is often just a dream – it cannot be turned into reality. So the future of other children future is sacrificed for one child’s education. Because parents can’t afford educating all their children, and this system is so ruthless that it doesn’t care. The pursuit of knowledge, instead of being a fundamental right, has become a luxury which only the rich can afford. I lived with this guilt and I’m still living with it.
Government College was a completely different world for me. I met many different kinds of people there. I got the opportunity to interact with books and intelligent people. I met some teachers who opened my mind to unconventional ideas that shook my worldview.
My parents never stopped me from learning and questioning. There were so many other things happening at the same time. I saw, observed and experienced gross inequalities. Sometimes I could not relate to my class fellows. I felt so alienated. This made me hate everything, including myself and my parents. Later, I realised that this was the system that perpetuates these inequalities and maintain class hierarchies. Despite all these hardships, my parents, especially my mother, held me close always and took care of my needs.
From time to time, I wondered if it was better to quit studies. My parents always discouraged me from thinking about quitting. They gave me many chances. When I went to university, I saw that my parents were happy. Somehow, they managed my first fee. But my younger brothers were not doing well in studies due to lack of care and resources. This made my parents anxious and it made me feel guilty.
In university, I got a chance to read books. I got time to sit with my friends and discuss things. My own circumstances and the environment around me radicalized me. Life of my people around me was miserable. They couldn’t afford two meals a day. In contrast, what I saw in cafes, malls and cinemas was a completely different life. I joined politics. I started walking down the path that my father had followed for decades. I made a promise to myself that I would fight for my people, for myself, for my parents and for my young brothers. For my people, so that they could have a life of dignity one day. For myself and my dreams; for my parents so that no any other parent would have to go through this all their entire lives for their children’s education; for my younger brothers and millions like them so that they could be given free and quality education, one day.