Ziauddin Yousafzai’s ‘Let Her Fly’ Is The Story Of A Father Who Inspired
Ziauddin Yousafzai’s memoir Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey and the Fight for Equality is a moving account of fatherhood and his lifelong fight for equality. An excerpt:
The first year or two of our living in the UK were hard for us. Following Malala’s attack, we wept more tears than I thought possible. On top of the injuries to her ear and her face, a chunk of her skull had to be taken out and embedded in her stomach while her brain swelled. She now has a metal plate in place of the shattered part of her skull.
We lived first in the hospital hostel and then moved to an apartment on the tenth floor of a Birmingham tower block. We moved twice more after that. In those early days, my wife, Toor Pekai, would look out of the window and see the women below, so freely walking about the streets in the night air, but dressed in so little by the standards of the women in the bazaars of Mingora. She would weep yet more tears of confusion and fear: “Surely these women will freeze to death.”
In those early days, my wife, Toor Pekai, would look out of the window and see the women below, so freely walking about the streets in the night air, but dressed in so little by the standards of the women in the bazaars of Mingora.
Where my tears had not fallen at the first news of Malala’s attack, now Pekai and I would often cry the whole night long, like children. There were so many possibilities of how Malala’s life might be restricted: paralysis down one side of her face, an inability to speak, limited memory. And yet in the morning we would rise up from the hostel bed and go to the hospital for another day filled with deep hope and terrible dread.
Every decision about Malala’s well-being Pekai and I made together. Pekai needed me to act as her translator because she could not understand what the British doctors were telling us. Many men, from my background, do not involve their wives. But for us, there was not one decision made without the other one agreeing, even down to how to tie back Malala’s hair.
Many men, from my background, do not involve their wives. But for us, there was not one decision made without the other one agreeing, even down to how to tie back Malala’s hair.
With my fear of losing Malala, I felt such terrible guilt that I had not stopped her from campaigning. It was Pekai who got me through this period in which I seemed to be stuck in a loop. I went over my intentions again and again. What had I been working towards that was worth this sacrifice of my child? How could I have miscalculated like this? Malala and I had stood together, united. But this fight almost left me with the dead body of my child.
Once our life settled down, it was very clear that Pekai’s lack of English was impacting everything. She barely knew a word. It was isolating for her, and she had few Pakistani friends. In Mingora, our house had been full of people. But our house in Birmingham felt empty at the beginning. Once Malala had recovered, the boys and Malala were in school during the day. I would often travel as part of the job I was given as an education attaché to the Pakistani government.
Pekai would never complain about being left on her own with the boys. But, still, this did not mean she was happy with this new life in the UK. I would hear her on the phone to a friend in Swat saying, “Why am I not educated? Why is my life difficult? I don’t understand anything.”
“Why am I not educated? Why is my life difficult? I don’t understand anything.”
One of the earliest English phrases Pekai learned to say was “top up,” because it enabled her to buy a top-up card for her mobile phone, which then meant she could ring friends and relations in Pakistan. We all missed Pakistan, but for Pekai, there were many basic elements of UK life to master, like transport and calendars, that the rest of us found easier. She did not know how to spell her name in English. When she had to fill in forms she had no idea when her birthday was. On top of general day-to-day confusion, Pekai suffered terrible headaches that the doctor said were a reaction to the trauma of the attack on Malala.
Excerpted with permission from Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey and the Fight for Equality by Ziauddin Yousafzai, published by Penguin. Rs 499, 176 pages
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