When you read the memoirs of a person about whom a strong opinion already exists, there are a few things that happen. Like it or not there is a certain amount of skepticism that creeps in. And as you read, you are trying to verify and validate every word. Pre-existing opinions can also color your thoughts. And you find it difficult to ignore strong opinions. After all, so many people cannot be wrong. It hampers your objectivity to an extent. The book I am Malala begins with the highlights of the events of Malala’s life when she was allegedly shot by the Taliban. And then she narrates her life before and after that event.
In the book I am Malala, she starts by narrating the story of her father who is an Imam’s son in Swat Valley in northern Pakistan. The description of Swat valley is so beautiful that you want to pack your bags and go there only to realize it is not an easy option. She talks about her father’s struggle to open schools in the valley. And his emphasis on educating girls. She being the poster child for the same. She talks about her mother who is illiterate. And interestingly neither she nor her father made any efforts to educate her. She talks fondly about her family and friends at school. Especially her kid brothers and her classmates. She talks about the rise of Taliban in the valley and how they took over the place. And how the peace talks failed in reality.
In between, she narrates the devastation caused by the earthquake. That makes you sympathize with the victims of the natural disaster. She brings out the trauma of living in fear all the time when gunshots can be heard all around, very well. Malala talks about her school picnics and her love for books. You see a bright child growing up with lots of dreams in her eyes. She also has a quintessential story of stealing something, being reprimanded by parents. And then learning a lesson of never doing it again. All this is a good read.
Now where I found gaps in her story is – how she was picked up by the western media to be the spokesperson for the valley or for the girls’ education. What was her father’s role in projecting her as a girl education evangelist? What is the actual work that she did to pursue her claimed mission? Throughout the story, she only talks about her love for learning. There is not a single incident or activity mentioned that shows her interest in educating others. There are no projects that they are running to educate girls – maybe they were. But then why would they not mention it in the book, now that they live in a safe environment in Birmingham.
How was she getting all the awards and the money associated? What was the basis of her being awarded? Her father running a school for girls cannot be the only criterion. I am sure there are many highly educated women in Pakistan. And there are enough institutes for them. Why have they decided to stay back in the UK and not come back to Pakistan to pursue the said goal of educating girls? Or has the illiteracy of Pakistan served its purpose? She mentions about her fund without mentioning any project or any achievements till date again, now that she has few years of accolades behind her. Did the western media create the icon that she is?
Considering she was living in a remote place, the facilities she had were comparable to what an average middle-class child gets around the world. She could communicate with the who’s who of world media. Malala could travel around the country for giving interviews and receiving awards. She could blog under a pseudo name. And answer all her e-mails without any interruptions – says something about the remote regions of Pakistan. And the facilities available there. Having said that I saw her video of speaking at UN. She sure looks mature well beyond her years. And has awesome confidence and personality coupled with good oratory skills? But then the content of her speech was too generic. And never talks about the actual on the groundwork she is doing or is she just an ambassador?
This book I am Malala leaves me with some insight into Pakistan, especially Swat Valley. And a lot of questions about the myth of Malala.
You may buy this book – I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb at Amazon.