Robina Ahmad: A Daffodil in the Desert
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
“Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice…it is not something to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” W. Jennings Byron
Success like a slave waits for those who embark themselves on the painful journey of discovering themselves, and their true potential, and of learning early on that “Failures are favors”, done to them by a hidden hand. Trials of life are a wake-up call, and God’s way of educating us. What paralyzes humans is not the frequency of failures and set-backs, but the so-called successes in life that often act as opium, and stall this journey of self-discovery. As would say, Orison Swett Marden in his wonderful book, “Pushing to The Front”,“ Success does not grow in palaces, or in the comfort zones; it is born in the struggle to overcome hardships”. It is difficulties that make greatness possible. It is the friction in life that brings out the sleeping spark in the our flints.
Adversity, thus, is our best instructor; we discover ourselves best when we lose almost all. But it all depends on how individuals on trial take these set-backs in life. Robina’s life is a tale of trials; it is an amazing story of sustained human effort, a metaphor of an un-bending human will, a manifestation of human optimism, a magic of the immeasurable fund of positive thinking, a verifiable proof of one’s belief in oneself, and of a rocky trust in God “ Tawakkul”,. Failures failed to bend her; gender-injustice and bias couldn’t dent her resolve to follow her dream. Fate, relatives, parents and circumstances: all joined hands to fill darkness in her life; they all attempted to put Robina in a deep and dark hole; yet they all failed to stop her from looking at the stars in the sky from that hole.
“When sorrow brims over greatly, then the sorrows cease;
My woes weighed on me so much that my burden eased.” Ghalib
What amazed me most rather irritatingly (I had invited Robina and her sister Shubina over a cup of tea), was that nothing could rob Robina of her smiles; nothing could embitter her towards anyone. Hers remained a story of human accomplishment, and of human grandeur. As a self-made man myself, I shared vicariously many a similarity with her; especially our singular belief that the only solution to all troubles lies in the attainment of knowledge and in consistent struggle. The formula worked in my case as it does in most cases. But Robina, as I discovered, have had an edge over me in one regard. I was spared by fate in such crushingly personal matters as the trauma of a failed marriage. Robina tasted all this and much by the age of early twenties. She had prematurely experienced how it was to be a married woman, how it was when a marriage goes sour; and what ensues when separation in a conservative environment with all its social stigmas takes place, and how it was to be a mother in her early Twenties. But nothing succeeds like success. Now, this year, that she has been accepted for her Medical Residency Program at the Michigan State University, all her past looks like a well-written preface to a great Epic, at least this is how Robina tends to look at it.
Robina was born in California, but then when she was seven, she had to move along with her parents to a desert town, Bahawalpur, Pakistan. When I asked her to tell me something about her personal life, and when did precisely her troubles start? Smilingly she said that troubles started with her very birth and her gender. The only best thing that ever happened in life was her education at the Army Public School in Bahawalpur. It was there that the seed to improve herself through education was sown. The teachers equipped her with ideas, and made her aware of human potential and worth , and later it was this mode of thinking that became her biggest asset in life.
It was amazing to discover that Robina passed her two year college (F.Sc.) with a high fist Div from the Army Public School . She could have been easily accepted in a medical college in Pakistan, but for the lack of vision on the part of her parents. Her parents thought that education spoils girls; it puts a long tongue in their mouths and it makes them argumentative and somewhat un-manageable. No support came from anywhere except some from her maternal uncle and from her brother. Her worst opposition came from those who claimed to love her most, her own mother in specific. This simple minded mother of hers saw her betterment in her own narrow perspective. Little did they all know that “Education had already done her the damage.” . Marriage, rather than medical education was deemed as the best option for her by all. Robina, thus, got yoked to her first cousin in exchange for a similar arrangement for her brother. So it was a perfect formula invented by the elders of two families for the disaster of four individuals. If one goes wrong, the rest of the three shall reap the consequences as well. Cousin marriages are often the marriages of convenience for the elders only. The marriage did not survive. There was no match between these two minds. A baby, Zainab, and lots of bitterness in relations, is what Robina got; she found herself standing on the cross-road of life. But she did not stop dreaming. A new Robina was born then.
During these stormy years between 2002 and 2006, Robina kept alive her dreams alive, tended her daughter, trained herself as a technician in Pharmacy, worked and kept taking classes at the local Community college, and finally in the year 2008 she got accepted at the University of Berkeley as an under-graduate student. Berkeley brought out what was lying hidden in her- her best in two years. She graduated from there in 2010 .
As if hardships and trials had already not been enough, Robina further offered herself to some more challenges at Berkeley. She chose Micro-Biology as her major along with Education. The Fly-Wheel of her life had already begun picking up the momentum. She did exceedingly well at Berkeley. Things began to lighten up now. Her sister, Shubina became her guardian angel. She did for Robina what very few sisters do. She took care of Robina’s daughter, and made things as easy for her as possible. Robina while explaining her life story, often looked at her sister, Shubina with a deep sense of gratitude, and repeated many a time that what Shubina did for her, very few sisters would do it.
To a question as to what kept her going in life, Robina said, her total fixation on her aim, and her unswerving resolve to never delve in the past and let it impact her future, and spoil her present. She accepted the past happenings as a game of the fate, and as a way of Allah’s favor to her. When asked as to what distinguishes her from others. Her answer was simple. “I have always appreciated family values. I have never ceased to love my parents and my uncles and relatives. My optimism and positive thinking has been my main source of strength”.
The most trying phase in Robina’s life was when she went to Ross for her medical schooling, and when she started her rotation work at Bakersfield and Los Angeles. It was like being on the wheels all the time. Zainab, her daughter in Shubina’s care, with the burden of studies, what kept her going was her belief in herself, and in her potential, and her staying connected with God, and with the local Islamic Center. Even her daughter became a source of strength for her. Zainab kept her bonded with life, giving her a reason to keep going. Robina, according to her account, did good in USMLE part I, but did exceedingly well in Part II.
The fruit of her struggle finally fell in her lap last month as the much awaited letter of Acceptance for the Residency Program at the Michigan State University came. She would now start her Residency in June, 2016.
“When I disclosed the good news to my mother, she just stared at me with vacant eyes and said, “Stop lying now. You and being a doctor!. Once earlier she had put my medical books in the mail box in order to get rid of them”, Robina revealed smilingly. She loves her mother’s simplicity. Robina would be the first in her family to remove the webs of ignorance from her family. Her sister, Shubina is equally commendable and tenacious. She is a wizard in Mathematics and Statistics. This is the tale of a family where gender injustice and male chauvinism once prevailed. What the sons had destroyed, the daughters in both the closely connected families, not only restored, but even retrieved with much more still to follow. Robina has proved that given a chance the girls have the potential to touch the skies. Each girl, given a chance, has the potential of a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, and of a Malala Yousafzai and of scientists like Nergis Mavalvala in her.
What amazed me most about Robina and her sister Shubina was their modesty, their humbleness, an absence of affectation, their faith in human potential, their love for family values, their immunity to bitterness; their ability to live in the present; their acknowledgement of the power of “Now”.
Robina intends to work in the deprived rural areas; aims to engage herself extensively in the non-profit organizations and in volunteer work. She also intends to serve in Pakistan, especially in the desert towns. The desert town of her childhood and the foundational schooling, had given her stamina, had equipped her how to endure and how to survive. God also has a special love for the desert people; He never abandons them. Robina’s sizzling success is a living proof of it. In her interview she often quoted the familiar Hadith of our Prophet Muhammad (s), “Trust in God, but tie your camel” This wandering camel of hers appeared in many forms and manifestations in her life. She managed it well by doing her part to the best of her ability: the rest she left to the care of God. Now it is all Sunshine for her. Well done Robina! The Muslim Community is proud of you.