Schuitema Hero – Mussarat Piracha
There are people who achieve greatness simply by living life to fullest in their own set of circumstances. Success is not to do great things all the time but to do things in a great way. The following is an excerpt from a memorium article on a lady who defied the convention of her time in dealing with her physical condition and chose to ‘give’ in whatever way she could. This has been taken from the original article written by Saira Dar and published in Dawn Newspaper Pakistan on December 26, 2008.
Mussarat Piracha’s passing away at the age of 65 was a source of deep sadness for so many of her friends and family members. An individual who defied not only disability but also death at more than one occasion, it was hard to believe that she now finally was no more, and her fruitful yet turbulent life had come to an end. Yet the fact that she passed away on Eid ul Azha (a day of worship and celebration for Muslims), proved that Providence had marked her as extraordinary till the very end.
Born in a well to do family, Mussarat was the sixth daughter of Sheikh Fazal Illahi Piracha, who in his lifetime served as a civil servant with the Indian Civil Service during the British rule and later joined politics, holding various prestigious offices. He was among the rare breed of Pakistani politicians who shunned material gains and equated politics with public service.
Of his nine children, eight of whom were daughters, Mussarat was both a source of joy and tribulation. When she was just a few months old, she was afflicted with the crippling disease of polio, which resulted in irreparable damage to her legs and feet, making her unable to walk. It was indeed a trial for the family to see this beautiful child become ‘disabled’ and to know that she could never enjoy a ‘normal life’.
Mussarat was to prove them wrong, and her zest for leading a full life surpassed even that of those who had no disability. In those days, there was no school that would admit a child with a handicap, but Mussarat was determined to educate herself. She eventually joined a small school near her home and in due course became an avid reader and writer, her special interest being Urdu and Punjabi literature.
Her brilliant and incisive mind coupled with a wonderful sense of humour and a humanistic approach made her a favourite amongst many highly educated and literary luminaries of Pakistan. She went on to write a moving novel in Urdu titled Pukar (Call), the content of which was partly biographical. The novel not only found favour in local literary circles but was translated into a number of foreign languages.
She later wrote another book in Urdu called Ajeeb Larki (A Strange Girl), which was a highly interesting account of her travel to England in the hope of improving her condition. She came back rejuvenated in spirit even though her condition was not altered much in physical terms. She also now had a motor operated wheelchair as opposed to one which required another person to take her around, and this gave her a greater sense of independence.
Mussarat’s most remarkable achievement, however, was a school she set up in Lahore. She was fully supported by her parents in this endeavour, but it was her own determination which made the school what it was, and the quality of education imparted to many young people, at nominal charges or even free of cost, was remarkable. “Mussarat Piracha’s Home” as the school came to be known, became a unique institution in the vicinity and was a truly happy place to be in, both for the students and the staff.
Mussarat’s personal life was no less remarkable. She defied conventional expectations and ended up as a very happily married woman, with a wonderful husband and caring in-laws, a blessing at times denied to perfectly ‘normal’ women. Such was the chamr nad strength of this lady that her husband stated recently, “Mussarat was my choice and I never regretted it.”
Not only did Mussarat marry, she even produced two lovely children even though doctors had declared that in her condition, pregnancy would be a hazard to her life. However, she was resolute in her faith and suffered long drawn hospitalisation and painful procedures to turn her dream of having children come true.
Fate, however, was to put her to test again. One day, as she ventured out on her wheelchair with her maid, just to crossover from her home to her newly constructed school building, she was hit in the back by two supposedly stray bullets. Death stared her in the face, but she was determined to live. I remember her telling me, “It was as if I fought the angel of death, and told God that come what may I was going to live for my children.”
And so she lived, but paid a price for it. Being unable to walk had not been as much f a problem as the pain of this seemingly senseless affliction. Her life became a struggle with untold pain and her determination to live despite it was almost superhuman. For more than fifteen years, se became more or less bedridden, struggling through with incessant medical procedures and medicines to ease her suffering. She shifted her home within the school premises and supervised the school, while lying in bed. She carried on with her work till the school became impossible to run, more so because of financial reasons as most of the students expected to enroll for free.
At her funeral, there were people from various strata of life each of whom had a heartwarming story about Mussarat being a joy and inspiration. One recent addition to her household was a tiny girl from a poor family who had shown the keenness to study and whom Mussarat had volunteered to educate. This bright young child was moving around the house as if it were her own, keenly catering to the needs of the guests like a family member. Perhaps she was the last recipient of Mussarat’s benevolence, along with her own two children, who are now highly educated adults, both having studied abroad, thanks to the generosity of their mother who was willing to part with both of them for the sake of their education.
Indeed she will live on through them.