I was born in Lahore at United Christian Hospital, which was then housed within the premises of Forman Christian College. The doctor who delivered me was a Christian lady by the name of Dr Morse. When I was brought home I was entrusted to the care of Charagh Bibi, a Christian woman who worked in our home. Charagh Bibi became my ayah. To everyone else she was known as Charago, but to me she was always Bua. For the next ten years my beloved Bua was my second mother. She fed me, washed me, dressed me, sang to me, told me stories, praised me when I did well, consoled me when I cried, stayed up nights with me when I was ill and gave me endless affection. She scolded me often but never once did she humiliate me, still less hit me.
Among my first friends were two Christian girls, Martha and Rani. Aside from all the fun and games, and everything else your childhood friends teach you, Martha and Rani contributed something invaluable to my life. They taught me Punjabi, my mother tongue. Left to my parents, though both Punjabi speakers themselves, I would only have spoken Urdu and English.
My first school was a tiny nursery run by a French speaking Canadian nun. I don’t remember much of her except that she pronounced ‘three’ as ‘thghee’ and ‘four’ as ‘fough’. But I remember clearly two things about the nursery – an upright piano on which she banged out cheerful French songs and a big sea shell that she sometimes held to my ear and whispered, ‘Can you hear the sea in this shell? No matter how far it travels the seashell never forgets the sea.’
[quote]’No matter how far it travels the seashell never forgets the sea'[/quote]
At the age of five I joined ‘big school’, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Lahore. And here I stayed till the age of sixteen. A good number of my teachers at the Convent were Christians. Mrs Samuel taught me maths, Mrs Cross taught me ‘Housecraft’, Mrs Williams was my Geography teacher, Mrs Daniels my history teacher, Mrs Kenny taught me netball and volleyball, the two Mrs Braganzas were the music and ‘needlework’ teachers, Sister Grace taught me singing and Sister Berchmans and Sister Marie Cecile taught me English. If truth be told, not all of them were inspiring teachers but every one of them was a hardworking, dignified and educated woman. Apart from teaching me about the direction of trade winds and how to calculate compound interest and the greatness of King Asoka (remember him?) and Shakespeare and the utility of the running stitch and household bleach, they also taught me the value of hard work and the importance of politeness and consideration.
But am I the only Pakistani Muslim whose life has been shaped by her Christian compatriots? I think not. I know, for instance, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was educated at St Anthony’s School and Shahbaz Sharif at The Cathedral School, both esteemed Christian academic institutions of Lahore. Imran Khan went to Aitchison College, where no doubt, like hundreds of boys before and after him, he must have encountered the likes of Major Langlands, a committed educationalist who has given all his working life to Pakistan.
So it shames and appals and saddens me when we do nothing when our Christian brothers are murdered in their churches. Worse, we show support to our enemies, the Taliban. Where Pakistani Christians have built schools, the Taliban have destroyed them; where Pakistani Christians have prized knowledge, the Taliban have peddled ignorance; where Pakistani Christians have fought and died alongside us, the Taliban have butchered us; where Pakistani Christians have lived in peace, the Taliban have brought death, destruction and war. I cannot understand the ambivalence of our leaders. For me the choice is stark. A lot of what I am, a lot of what I have achieved, I owe to the influence of the Christian ladies I was fortunate enough to encounter in Pakistan. Like Sister Yuthai’s seashell, I may be thousands of miles away from the sea, yet I will always carry within me its echo.