Opportunity is a door, a knock, a key and a wish granted.
If you happen to be in a new country, opportunity then is an untamed, unfriendly dragon that refuses to submit. It takes a lot of passion, self-belief, perseverance and a ‘no choice attitude’ to establish bonding with it, in due time. It has a mind of its own and personalised standards.
In my life, many opportunities slipped towards me with little effort, while others were tossed away despite all my strength and credibility. They had a check and balance system, like a rolling luck wheel. I would love to share a few opportunities that I availed, yet others that failed me completely.
‘Wake up, rise and shine, the night is bidding farewell and the day wants to say hello, the birds are chirping and greeting the day, the sun has opened its door, a very cool breeze has just started, wake up its morning’, my father often sang in the morning. How can someone be in such a jubilant mood first thing in the morning? I could not ask, however it was a very welcoming and positive energy for children to start a day.
Even then, none except me woke up on any day. All my siblings somehow had a deep sleep in the mornings. Every day, I shared the frustration with my father about their inability to start the day early. Although, I was pleased in my heart of hearts to have his undivided attention each morning, the long walk and fresh air. I had an undistracted listening ear to hear fuss about me for a long time.
However, on the way back, I shook my head in disapproval along with my father to see my siblings still sleeping after such a long time. I had been very generous to let my furious father have ‘his time’ with them. It was their opportunity to face the music, I watched with a contented smile each day while they gave me an ‘ I hate you’ look. They had to start a day listening to an example set by their baby sister. What more could I ask? I felt Glorious! I cherish this opportunity today.
Another moment that still rings a bell in my ear is the first year of my master’s degree. The first crucial mock test had to decide our future. A board of teachers had to decide whose admissions will get sent for the university exam. Attendance, attitude and progress were the testing grounds.
After taking first two mock tests I got unwell. Had to take medication and rest. While the absence was inevitable, it did bring joy and peace to my ailing self in the midst of a stormy stressful academic calamity called exams.
The first paper of classical poetry had been more challenging for me. While I had assumed we will be reading romantic, simple poetry of the English poets, we were introduced with Latin with Greek influences of Chaucer and Milton from as early as the fifteenth century. Analysing Medieval morality and metaphysical themes, that too in old English was a constant survival of the fittest.
Drama, however, was my favourite subject along with ‘American literature’. For that reason, ancient Greek theatre of big three, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides also felt fascinating even when the ‘gods’ came to the rescue in moments of extreme hardships. I enjoyed directing and acting in a presentation of Euripides play ‘Medea’, needless to say, I had the main role and most of the lines.
Mock results came out. I was hopeless in poetry and great in drama. The time came when I had to face the jury, the team of very serious teachers who sat with stern faces as if we never met before.
‘You did pathetic in poetry, your entire paper is red with corrections, I am not sure how you managed to get so far. I suggest we send your admissions for the university exam next year, you are not ready at all’, poetry teacher said.
The other two teachers second her. ‘We are not sure how you managed to get unwell exactly during mocks. Besides we have no evidence that you could have done well anyway’.
I sat confidently with an again same untimely smile on my face, while they gave a ‘get lost, come back next year’ look to me.
This was when my drama teacher intervened, ‘That is strange because she did well in my paper. Nothing outstanding but I see potential in her. I will be very unhappy if she does not qualify’.
‘Besides the attendance was full and her assignment was not too good but regular. I think she deserves a chance’, my American Literature teacher won my heart that day.
While I sat and smiled quietly my teachers started a heated discussion. ‘To be or not to be’, my constant confidence and persistent smile were putting off three teachers. ‘She did not take the exam on purpose, I bet, I don’t like this attitude’, I heard a whisper, ‘and here we are all stressed out of what to do next’.
I had moved from a small town to the main city. It was not easy to make a rapport with teachers. Previously I had the same teacher teaching me in year two and then in graduation. The teachers were promoted with passing years. In masters class too, a number of students were known to the teachers. I did not stand anywhere where competition was concerned.
I listened to the heated discussion and debate. It felt like a tug of war. None of them was wrong, I loved two subjects and hated poetry, prose and novel. What was shocking for the teachers was how a student was good at two subjects when she was that bad at the rest.
‘You are very lucky today, we will send your admissions this time, on the grounds of your full attendance’, the teacher exclaimed still in a state of disbelief.
My favourite teacher smiled, ‘run away before they change their mind’, she expressed without words.
I consulted every single book in my library. I worked hard… It felt like a big stone on my heart when I prepared for my least favourite subjects. I had to disperse my interest and effort in all areas to get through.
Results came and not only I had the highest marks in my college, my city, but first in the whole Punjab university.
When the teacher of criticism subject stepped in the classroom on the first day of part two, after formal introduction she enquired who had the best handwriting in the class. I raised my hand. ‘Come on the blackboard’, she said.
Little did I know that was a responsibility for an entire year. Every day the teacher stepped in, greeted us and said, ‘Uzma dear come on the blackboard’. Uzma dear had an entire year making mind bubbles on the board for brainstorm ideas, exposing all spelling mistakes, breathing in all toxic chalk from the board while the entire class made fine notes.
The disadvantage was that while the entire class had some excellent handmade notes for all subjects, I had no notes at all for criticism at the end of the year. Notes were very important to me and I took great pride in my register. I could not study from someone else’s notes. ‘What an unlucky opportunity’, I cried.
Yet somehow, when we do good for others, good travels and comes back. While attempting the final paper, I heard a sound in my mind, ‘Uzma dear come on the blackboard’… I felt my teacher was supervising me all along. I did better than I hoped for.
In Part 2, my focus changed as I was chosen a class representative. I had to make frequent trips to the hostel to persuade students to visit classes, to deal with fights among groups and to listen to their stories. Some of which came as a complete shock to me. I could be involved to be distracted was the last thing I anticipated. My Class representative duties brought my scores down a bit. Yet they gave me an opportunity to take some useful lessons on board and learn to take everyone along. I was still the first in my institute and fourth overall in Punjab University.
With outstanding academic results, I went to apply to a school. After looking at my scores, the head teacher said, ‘all I can offer you is a job to assist our Urdu teacher’. I realised my books had not given me a shock absorbing quality. ‘I am a trained English teacher with English language Teaching as an additional subject, it is like MEd degree, I have an outstanding qualification, I am afraid I am not very competent at the Urdu language’.
‘That is such a shame, Urdu is the only vacancy I have, besides it is your national language, you should be so proud of teaching it.’
‘Only when I had not worked myself off bothering to pursue a different road altogether’, I said loudly in my heart. I accepted the job, but left on the fifth day, after getting a permanent job in the most renowned secondary school in the city. A beautiful big building with hundreds of students. I was teaching English literature, language and history.
While it looked a great opportunity, boys branch and strength of thirty boys in each class looked far too challenging. I missed young children of year two, Urdu felt a lot easier that time.
Several induction courses, international conferences and training during the job helped me big time. A transformation from a student to a teacher and later admin elsewhere was again not a straight road but very quick and very progressive.
Opportunity to come abroad was destiny. I am grateful. I had high hopes. I had studied English language and literature in a country where it was a secondary language. I had worked very hard. Hardly missed consulting any reference books and had good English-speaking skills. ‘I had a good scope’, I thought.
The reality did not come easy. The opportunity for me to find a job as an English teacher was like an Englishman looking for a job of Urdu teacher in Pakistan. There was no scope.
Besides, I had to take maths and English GCSC. ‘Why When I had done masters, why math when I was not going to teach it, why start from scratch, I could not tell’. I was selling stones in a city of glass houses. ‘I have no scope whether or not I carried on. I wish I had not taken this subject or not come to this country’, I decided hastily.
An assistant on the phone suggested, ‘How about you take science as a teaching subject, there is more scope’. I laughed, ‘thank you, you are very kind’.
And then I got a bigger job, a mother’s job tiring like Urdu and science, yet rewarding. For years I did nothing except baby talk, nappy change and make milk bottles. Until I forgot altogether who I was, what I wanted and what I was capable of. I lost my vision, my expression and my freedom.
I had persistent failures. Nature failed me every time I struggled to find a way out. Do I need to fight more inside or outside? I could never tell.
‘What are you doing’, my best lost and found friend enquired. ‘I always thought you must be doing something big, you were too good’. I had been a selfless mother, I replied.
At any stage, Opportunity is a hanging rope, caught in times of desperation when life pushes us to the edge of a sloping high mountain.
Writing is also my opportunity. I aim with the bow and arrow of my pen on an empty canvas of my mind. I fight my fears, accept my failures, remember my blessings and feel grateful. My paper laughs, cries, explores, bleeds and shouts… I am being honest, life is an opportunity to witness all seasons of mixed emotions, the important lesson is to get up and run again in the race of time.
We are all winners in some areas, while a complete failure at others.
Today, I choose to be thankful for all opportunities anyway, for life, for time, for chance and exposure. I see the logic behind ones I missed. Nature had better plans for me. I also choose to work hard, in my restricted domain to make a difference. I may not teach, someone else may pass on my message.
I pray we all seize the opportunity to help others, to erase poverty, to bring peace and to spread the message of unconditional love and support.
Let us take our opportunities with a big smile and a bag of hope.
I wish you all an opportunity to rise and shine again too.