Tribute: Genius, interrupted

Published: February 19, 2012

Arfa Kareem aspired to change Pakistan but unfortunately she left this world before she could see her dream fulfilled.

Arfa Kareem aspired to change Pakistan but unfortunately she left this world before she could see her dream fulfilled. Arfa Kareem aspired to change Pakistan but unfortunately she left this world before she could see her dream fulfilled. Arfa Kareem aspired to change Pakistan but unfortunately she left this world before she could see her dream fulfilled. Arfa Kareem aspired to change Pakistan but unfortunately she left this world before she could see her dream fulfilled.

The village of Ramdewali near Faisalabad, woke up on the 15th of January to find hundreds of people at its doorstep. As they moved in unison, it appeared as if a grand procession was on its way to pay homage to a shrine of some holy saint. But this was no Urs; the hordes of people were not devotees, but mourners at Arfa Kareem’s funeral.

Ramdewali is the birthplace of the girl who was the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) until 2008, and whose sudden demise plunged the nation into grief. Funeral prayers were offered in Lahore, Faisalabad and in Arfa’s hometown Ramdewali, where she was laid to rest. Such an emotional farewell for an ordinary citizen — that too, a 16-year-old student — is an unprecedented event in Pakistan.

I had the unique opportunity to interview Arfa in 2005, after her visit to the Microsoft headquarters in the United States. That little girl was able to hold her own and give a speech about developing applications in front of thousands of seasoned software developers. During my conversation with her, I was struck by her exuberant personality. Arfa’s charm, confidence and optimism made me forget that she was a 10-year-old.

The child prodigy was proud of herself for being the youngest MCP. “It means a lot to me because it helped me fulfil my family’s dreams, especially those of my late grandfather Chaudhry Abdul Karim Randhawa,” she had said. Meeting Bill Gates had been an exhilarating event for the young achiever. Arfa’s father, a retired colonel, Amjad Karim Randhawa, who accompanied her to the US to meet Gates, vividly described her enthusiasm. “She was so excited that she did not sleep throughout the trip, always writing down questions she would ask him. She even wrote a poem and gave it to him,” Amjad reminisced fondly. “Bill Gates was quite taken aback by her enthusiasm and intelligence.”

But Arfa was hardly content with being just a one-hit wonder. Even at the tender age of 10, she had ambitious plans for the future. She wanted to study at the prestigious Harvard University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology and wanted to use her genius to help her country. “I will come back to Pakistan and make a positive contribution,” she had said.

As she grew older, Arfa’s ambition and focus remained undiminished. “One of the most amazing things about Arfa was her maturity,” remembers Salman Yasin, the principal at Lahore Grammar School’s Paragon Campus, the last school Arfa attended. “Not only was she aware of her exceptional capabilities, she had full confidence in them.”

And, in fact, the young student had already started taking practical steps to realise her big dreams. She paid for the construction of a computer laboratory in the Government Girls High School in Chak No2 Ramdewali. So successful was this lab that the Punjab government decided to model all computers labs  in government schools after it. According to the whiz kid, this was just the beginning of the realisation of her aspirations.

But tragically for Arfa, the end came too soon. Just as she was preparing to depart to India for a Nasa-sponsored international space settlement competition, she suffered a massive cardiac arrest after an epileptic seizure. With her brain significantly damaged, she was admitted to Lahore’s Combined Military Hospital.

“Visa arrangements were being made for the students, but then she fell into a coma and … well, everything just came to a standstill,” laments Yasin.

As young Arfra lay on a hospital bed on life support, the entire nation prayed for her recovery. Three weeks after her epileptic seizure, when all hope for her survival had dissipated, Arfa’s condition miraculously improved. However, the budding hopes for her recuperation were soon crushed. Arfa passed away just weeks before her 17th birthday.

Even during her short life, Arfa managed to make a long-lasting impression on those around her. The go-getter, who in an interview admitted that she hated wasting time, was eager to make a positive impact on the lives of people who surrounded her. “She would always say that one day she would help bring prosperity and progress in Pakistan,” Amjad recalls wistfully.

Her uncle Muhammad Afzal Randhawa makes a similar remark. “She was not an adolescent, but a sage,” he eulogises. “She used to say that she would one day revolutionise the educational and agricultural systems of the village, both of which are extremely outdated.”

Even though she was brilliant and motivated far beyond her years, in many ways Arfa was just an ordinary child. As a child, Arfa loved watching cartoons, singing and cycling. As she matured, she developed a penchant for reading Shakespeare and took keen interest in Iqbal’s poetry. “She always had the perfect verse or quote for any occasion,” Amjad recalls.

Nevertheless, like any other sociable teenager she was keen on spending time with her friends and enjoying school concerts. “High achievers are usually burdened with a sense of pride and seriousness that often isolates them from other children their age, but this was not the case with Arfa. She just wanted to act her age,” explains Yasin. “She loved music, movies — all the things young girls at her age are fascinated with.”

He adds affectionately, “She was very compassionate — and had such a lovely smile.”

Arfa’s sudden death left many of her dear friends in a state of deep shock and grief. In the wake of the intense media hype around her illness and death, students had to be counselled to help them cope with the loss of their beloved comrade.

To commemorate the achievements of the brilliant student, the government issued a postage stamp on February 2 — her 17th birthday. “Wouldn’t it have been just great if Arfa had seen those stamps herself? It would have been a great way to tell her how important she was to us,” says Yasin.

Yasin advocates a more meaningful way to truly immortalise Arfa’s legacy. He calls for a yearly scholarship in Arfa’s name, funded by the government to facilitate talented children across the country. “Naming IT cities and issuing stamps is all great, but Arfa was not just that — her legacy is far more,” he says.

Azra Parveen, Arfa’s classmate and currently a 7th grade student at Government Girls High School, also believes that a scholarship will be the best way to honour Arfa. “There are hundreds of thousands of Arfas out there who possess the same mettle and calibre, but because they belong to the poor class, they have not been able to demonstrate it,” she says. “If equal opportunities are provided to the deprived classes of society, hundreds of Arfas are likely to spring up.”

 

 

Additional reporting by Aroosa shaukat

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Feb 19, 2012 - 1:00PM
  • Feb 19, 2012 - 1:13PM

    This is a strange country, no one praise the real scientist Dr Abdus Salam who got the noble prize but everyone praise a child only for passing a certification.

    Everyone treat computer science as medical science which is totally wrong. In medical science test and degrees are important as they just have to memorize the medicine names and symptoms and pass the test and things never change for hundred of years where as in computer science certificates and degrees doesn’t matter, the real thing which matter is what you have made after getting certificates and degrees, how you use them. In seven years after getting the certifications, we havn’t seen any product/software or theory by her.

    Only thing which has been started due to her is the useless race for becoming youngest certified child. And what are the certifications ” Windows installation” Microsoft Exam 70-120. This is honestly the joke. Microsoft people are earning 150 USD = around 15K PKR for these certifications and we are just throwing the money to bring our child on the media.
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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 1:31PM

    @Usman Shahid:
    Dr Abdus Salaam – the real Hero of Pakistan – is a forgotten tale in this country.
    We are a pathetic nation.

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  • I love this daughter of our country. May God bless her soul in heavens. She made us proud for her achievements.

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  • pakistanibaloch
    Feb 19, 2012 - 2:38PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    you donot talk sensibly….you may be pathetic person but other pakistani hindus and muslims are not!!!!

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  • 2 IN 1
    Feb 19, 2012 - 2:40PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    @Usman Shahid:
    both are same person..

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  • faha
    Feb 19, 2012 - 3:03PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    you should move to india i think…that county is mor epathetic for muslims …remember what they did with muslims in gujrat…

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 3:43PM

    @2IN1
    I am Pakistani and muslim. Second if you don’t have any argument, don’t try to run your mind in this stupid manner.

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 3:43PM

    @pakistanibaloch: Okay :)

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 4:40PM

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/beyond-sats-finding-success-in-numbers/

    Test obsessed nations like us will never see and read the article on the link given above

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  • whatever
    Feb 19, 2012 - 5:12PM

    We have way too many “Youngest __ (Fill in the blank)”. We have Mashallah excellect rattay baaz. This undermines those who put their nose on the grind and do real hard work. The article mentioned that she had a liking for Shakespeare and Iqbal. I am offended by this, I truly am! She was no child ‘prodigy’. The ‘true’ prodigies like Mozart worked day and night to be good at what they did, just to be experts in ’1′ thing. Just because she got a certification from Microsoft it doesn’t make her authority on everything.

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 6:28PM

    @faha:
    Two things:
    1st- Being a Pakistani, I am more concerned about my country, I don’t care what happens in India or in any other country. That’s not my problem, shouldn’t be yours either.
    2nd- Why should I move to India? Is it just because I am a Hindu? That’s why you said it right?
    Please remember one thing… and never ever forget, it was Muslims who migrated from India to Pakistan.. We Sindhi Hindus had been living here for thousands of years. Just because this land was given a different name, doesn’t mean we didn’t belong to it anymore.
    Though I have nothing to prove to you but be careful next time you challenge someone’s patriotism.

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  • yEh cheez :P
    Feb 19, 2012 - 6:42PM

    @whatevr………

    TOtally agreed!!!!

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  • alam khurshid
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:05PM

    We are pathetic. Poor Arfa. My heart goes out to her parents. But who in the world ever heard of Microsoft certification and who even celebrates it. Only in Pakistan where we are hungry for some crumbs of recognition that the west throws at us, much like scraps of meat to a dog. This is not the nobel prize you know. Our standards are so cheap.

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  • Oz
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:17PM

    @whatever:
    You’re offended because she liked Shakespeare and then you link that to her ‘being an authority’ on them? Dude you are a sad, sad human being. Achieve something on your own and then come and talk smack

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  • faha memon
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:36PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    we are also sindhi and our ancestors also have been living here for thousand years …you can also say EX-HINDU ..but my point is that you most of the time seem take the side of indian people too ..donot forget we have internal problems but india (RAW) AND america(CIA) are als oour enemy …and what is your problem with our ISI and army …just because they bash our enemies like RAW nad RAW ….we donot expect any thing from our Goverment …atleast we should support our ISI and army who are defending not only pakistan but our “sindh”too..
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  • RH
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:38PM

    @Pakistani Hindu: well said brother. no one should have to prove their patriotism to anyone. as a Muslim I long for the day when Pakistan will grow up and grow out of this childish religious bigotry.

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  • Saad Raees
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:44PM

    Okay so a beautiful article written about a beautiful person is interrupted by disgusting comments where again rightists and leftists wage a war on each other!! Yes, Dr Abdussalam was a genius and great person, but this article is about a young girl who wanted to change Pakistan and she had huge ambitions, so we should be talking about the topic of this article and not go off-topic, please do not say anything if you can’t say anything good about someone, unfortunately the comments above prove that yes we have become a pathetic nation!!

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  • faha
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:50PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    as a sindhi girl i donot wanted to hurt you .if it hurts i say sorry …

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  • faha
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:54PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:
    as a sindhi girl i did not want to hurt you .if it hurts i say sorry …

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 8:15PM

    @faha memon:
    Two things dear:
    First, who has told you that America and India are our enemies? What wrong have they done to us? I don’t consider them our enemies and neither does our Army. If Pak-Army conceived America as an enemy then why would they allow American forces to use Pakistani soil against terrorists?
    Secondly, we – Pakistanis – need to learn to start calling a spade a spade and stop avoiding the issues. If we don’t criticize or question our authorities then who else will?
    I consider it my duty to find fault and highlight the multifaceted problems in our society.

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 8:21PM

    @faha:
    No problem sister. It’s all good. :)

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  • Pakeezah
    Feb 19, 2012 - 8:51PM

    @Usman Shahid:
    I just read your article regarding Arfa. Your analysis is wrong to some extent. Saying that she achieved A’s under immense pressure is quite untrue to some extent. She had ofcourse God-gifted abilities. She was not like you and me. We have to work twice harder to achieve what she could have achieved by trying once.
    Come on, atleast give some credit to the genius.

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  • Zalim singh
    Feb 19, 2012 - 9:14PM

    rip

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  • faha
    Feb 19, 2012 - 9:36PM

    @Pakistani Hindu:

    india and america are our enemy ….i think you donot have knowledge of politics..our army is handling the empire America and fake taliban(and america indirectly support them)its about big vs short nation …we can only handle america because they are empire …we are not against our freedom fighters (real taliban) and should not be…they are MUJAHEDEEN ..they defeated russia ..donot you see after 9/11 the big changing not only in pakistan but other muslim world now see what they are going to be happen with IRAN(still you are saing they are not our enemy …. ..this was not happen before 9/11 you should also be known RAW has trained 40 thousand balochs(except sardars) and RAW is supporting BLA…BLA who has also reached in karachi ..donot you read news paper and what about zulfiqar mirza what he said about america ??…there are two types of taliban ..and america support one group of fake taliban others are real taliban or freedom fighters…………

    so im anti india ,anti america and anti present government…

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 10:00PM

    @Pakeeza: I was extremely sorry on the loss of that child, i felt the same way, when i lost my own daughter. She was great mind of Pakistan and i would have love if she would have grown up and would have got the chance to do something really big.

    My thinking might be totally wrong but i really think that early fame, stop her from doing something even bigger. I accept that my thinking about her death my be wrong but no one reject the presence of pressure and its negative effects

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  • Oz
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:12PM

    @Saad Raees:
    And comments like yours give me hope that there’s also some sanity among us. Kudos!

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  • santosh
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:23PM

    @faha:
    what happened in Gujrat entire world knows, but it was just a speck infront of the existing brotherhood , peace and harmony between different religious groups in India.
    you will say Gujrat riots-I want to ask you what is happening in your country?just 2 days earlier there was a sucide attack near mosque? you know how many were killed?
    1. what do you have to say about shia and sunni riots?
    2. what is going on in Syria, Baharain and the gulf?

    if you don’t like Indians mention clearly with valid reason.
    it is because of people like u the tension persists.

    watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JAm3yznErM,

    if you have little brain u will understand. itz not in Islam and not in Hinduism to hate,kill and all nonsense. all such events are test to humanity. we all should use our brain and not something said by extremists. afterall who are they to interpret the religion, who are they to teach false ideology. such people are successful because innocent and brainless people like u simply believe what they say.

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  • santosh
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:27PM
  • Pakeezah
    Feb 19, 2012 - 10:53PM

    @Usman Shahid: What we have heard on the interviews from her parents paints the totally opposite picture. A lively personality void of unnecessary pressure from her surroundings.
    Wallah Alam!

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  • Doctor
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:23PM

    @Pakeezah:
    just want to add a bit…..perhaps prolonged photosensitive (computer) exposure triggered seizure in this little genius. Usman is right in a way, her mind was under too much stress that might cost her life.

    She had got a brilliant mind, no doubt about that, her IQ is much above the average person. But at the end these things do not matter much. World always remember those who contributed to the welfare of mankind, the inventors, the travellers, the scientist, the philosophers, and so on but not the one who just obtained some degree much earlier then others. Its a hard truth, no matter how much we deny it that’s how it is.

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  • umer bhatti
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:34AM

    usman saleem….try to face reality..u r loser…u can never earn 10 dollar….medical field sucks

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  • ALI
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:11AM

    Many of educated Pakistanis know and recognize the achievements of Dr. AbdusSalam
    Pakistani Hindu is totally wrong in terming ourselves pathetic.

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  • Truth
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:34AM

    Pakistan has lost one of her greatest assets. Unfortunately most of the Pakistanis can’t even comprehend what she had achieved. It’s an honor that even the most brilliant in the advanced countries can only dream about. May Allah bless her soul and bless the country with more of Arfa Kareems

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  • zia
    Feb 20, 2012 - 2:24AM

    @Usman Shahid:
    and i don’t think so that it is also fair to compare the great Dr Salam with this little Arfa. Who knows that arfa might have achieved a feat that of similar to Dr salam, had she lived 20 or 30 years more.???…..At the end, may Allah (swt) rests both the souls in peace…Ameen!!!!

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