In the narrow, dusty and semi-paved streets of New Muzaffarabad Colony, Landhi, a group of teenagers study from their textbooks in a 12 by 16 room which they call Ranrraa, a Pashtu word for light. The room, one of two in the house of an artist at the colony, Muhammad Arshad Khan or Mak, is a literary asylum for students and other knowledge-seekers who do not have space in their own homes to study.
Narrating the story behind the study room, Zakir, an intermediate students and one of the first members of Ranrraa, said that they would visit the artist’s studio everyday. “Residents of the area, who are mostly Pashtun from the lower-income class, regarded Mak as a ‘weird character with long hair’. We would wonder what his paintings meant and occasionally, we would bother him and scrape the paint of his car with a key,” said Zakir, adding that when Mak had company, he would ask them to play in the other room. Soon after, the room became a multi-purpose sanctuary for the students of the neighbourhood.
“When you live in a two-room house with your parents and younger brothers and sisters, the thought of getting good grades is a distant one as there is no time and space for studies,” said Ghafur Rehman, a commerce student and regular visitor of Ranrraa.
Rehman joined Ranrraa in 2009 when he met other students who told him that there was no registration or fee required to use the space. One of the early members of Ranrraa, Rehman and his classmate Qayyum used to study under the street lights for their exams. “If it wasn’t for Ranrraa, I would not have been able to continue my studies,” said Rehman. “During my exams, I even sleep here and go directly for my exam the next morning.”
Changing lives, one key at a time
The idea to start Ranrraa came to Mak after he conducted a survey on the students of Landhi in 2005, when he shifted to New Muzaffarabad. He taught drawing classes at a number of schools in Landhi for free to find out the real problems of the students and observed that they did not have a place to study because of small houses and big families.
“When a child came back from school, his school bag would remain untouched till he had to go again the next day. I wanted every school bag in the area to be opened at home, which is why I started Ranrraa,” Mak told The Express Tribune, adding that every child, irrespective of ethnic, religious and social divisions, was welcome to use the room.
Initially, the students would gossip and play in the room, said Mak, but eventually they started to bring their books. His focus was on students of intermediate but now university students also contact him to use the room.
“A good environment for school going children can save their lives,” said the artist, adding that the room allows the students to study together, helping them save money on tuition fees as they learn from each other.
Students of Ranrraa are also taken on field trips to historical sites and educational institutions of the city and given lectures on morality and good behaviour. “A member of Ranrraa will never be involved in immoral activities and stands out from the rest of the children of the area.”
Up till now, 15 students studying at Ranrraa have graduated, out of which ten have landed jobs.
The journey to opening such a venue, however, was not an easy one, shared Mak. “Questions are not raised when people indulge in wrong activities but ironically, suspicions are heightened when a man runs a study room,” remarked Mak, adding that he will generate funds for Ranrraa through his art exhibitions. “I hope to use a multistorey building for Ranrraa one day, which would house a good library and computer rooms for the students.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.