August 8, 2014 robbed the world of an unparalleled treasure. A symbol of power, a one-woman army and a force to be reckoned with — Professor Anita Ghulamali was all this and much more. Beneath that warm smile and casual demeanour was a woman of substance who had dedicated her life to her beliefs and morals. To the rest of the world, she was Professor Anita Ghulamali, or Apa, as she was fondly addressed. To me, before I came to know about the medals that adorned her office shelves and all that she had achieved, she was Anita Dadu — a grandmother-like figure who was nothing short of a mentor and friend.
The highlight of every weekend as a child was when I got to visit her at her residence. A booming "Hello!" greeted us as we entered her house. She would switch off the television and walk over to the dining table with an exuberant smile, unleashing a stash of witty anecdotes that had us in fits of laughter. The best thing about her wasn't that she was this giant in the world of education — it was the fact that she did not discriminate on the basis of age or social stature. Where at one point, she would converse with my father about medicine and his patients, she would just as quickly switch to us — the children — discussing John Cena's latest match or how she had ordered a talking flashlight and was awaiting its arrival. For a 10-year-old, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz she had received did not hold much value. What mattered was that she gave that 10-year-old as much importance as she did to another celebrated professor sitting at the same dining table.
When I was in the fifth grade, I started writing poetry. When I showed a collection of about 51 poems to my father, he took them to her. She critiqued every single one of those poems as if they were pieces of actual literature. She went ahead and got them published in the form of a book, too. At the age of 10, she put me up on a stage, giving a speech about a book that had my name as the author. Nothing registered with me back then, but the fact is that I owe her a lifetime of gratitude for believing in the work of a 10-year-old and encouraging me in ways I did not comprehend. To say that she has been a driving force behind my work since then and a constant inspiration would be an understatement.
The world is well aware of her credentials, titles and awards, but she was never one to boast about them. The wall decorating her glory lay forgotten at her office. She preferred to put up paintings that loved ones had given her or cards that children drew up on her fridge. Last year, when I attended a memorial held in her honour, each and every person in attendance had a story to share. The room was filled with people of varying ages, social status and religions, and she had managed to make a place in the heart of every single one, impacting their lives in one way or another.
People work tirelessly in the pursuit for greatness. They spend their lives trying to be remembered, trying to make a mark. Professor Anita Ghulamali was a woman who was born with that greatness. She leaves behind a band of followers and admirers who have nothing but immense love and awe for this remarkable woman, and a legacy that can never be matched. I cannot ask her to rest in peace, for she never did. She was always fighting for something and trying to bring about change in her own way. It is fitting to ask her to keep fighting up there and causing a stir, with that radiant smile and unmatched wit. That was, after all, her signature statement.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2015.
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