KT For Good: Inspiring stories of women from the subcontinent

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What does it take to overcome adversities and uncover the essential "you-ness" - values, interests and passions that define a human being?

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By Nandini Sircar

Published: Thu 12 Mar 2020, 10:13 PM

Last updated: Fri 13 Mar 2020, 12:25 AM

Societies can be impediments but caring fathers and husbands can change outlook. What does it take to overcome adversities and uncover the essential "you-ness" - values, interests and passions that define a human being?
Fifty-year-old Indian expat Shilpa Bhasin Mehra who lives in Dubai, has seen it all.
Her life was picture perfect, hailing from a well- to-do family in Delhi, married with two children and pursuing a successful legal career. Until one day everything came crashing down. She had a near death experience. Shilpa had been diagnosed with viral meningitis.
"I had a flourishing legal career and one day, everything turned upside down. I had gone to watch a tennis match with a friend in Dubai. I was experiencing a throbbing headache that day and took the usual medicines. But soon after, I slipped into coma for 40 days and when I woke up I was paralysed waist down for two-and-half years."
That is when she realised being strong is the only choice she had, maximising personal growth and being the best version of herself.
Refusing to succumb to the blows that life was throwing at her, like a phoenix rising from its tears, she reclaimed life with the help of her husband and father, the two people who never left her side.
"During the course of the long rehabilitation my husband stood by me through thick and thin and so did my father, who was like the Rock of Gibraltar. My three elder sisters were my pillars of strength and godmothers to my children. The sister bonding never wanes but gets stronger with time", recalled the fighter.
Being confined to the bed for two-and-half years, with only her upper body working and her mind switched on, she reminisced how her mother's face continued to inspire her, although she was long gone after a tough battle with cancer. "She had lung cancer but she never complained. Her resilient face was always in front of my eyes. She smiled through her illness, so why couldn't I?"
Attributing her strength to the upbringing that she received from a family of strong, emancipated women, she found writing liberating despite being bed-ridden for long.
"I wanted to regain control of my life, and my family immensely helped me to shed my apprehensions and start penning my thoughts. Even my doctor encouraged me a lot in that direction. That's when I started expressing my deep emotions in a book 'All Battles are Not Legal'," said the lawyer.
Consequently, her life has been on an uphill again. She eventually founded 'Legal Connect', a venture delivering solutions to diverse legal situations. She was also featured in the coffee table publication 100 Young Indian Visionaries in UAE and has been the recipient of the Legendary Lioness award.
Today, she is filled with an immense sense of gratitude for life, urging everyone to stop complaining and taking things for granted.
A tale of resillience
Equally moving, is the story of Pakistani expat Uzma Tabassum who is a successful educationist in Abu Dhabi today. Her determination and perseverance to study in the face of all odds, where books were considered to be a privilege and women were marginalised, her story may seem revolutionary to many.
Originally, hailing from Gujranwala, a small city in Pakistan about one-and-half hours from Lahore, her conservative family started forcing her to get married early.
"When I was in grade 7 in Pakistan, my family started pressuring me to get married. I used to go to a government school, so they hardly had to spend any money on my education. Despite that, they wanted to stop my education and marry me off," said Uzma.
"I had no books. I used to sometimes borrow books from my friends but the elders in the family didn't like the idea of me stepping out of the house," added the Pakistani expat.
She, somehow, finished 12th grade in private, mostly from the confines of the house. "I was immediately married off after finishing school. But, I realised my husband was a nice man, so after four years of our marriage, I gathered courage to approach him and told him that I want to pursue my bachelors," she recalled.
Being deprived of higher education himself, her husband seemed accepting of the idea. But he was wary of his ultra-conventional family and their reaction. "Fighting all odds, my husband supported me and got me enrolled in a correspondence programme, as at that time in Gujranwala there were only two women's colleges.
They refused admission in the middle of the session, especially after a gap of four years", says Uzma.
But her challenges didn't end here as by then, she was already a mother of two toddlers. While she spent the mornings fulfilling household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and childcare, she decided to utilise the nights effectively. "I used to think the night is mine. Life without education is dark. I used to spend the entire night studying for several days and months at a stretch.
"When the morning alarm went off at 5am and I had to stop studying, I used to ask God, why couldn't he make the night longer", recalled the Tabassum, who is now a teacher in Al Basma British School in Abu Dhabi.
Although, many sneered at her efforts, her resolve for higher education helped her attain a Master's in Islamic Education from Punjab University in Lahore and a near Master's Degree in English, with one paper left to clear, as her daughter fell severely ill, during the exams.
After her arrival in in the UAE, life had new challenges and milestones for her. It was equally an "eye-opener".
Single-handedly supporting a family of four in the UAE, that includes her two children and husband, Uzma's undying resilience and quest for knowledge has kept her afloat. "In the last five years, I have worked in three different schools. Initially, I used to be so overwhelmed by the smart expat population and advanced technology here that I often felt like a misfit".
But her trials and exposure has helped her emerge into a more confident person now. "A woman can do multiple tasks in life. She can play different roles equally well if she puts her head and heart to it", she reiterated.
While her children study in an English-medium school where she herself is a teacher, Uzma feels she is living her dream through her kids.
"I fought so much for education, all my life. I want my kids to achieve greater heights using education as a weapon".
Meanwhile, her journey as an educator post her struggles, has taught her that trying times are the biggest learning experiences in one's life.
Promoting education all her life, Uzma has also become a philanthropic educator where she doesn't miss a single opportunity to teach underprivileged children in her neighbourhood or back home whenever she visits her home country.
She feels women and men are equal, not same. So, any differences between men and women are not in their brains or capacities to learn or gain education.

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