Inspiration on a wheelchair

Muniba has lived through 7 years of unquantifiable pain transforming into a remarkable person.

By Mehr Tarar

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:15 PM

As I walked through the bustling lobby of the Pearl Continental, Lahore one post-iftari evening, accompanied by my niece, also my closest friend, there was one overwhelming thought about the person I was about to meet: I felt a connection with her, albeit I had never met her, and had only spoken to her on the phone a couple of times. Seated at the far end of the coffee shop, clad in a powder-blue cotton kurta, embroidered with white delicate traditional motifs, her face was aglow with her trademark 1000-watt, gorgeous smile. Muniba Mazari, the woman whose story is so inspirational I had to meet her as soon as I heard about her, and after hearing her TED speech, I could think of nothing else.

The first thing that anyone notices about Muniba is that she is gorgeous! And a smile that would light up the darkest of rooms, soothe any agitated mind, move a stony heart, and make a man’s heart miss many beats.

The next two hours were spent listening to her story, a story that is so extraordinary it seems like a screenplay of one of those feel-good movies where the protagonist goes through hell, and after an excruciatingly painful reinvention of self and body metamorphoses into this splendid being who’s a miracle in herself. Next to her was her mother, a woman whose devotion and love for her daughter is so simply unconditional, your eyes well up, there’s a tightness in your chest, and you look at her as if she is from another world. She is that special. Muniba’s mother epitomises the best of motherhood, the kind of motherhood sagas take inspiration from, and odes are dedicated to. The kind of motherhood that is a personification of what someone who felt a mother’s love in his/her soul said: “The loveliest masterpiece at the heart of God is the love of a mother.”

Muniba Mazari…what do I write about her? After meeting her, I can’t stop thinking about her, her life, her pain, the pain that folds in a protective foetal form in her soul, and every day it’s reborn into a spirit that is so overpoweringly heartwarming it’s almost surreal. In 2007, en route to her hometown, Rahimyar Khan in South Punjab from Quetta, Balochistan, she met with an accident; the car she was in fell into a ditch, crushing the side where she was seated. The then 21-year-old Muniba was in so much pain her mind stopped her body from reacting to it. She stopped screaming. The injuries were many, and she encapsulates the horrific list calmly as if she’s skimming through the to-do list for that day. Muniba is that brave. As she speaks to an auditorium full of rapt audience in Islamabad during a TED talk last year, you feel a quiet chill down your spine …“ radius ulna of right arm was fractured. Shoulder bone and collarbone were fractured. Lungs and liver were badly injured. The whole ribcage was fractured.”

It didn’t end there. “But the injury that changed my life was the spinal cord injury. Three of my vertebrae were completely crushed… “And en route to the nearby hospital in that godforsaken area, Muniba “…realised that half of the body was fractured, and half was paralysed.” Muniba became a quadriplegic.

The rest is seven years of unquantifiable anguish that Muniba lived through, one long day at a time, slowly transforming into the remarkable person that she is.

After two months of many painful surgeries at the Agha Khan Hospital, Karachi, Muniba moved to Islamabad where the next two years were overlapping indistinguishable days of being bedridden completely, her mind threatening to collapse whenever the pain of her state overwhelmed it. Muniba turned to painting that she had taken up in the hospital, determined to change the drab white of her garb and expressionless walls with colours that still enhanced her indomitable mind and soul. Using her injured hand, wrist steadied with titanium, Muniba started to paint, and she never looked back. Multiple successful, fully-sold exhibitions, her art depicts women with sad but brave visages, and colours that are as vibrant as her smile, her spirit and her never-say-die optimism. As Muniba’s legs stopped working she learnt to soar with her fingers. Now the entire universe is her realm, and she enters it whenever the voices in her resilient soul, her broken body need an expression.

The one constant joy in her life is her four-year-old son, Nael, who’s the raison d’être of her existence as she smiles through one day from another. Holding her utterly wonderful son’s tiny but strong hand, she rolls her wheelchair where others walk. Her almost decade-long marriage that disintegrated after her accident ended last year, but that didn’t stop her from adopting a child, and giving him her all. Of course, as she says, none of it would have been possible without the superhuman strength of her own mother. And her two brothers, who are a constant source of love and support in Muniba’s life.

While she speaks as a motivational speaker in different forums and conferences, presently Muniba, a fellow Piscean, works as an anchor at PTV, the state television. The first “wheelchair-bound anchor.” Muniba is also the first wheelchair-bound model for the prestigious Toni&Guy in Pakistan, the brand ambassador for The Body Shop in Pakistan, and one of the Pond’s Miracle Women.

I could go on, but I’d hold that for the book I’m writing on Pakistan’s glorious heroes, for which I was honoured to interview this superwoman, the utterly delightful, the very fabulous Muniba. Nothing I write does justice to even an iota of the extraordinariness that is very simply…Muniba Mazari.

And here’s the TED talk that made me Muniba’s fan, and feel so much for her I felt connected to her. And after meeting her, Muniba’s much more than that: she has become a role model for me. As she is one for countless others.

Mehr Tarar is a columnist based in Lahore, Pakistan.

More news from OPINION