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I Am Malala
Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
320 pages; Average reading time 5 hours 12 min
This bookbhook book summary will take not more than 11 minutes
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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Ruchi Nagpal, exclusively for India’s favourite book summaries app-bookbhok. Ruchi is a research scientist and believes books are the wings that help you reach the unknown.
The real life story of Malala, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban, comes as a refreshing hope that God’s chosen ones are here to make a significant difference to the world in their own small ways.
I, Malala, born on 12th July 1997, was named after the great icon of Afghanistan, Malalai of Maiwand who inspired many Afghan men to defeat the British army during the second Anglo-Afghan war, in the 1880s. I belong to the proud Pashtun tribe spread between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I used to live in the beautiful Swat valley, known as Switzerland of the East. My family members are my two brothers, my beautiful pious mother and my hero, my father Ziauddin Yousafzai. The courage and determination of my father laid the stepping stones towards my destiny. My father often says that he could follow his dreams because of the gift of education. He has led an exemplary life. A poor Pashtun boy without any money struggling to go to a college, completing a master’s degree in English, running a school in Mingora and becoming a well-known political figure in Swat. I remember virtually living in school from early on. Because of the helpful nature and generosity of my parents, our small home was always like a boarding home, occupied by distant relatives and needy people. Money was not the only problem in our lives; my father had to consistently overcome the resistance and pressures of local religious Mufti or Maulana over the girls’ freedom, their going around without purdah or veil and their right to education
The strife begins
Ever since its inception, Pakistan has been struggling with its internal feuds. Its founder,Jinnah, could not complete his vision due to health issues. Most of Pakistan’s independent years have been under military dictatorship. When General Musharraf took over Nawaz Sharif’s elected government, Pakistan’s tryst with military dictatorship started again. In 2001, the 9/11 attack on WTO had an indirect impact on us since Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda was living in Kandahar at the time. Osama took refuge in Swat by hiding in the network of tunnels built along the Afghanistan border. Everybody was aware of Musharraf’s deceit, taking American money to help their campaign against Al-Qaeda and yet helping the jihadi. In 2002, he brought the ’mullah government’ to power in our valley. The Muttahida Majlis e-Amal (MMA) alliance included parties who ran the madrasas where the Taliban were trained. The MMA government enforced stringent and unreasonable laws against women. In 2004, General Musharraf was forced by the American government to send the army into the seven agencies of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) that lie along the border of Afghanistan. One of which was Bajaur, next to Swat valley. My father predicted that the military intrusion in our valley was not far away. The earthquake in 2005 further deteriorated the existing economic condition of Pakistan. The visible volunteer help to common people came from Islamic organisations which were fronts for military groups, mainly Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD), the welfare wing of LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba). Even the gods were not in favour of Pakistan.
In grip of fear
2007 marked the entry of Taliban into our valley. Their leader, Maulana Fazlullah started a radio station, introducing himself as an Islamic reformer and a Quran interpreter. His aim was to raise local problems and target the government to win support and sympathy for the poor in Swat. In the name of God, he pushed people to give their gold and money and help him build his headquarters. All the beauty parlours, barber shops and DVD & CD shops were closed. Health workers were stopped from giving vaccinations. Taliban workers destroyed historic monuments, cable connections and targeted the police. Our school also received threats to close down. My father started protests through a newspaper. Around this time even Islamabad was also hit by terrorism. In 2007 when Benazir Bhutto stepped into Pakistan, people had high hopes. Our hopes were soon shattered with her assassination in December 2007 by a suicide bomber. Around this time, tension increased in north-western Pakistan as different militant groups emerged. The momentum against the Pakistan government grew with the formation of Teheik-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistan Taliban. We were afraid to go to school, but the school was actually my stress buster. We abandoned our school uniforms and went to school in casuals, covering our books in shawls so that nobody noticed.
My right to education
I had always followed my father’s advice to learn only the literal meaning of Quran written in Arabic from the Quran Practitioner and to draw my own explanations and interpretations. The operation Rah-e-Haq was the first battle of Swat where the army could not clear the Taliban. Throughout 2008, the situation continued to worsen with bomb blasts and killings. The Swat council of elders was formed in which my father was the spokesperson. Through seminars and media, he challenged Fazlullah of his misdoings. A peace march was held with children of my age who were interviewed by the media. My parents were always supportive and encouraged me to speak my mind. The local journalists were willing to interview us and make us speak against the Taliban destruction, which they could not do themselves. I once went to Peshawar with my father to appear on a BBC Urdu Talk show and put across my point that the Taliban had no right to decide against our right to education.
In October 2008, prominent schools in our area schools like the Sangota Convent School for Girls and Excelsior College for boys were blown up. Around 400 schools were destroyed by the end of the 2008. Each day was marred with brutal attacks on innocent people. The Green Square had become a brutal display of dead bodies murdered by Taliban in the name of non-compliance of Islamic rules imposed by them. One such killing which still gives me jitters was of dancer Shabana of Banr Bazaar. Though people loved her dance, nobody came forward to help. My father also received death threats. To save us from Taliban attacks, he started living in his friend’s house. My mother started sleeping with a knife under her pillow. We children were always planning on how to save ourselves in case of a Taliban attack. Meanwhile, Fazlullah’s deputy had ordered closing down of all girls’ school by 15th January 2009.
On 3rd January 2009, under the pen name Gul Makai, I started writing a diary about my life under the Taliban regime. I started this on the insistence of my father’s friend Abdul Hai Kakar, a BBC radio correspondent based in Peshawar. He would talk to me on my mother’s mobile for half an hour every day in Urdu to know about my daily activities, my dreams or aspirations about future, and my point of view of the current situation. This was to appear on the BBC Urdu website once a week. I spoke about our fears of not being able to do simple things like wearing colourful clothes or going to school picnics. As the diary of Gul Makai received attention worldwide, I further realized the power of education. My last day of school, 14th January 2009 was captured as a documentary titled ’Class dismissed in Swat Valley’ for The New York Times’ website. This was a mirror to the world about the reality in Pakistan Swat valley which had become a Taliban hub and how it was affecting a simple school going child’s life.
I continued writing blogs for the website, which gave me hope that justice will be delivered. We found great support a Stanford University student, Shiza Shahid. A trip to Islamabad with video journalist Adam Ellick was a happy break for me, from our current hell-like situation. On 16 February 2009, a peace deal was struck between Taliban and the Pakistan government. Little did we know that Taliban had become the state-approved terrorists! Although my father resisted leaving the valley till end; we became IDPs (Internally displaced persons) on 5th May 2009.
Coming back to home
Coming back to our valley after living as IDPs for almost three months was both joyful and painful. Our beloved beautiful Swat valley was now deserted and in urgent need of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Fortunately, our house was not damaged. I was happy to see my school bag with my precious books intact. Our school had been the army’s base in the battlefield. There were anti-Taliban slogans all over the school compound. Only two members of Taliban were in police custody. And their leader, Fazlullah was still a free man.
Our school ‘Khushal School’ reopened. Soon, our Stanford friend Shiza Shahid took us on a memorable school trip to Islamabad. It was a very informative and eye opening trip for all the girls, since we were very new to the modern culture of Islamabad. We were introduced to professionally qualified women who were balancing work and home with equal finesse. This was my first visit to McDonalds also. We also met Major General Abbas, the chief spokesman for the army and its head of public relations. He gave us his visiting card and offered his help whenever needed. It was generous of him to help us in paying our school expenses, which was a great relief for my father. Things were getting back to normal in Swat and people were returning home. Back in school, I was appointed the Speaker of the District Child Assembly Swat, a UNICEF initiative. I, along with my friends, started learning about journalism from a British organisation called ‘Institute for War and Peace Reporting’. My birthday month, July 2010, brought grief for our valley again, when relentless floods devastated everything. Tourist places, schools, buildings and hospitals, all were affected. The Swat River, our lifeline, had become our enemy.
Leading a cause
In October 2011, I was nominated for the International Peace Prize for Child Rights, which I didn’t win. Shortly, I was awarded with a cheque for half a million rupees by the Chief Minister of Punjab for my campaign for girls’ rights. In December 2011, the Prime Minister of Pakistan awarded me the National Peace Prize. This annual award was named Malala Prize for kids under eighteen years of age. My parents were not very happy with the naming of a prize in my honour, since they were a bit superstitious. My family was now campaigning heavily for education as no one else was raising this issue with the government. I was nursing the idea of an education foundation having received a lot of money from the awards and recognitions. I also decided that I will grow up to be a politician. In January 2012, the Sindh government announced the renaming of a girls ‘secondary school in my honour in Karachi.
Danger looms ahead
It was in Karachi that a Pakistani journalist, Shehla Anjum, informed me that the Taliban had raised a death threat against me, along with Shad Begum, an activist from Dir in Swat. The police inquired about the death threats and offered to give me protection. A different kind of Talibanisation had now started against people who were raising their voices for peace, education rights and rehabilitations. The intelligence services started visiting our home and keeping a check on our activities. The Taliban started showing its presence again by kidnapping foreign aid workers and blowing up some schools. The murder of Vice Chancellor of Swat University, Doctor Mohammad Farooq was a big blow to our valley. As I turned fifteen, Taliban killed one of the members of peace committee in which my father was actively involved. My mother was getting worried about threats to me and my father. We had started taking precautions in our day to day activities but we were still protesting and campaigning for human rights.
Praying for the well-being of our home, our swat valley, all Muslims, and all humankind had become my routine before sleeping. Like everyone else, I prayed more during my exams. I wanted to beat my classmate Malka-e-Noor this time. After the Physics paper, we had an exam on Pakistan Studies which was a bit difficult. After the exam that day, my brother Atal refused to come with us in the bus and remained in the school with his friends. I was chatting with my best friend Moniba and occasionally looking outside the bus window seeing the busy Haji Baba road. I didn’t realize when two young gun men forced their entry into our van and asked ‘Who is Malala’?’ Before I could respond, they fired three bullets one after the other that altered my life forever.
Immediately after this gun shoot-out, our bus driver wasted no time in taking our van to Swat Central Hospital. The news about Khushal school bus shooting spread fast in Mingora town. My father rushed to the hospital hoping that I was not on the bus. Shazia, one of the girls, was hit twice in the left collarbone and palm. Kainat, the second girl, had been hit by a bullet on her right arm. The bullet had passed through my forehead to my left shoulder blade. I was taken to Peshawar’s CMH, the Combined Military Hospital in a helicopter along with my father. My mother arrived late in the evening by road. In the operation theatre, Colonel Junaid, the neurosurgeon along with Dr. Mumtaz, removed an eight by ten centimetres bone from the upper left part of my skull to allow my swelling brain space to expand. They removed blood clots from my brain and the bullet from the shoulder blade.
Meanwhile, the Taliban issued a statement that I was attacked because of my role in preaching secularism and not because of my campaign for education. I was punished because I was pro-west and speaking against them. That night, two British doctors were brought in to examine my condition. This was requested by General Kayani, the army chief. Dr. Javid Kayani and Dr. Fiona were not satisfied with the post-surgery arrangements in the hospital and were concerned about my safe recovery due to risk of infection which may lead to brain damage or other medical complications. Under the guidance of Dr. Fiona, I was again airlifted to an army hospital in Rawalpindi which had the best intensive care in Pakistan. The hospital, Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology, was completely closed down for security reasons.
My parents were not in a state to make decisions; all the decisions were made by the army. After the global outrage against the shooting, the army was doing everything possible to save me or at least provide sufficient medical support. Due to the strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, General Kayani was insistent about not accepting any American support for my medical care. Due to security and political reasons, no consensus could be reached on how I would be taken abroad for better medical care. The ruling family of UAE came to our rescue by offering their private jet which had an on-board hospital as well. My father was asked to join me and was instructed not to disclose anything about my whereabouts to anyone, including my family. My father decided to stay behind with my family in Pakistan and to leave me in the trusted hands of Dr. Javid and Dr. Fiona. He felt he could not take chances with the family’s security. So, I was air lifted, with the doctors, at 5 am on 15th October under armed escort. My parents waited for the legal formalities of passport and visa to be completed so that they could join me in my fight against death. They hoped and prayed endlessly.
Rebuilding my life
‘Thank God I’m not dead’ was the first thought that came into my mind when I woke up in the unknown surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Terrifying thoughts about my parents’ whereabouts flooded my mind. My head was throbbing; my left ear was bleeding and the left side of my face was not responding. The soft and healing prayers of Rehaanna, the Muslim chaplain appointed in the hospital, calmed my unstable mind and put me to sleep. A few days later, I got to speak with my parents for the first time. I could not talk because of the tube in my throat. I was just happy and reassured to hear their soothing voices. With the help of a notepad, I started communicating with the nurses and doctors. I still have the white mirror in which I first saw my disfigured face.
Dr. Fiona told me about my miraculous escape from the Taliban attack. Once I was able to talk a little, I spoke with my parents on Dr. Javid’s phone. I was anxious about their arrival. The government was planning to hold a joint press conference from the hospital to inform the world about my well-being. The hospital staff did everything possible to keep me entertained. The nurses and Dr. Fiona played games with me. The hospital staff also bought a DVD player to play Disney movies to keep me occupied.
I am Malala
The hospital press office provided daily updates about my condition to the world. The messages, presents, gifts and support from politicians, influential celebrities and common people from all over the world was unbelievable. By attacking innocent kids, the Taliban had spread my campaign for education, worldwide. Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for education coined the slogan ‘I am Malala’ to demand no child be denied schooling by 2015.
I was shifted to a regular room when my parents finally arrived in Birmingham after sixteen days. We were all crying constantly seeing our whole family being reunited. It was very difficult for them to see me in this distraught state. They thought I had lost my divine smile When the UN designated 10th November as ’Malala Day’, I was preparing for the big surgery to repair my facial nerve. The surgery was successful. The left side of my body started responding by the end of the third month. My rehabilitation started in the gym with the physiotherapist.
Pakistan President Asif Zardari visited us and also informed the high commissioner to appoint my father as an education attaché and to arrange his diplomatic passport. In early January 2013, I was discharged from the hospital to reunite with my family in an apartment that the Pakistan commission allotted to us in Birmingham. I came back for another surgery in February when Dr Anwen White, carried out ‘Titanium Cranioplasty’ of my skull. Yet another surgeon, Richard Irving put a cochlear implant inside my head to improve my left side hearing.
The good and bad exist side by side. It took one wrong-doing to destroy my life but many good-doings to heal. It is strange how many people stood by me and helped me to regain my earlier self. Sometimes, I feel that I am living another innings of my life. I think I am the chosen one where my role is to help each and every one around me. And this is a story about a girl shot by the Taliban and not me, Malala.