It’s strange how the smallest things can send you back in time.
For me, it is the smell of peppermints. One of my first memories is of lining up with my cousins in front of my grandmother. At the end of each meal, she would give us a peppermint each, from her “magic” peppermint bag. The bag was magical because it was perennially half full. And no one ever found out how it was replenished.
My grandmother, Jaseemunissa Begum, was the matriarch of the family and unlike most women of her generation she had an opinion on everything; from national politics to her children’s professions. She belonged to a small village in North India but built a life with her husband in Hyderabad state.
She faced many tough times in her life; partition when most of her family migrated, the riots of 1948 when the Indian government took over from the Nizam, the loss of property, the death of a child but nothing could dampen her zest for life and her indomitable spirit.
At age 60 she went for haj by herself when my grandfather was unable to leave, because she had decided that she would go. She inspired us to be passionate about our dreams and to see any obstacles in our way as hurdles rather than roadblocks.
I think that may be one of the reasons my professional life is full of so many twists and turns. After studying management I decided to appear for the civil services exam hoping to get a job managing the business of the nation rather than a private company. Alas, I was unsuccessful and following the popular adage ‘those who can: do, those who can’t: teach’, I started coaching students for entrance exams.
When that became repetitive I switched over to teaching languages, which was much more interesting but something was still missing. A sabbatical from work led me back to my first love – writing.
However, a writer’s life can be very lonely. You spend your day grappling with the characters in your mind who demand to have their stories told but at the end of the day, you are the only person who knows them. So, I decided it was time to channel my inner superhero; I became a teacher by day and a writer by night. I wrote and wrote until I finally found my voice as a writer, and was ready to share my work with the world.
As a new writer, you often wonder how the world sees your writing. Will people appreciate it? Will they accept it? As such you are always on the lookout for a platform, which will allow you to reach a wider audience.
When I came across the SHEROES #SHEWrites Challenge inviting stories of inspiring women, I knew I had to write about my grandmother.
She came from a generation, which didn’t get an opportunity to fulfill their dreams but made it possible for the coming generations to do so.
The challenge, hosted in the Aspiring Writers community on SHEROES, would culminate in the best stories being published as an anthology by Juggernaut Books.
I set about writing with heart and soul, and when my story was chosen for the SHEROES Anthology Book, I was thrilled beyond words. It was in a sense a validation that people do want to read stories with a strong female protagonist.
We are saints and sinners
It has often bothered me that most women are depicted as saints or sinners. We are both and we are neither because the truth is that like all humans, women too have shades of grey.
The highest accolade for a woman is to either rise above all barriers and become like a man or to completely efface herself for others.
Why must a woman’s life’s worth be determined solely by the people around her and not by herself? And why is marriage seen as the be-all and end-all for every woman?
Over the past few years, I have seen a change in the depiction of women with writing becoming more realistic and nuanced, and that gives me great hope as a writer. My stories are inspired by the people in my life and tend to revolve around female characters.
I feel proud to have had a grandmother like her and grateful that a small story on her life helped me win. When I read the other stories in the anthology I realized it was both an honor and a pleasure to have my mine published alongside such inspiring and varied stories. These are stories, which I feel we can all relate to and yet these are the stories we often forget.
About Asfiya Rahman:
I’m a teacher by occupation and a writer by inclination. I believe that a good story has the power to take you through time and space. I wrote Wild Card, a sports drama in 2016 and published short stories in various different anthologies. In 2018, my story was published as part of the first edition of the SHEROES Anthology Book. I’m also a travel enthusiast and a voracious reader.