Ali elbowed his way through the sea of students all clamouring to read the notice board, apologizing as he moved forward. His level of nervousness was so high that his heart pounded in his chest and he could feel a loud buzzing in his ears. The University entrance exam result had come out after a delay of one week; a week where he felt his heart would stop with trepidation and fear of the unknown. Finally reaching closer to the notice board, he cursed his short height and tried to stand on his tip toes to read the paper with the list of names, pinned in the middle of the unnecessarily wide board.
Ali belonged to a middle class household and his father, Raza Khan, owned a shop of ladies fabric in a popular part of the city. Raza was a champion of higher education and he tried to provide all possible avenues to his three children to make up for the lack of opportunities when he was growing up. There were days Ali hated being the youngest of three siblings. The expectations were very high and the comparisons never ending; ‘try and emulate at your older sister’, ‘be successful like your eldest brother’; on and on it went till he deliberately started to slack back in school in order to irk his parents and older siblings. As the seriousness of his studies grew, his level of interest and focus declined by the same propensity. He started to keep company with boys who his father found extremely objectionable, and on bad days his father went into a blind rage of anger and thrashed Ali till his mother intervened. His older brother tried to reason with him and explain the importance of education in a middle class household like theirs, but he was beyond any comprehension. He barely scraped through his matriculation examination and was admitted in the local neighbourhood college only because their barometer for admitting students was not performance, but the ability to pay the private college fee.
The fabric shop was old and archaic in its appearance, but was located in a prime location; hence, the last two generations of the Khans family had earned their bread and butter and lived reasonably comfortable lives. Things had started to changed in the past few years since large plazas and shopping malls had started to mushroom all around, dwarfing the small shop. Buyers were attracted to the glitter, glamour and air conditioning of the new shopping plazas, and ladies preferred to buy dresses which were pre-stiched and ready to wear. This change in purchasing habits had affected small time businessmen like Raza Khan who spent all day under the whirring fan waiting for someone to walk in and make a purchase. Weeks turned into months and seasons changed, but the downfall in demand of loose fabric was becoming a reality Raza found difficult to accept.
The inevitable decline in the family income, no other means of sustenance and the burden of educating three children took a toll, and one hot afternoon Raza suffered a heart attack whist in the shop and collapsed. Ali’s older brother stepped forward and tried to manage the shop along with his studies but the burden of responsibility and exam pressure led to a big padlock being put on the front gate of the shop. During those trying days, the family failed to notice a perceptible change in Ali; he became quiet, withdrawn and anxious. Seeing his father incapacitated, his mother worried and anxious, and his siblings drowned in worry, he realized that he would have to step up and take charge of his life if he wanted things at home to improve. The lectures his father and brother would give him on the importance of higher education echoed in his head, and he put all his efforts in studying for his final examinations in order to get admission in the prestigious Engineering University.
As Ali craned his neck to read the admission list, he saw there was a long list of “A” names, many of them being the same as his, and he felt a surge of anger at his parents for choosing such a common and generic name for him. Finally, his eyes stopped scanning the sheet when he saw his full name in print, and saying a silent prayer, he strained to read the result next to his name. “Admitted”, it said . The accumulated stress of the last few weeks erupted like lava and flowed out of his body, leaving him feeling light, relieved and smiling from ear to ear like a small child with a new toy! He navigated his way out of the horde of students and stepped out of the musty building into the bright sunlight, confident that the future looked brighter than it did yesterday.