" You sound like one of those rare women who another woman can trust with her story. Hayat told me about you and your work." Ramisha shared her observation in the first five minutes into our dialogue.
"I am glad you think so Ramisha. Tell me more about yourself."
I realized early on as we started sharing space to reflect on her story that Ramisha is an intelligent woman who is careful to trust and is keenly observant. She had understood at the very outset that the intention of an agenda-less dialogue to provide a safe space for reflecting on a story is a rare feat. As a story-teller and journalist herself, she was conscious of entering a vulnerable space by allowing herself to look at her own life, perhaps for the first time, with a sense of compassion rather than the characteristic stoic "onwards and upwards" attitude that had served her so far and earned her the success that she now enjoys. She was clearly curious and decided to play along with her curiosity. She displayed incredible courage over the next four hours as she opened up her heart to share. I was prepared to hold the space for her and listen with my heart. But I could have barely expected that I would grow to connect with her spirit as much as I did in the first conversation.
This is the story of a self-made woman who is not only a trendsetter and thinker but also a conscious individual modeling her role as a daughter, sister, and friend through deep empathy and gratitude. Ramisha's story is important because it demonstrates the subtleties of emotional experiences, realizations, and provides a perfect balance of the sense of responsibility by acting to support one's expected role in the family while also finding ways to follow the heart.
"I was a naughty and active kid. I was outgoing but somehow found it very difficult to make friends in school. I didn't have any best friends or any group in school. I used to feel bad about it.
I remember, once in standard VII or VIII, we had a seating arrangement exercise in class where we were asked to choose friends and sit beside them. There were only three kids including me who were left with no friends to sit with. One of the girls with me chose the other person and I was left all alone with no one to sit with. That hit me hard. I sat alone that whole year. It was the most crushing experience as a child.
During those days, when I expressed to my mother how I felt, she would console me saying that I should focus on being someone who people want to be friends with rather than running after friends. I still find that advice relevant and important for my life." Ramisha narrated, thoughtfully jogging her memory back to her school days.
" After standard IX I started getting more comfortable with my own company and eventually, in college, I found many friends. It was in college that I met my friend Hayat and also discovered my flair and passion for public speaking. I started enjoying all the co-curricular activities and like any other kid who suddenly found herself to be exceedingly popular for her co-curricular skills, I neglected my academics. In my first year, I failed in my Physics paper. It hit me hard. I felt my life was over and I sank into depression.
I was in a private college. It was expensive and my family has limited means. We are three sisters. I realized that I had to be more responsible for my career. College ended on more or less decent terms. However, I couldn't afford a private university. My younger sisters were also studying and I had to think about resources that my family could afford to invest in a distributed manner to support all three of us. Finally, I took admission in Karachi University. Though it was not an elite private university, it was none the less one of the best institutes for the subject that I had taken up as I discovered later."
I could tell that at this point Ramisha felt a slight jabbing pain as she recounted how she initially felt demoralized because of the University she had to choose but then having made peace with it, she felt relief and happiness on discovering that the university was reputed for the subject she had chosen.
"How was the experience at university Ramisha? " I probed.
"University was interesting because this was where I found a few of my best friends. We are 6 girls in a group. Hira, Namwer, Rehab, Sana, Zehra, and myself. These girls were from privileged families unlike me but chose to come to Karachi University because of the reputation of the department. They also helped me tackle a particularly difficult toxic emotional situation that I was going through at that moment. I am really grateful for their presence in my life.
University was also the place where I started playing hockey as center-forward, I played table tennis and also started participating more in debates and declamations. I started getting noticed for my public speaking skills and eventually started winning competitions locally.
It was also during this time that I started working part-time because we were facing financial hurdles in the family. I would work and study too in order to support my own expenses. It was tiring. I started paying for my own education during this time. University days taught me to be self-reliant. I have never looked back since.
I won Declamations while at University. I won the second position at a big competition from my University where the University had not won any title in the same for almost 20 years. You can say that I was steadily finding myself in a new way while at University."
"What was life like at home Ramisha?" I asked.
I could sense that Ramisha's sense of responsibility and self-reliance was less of conditioning in terms of an understanding of her duty but rather a factor of her reflections. She is self-aware and her story was opening up layers to her personality gradually.
" At home, our household was a disturbed one. My parents fought a lot. We barely got time to bond with our parents and share our concerns. Somewhere I guess that left us vulnerable. I can speak for myself. I used to look for validation outside and attracted toxic people into my life because of this sense of insecurity. I realized that later. Over time I decided thus to support my sisters emotionally so that they did not experience the lack of guidance and emotional protection. We all need it. I would find time for my sisters despite my hectic schedule. In a conservative household like ours, there is only so much we can hope to change in terms of dialoguing more honestly with parents. I still try though."
Ramisha's story was slowly weaving itself into a tapestry of many small fragments of related information. It appeared to me that much was dawning on our storyteller as she narrated her story in real-time. I listened more deeply.
"In the year 2016, I got to travel to the US for a student leadership program that spanned over one and a half months. It was a platform for huge exposure for me. I met people from all over the world and my horizon opened up to help me realize my own assumptions regarding a lot of things.
Eventually, in my final year, as I was about to graduate, life took a definite turn for me. A local media platform called Bol News Network was hiring young speakers. I was selected after two rounds of interviews. And thus began my foray into the media sector. I worked for two years at Bol News Network and then landed a job as a news anchor at Pak News, a sister channel of Bol News. I started learning more about politics while covering political news. I got the chance to work on the Pak Women show as well. This was the time when I also emerged to understand how women are treated in the media and entertainment industry. I started becoming more conscious of how I would position myself as a professional. I displayed emotional control and did not let any difficult situation come in the way of my performance. However, soon the show collapsed and I knew it was time to move on."
Ramisha paused at this point, her narrative clearly hitting a nerve because she recalled certain personally difficult experiences that are beyond the scope of this narrative. I lent her my ears as she shared her difficulties.
" I started looking for new opportunities and learned about GTV news hiring. A few of my ex-colleagues had joined this channel. They recommended me at GTV. However, I was an anchor and speaker who was particular about wishing to wear my hijab on camera. Most channels prefer their female speakers, newsreaders, and anchors without a hijab. I stuck by my principle and was ultimately given a show " Khabar se ba Khabar". I worked there for about 8 months. In the meantime, I had tried to land a position on BBC Urdu. But I had failed. I did feel much demotivated then. But then good things were coming my way. "
I waited for her to continue. I was eager to learn what happened next.
" I learned that the Independent UK was launching its Pak operations through Independent Urdu. I landed a job as a correspondent and reporter at Independent Urdu. This was a big turning point in my career as I was stepping away from being an anchor to a reporter and correspondent. Many people advised me against the change but I trusted my gut.
I have been working with Independent Urdu now for some time and I love my job. I get to cover stories and I have the freedom to cover stories from various beats, from politics to social issues to entertainment and sports. I can pitch my story and take responsibility to craft the message as I deem necessary for effective communication of the story. I am learning a lot every day as this is a new kind of initiative for me. I am the storyteller and the scriptwriter too."
It was already past three and a half hours since we started the dialogue. I felt connected and drawn to this feisty and hard-working young lady in a way that brought in a deep sense of admiration for the way she had so maturely rationalized her struggles to constantly grow in self-awareness. What struck me as interesting in her story is the way she blends in gratitude for those who had helped her through difficult times besides embodying a sense of empathy and deep reflective understanding of her responsibility to guide her sisters through the similar growing up struggles. Ramisha's incredible grace in asserting her dignity regarding her choice of wearing her hijab on camera and negotiating for the same, her manner of dealing with misogyny and other difficult situations emotionally in her personal and professional life and her proactive choice to build on her trusted skill sets continues to power her efforts in a way that is unique to her yet relatable to many. I learned much from this dialogue, especially in terms of adding yet another dimension to my understanding of self-reliance for culturally empowered women.
On a personal note, we discussed much more about our understanding of love, marriage, cultural roles of women, and the likes. We discussed the need to understand our bodies, mind, and spirits in a new way. We shared about female friendships, professional struggles, and the intentions that guide us on our journey. For the limited scope of this one story, let this be only the beginning of more wisdom that I hope to gather from continued dialogues to come.
Till then, I hope you enjoy meeting this beauty from across the border.