I remember the first time I heard her voice over the phone. It was almost lyrical the way she spoke; you could tell her expressions with every pause and with every utterance. I could tell when she was smiling, and when she probably had an attentive, thoughtful expression on her face with her brows rippling with micro-expressions within a fraction of a few seconds. She had a way of making her presence felt but in a gentle and unassuming way, always authentic and all heart! As her name 'Rida' is interpreted often in religious context as the state of contentment when in complete alignment with the Divine will, her personality on that first call had indeed hinted to me that this young woman's name would in all likelihood define her journey of blossoming into womanhood. She would embody the gentle voice of intuitive reason born out of the tuning one has with the Divine will. And as it turns out, I was right!
"You know ma'am I was not a religious person at all. I used to be restless and often even a little aggressive. However, it was one moment of experience which has inspired me to grow in faith and have a more grounded personality now. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was in grade X at that point of time and used to attend regular Urdu classes. In one of our classes, my teacher mentioned about the sanctity of the 3 am prayers. He mentioned about that hour being a special one as it had the power to help connect with God. I was curious. I went up to him after class to know more about it. He told me that if I had the sincere intent, I would be able to wake up in time and pray to experience the connection. I knew then that I would want to try it out.
I got up that same night and prayed. I can't explain what I felt! It was like I knew someone was listening to me. I could feel vibrations around me. I cried. It was beautiful. I started praying ever since and it has helped me to become calmer and more grounded. People tell me these days that I have become calmer and also seem more content with life. The prayers had started working their magic and I could see that myself in reflection."
Indeed she seemed more radiant and self assured since the first few times that I had spoken to her. A student at one of the top business schools in Pakistan, Rida's sense of self contentment and intuitive leadership buttressed her proactive and enthusiastic participation in many educational initiatives at her University and outside. She would go on to be the co-founder of an international not for profit organization called We Are One with her friend Kanishk Saraogi from India besides gradually earning a name as a much sought after Master of Ceremony and Facilitator across the city. I was intrigued to probe and learn more about what determined her fast paced and ever expanding roles which she has already started juggling at a tender age. As expected, I found the answer as she shared her intentions with me.
"Ma'am, I can't see anyone suffering. I am emotionally very sensitive to pain and injustice, be it for animals or human beings. Our organization We Are One works on projects to connect people as we try to serve others. In general also I struggle when I see suffering around me. I guess that is what makes me reach out to help and I keep finding new ways of helping out."
I was smiling as I listened to her reflect on my questions. This young woman was clearly opening up to her instincts for nurturing and support through service as she was steadily aligning with her sense of self. I made a mental note to follow up with her on how her story evolves in a couple of years.
Our discussion soon moved to a more personal note where I learnt what shaped Rida as a young girl. I learnt that she was the youngest of four children to a couple where her mother hails from a Pathan background and her father hails from Srinagar in Kashmir. She narrated how her mother used to be quite strict and they had a sheltered childhood because of the strict discipline that she had inculcated in the household. Things changed for the family when Rida's elder sister Subhh, married off at a young age while still in her undergraduate years, came home with her specially abled son after an abusive 3 years of marriage. Subhh's story highlighted to the pained parents how their daughters deserved freedom to explore opportunities to become more independent and secure in their own decisions. The family came closer together to support Subhh through her trials and for Rida, the journey of discovering herself and working towards her dream became a major focus over the following years. I could sense an emotion which seemed to combine a sense of relief for her newfound freedom and also a quiet sense of pride in the strength that she was growing conscious of embodying through her multiple roles. I could imagine an energetic Rida, speaking at events, facilitating and organizing service oriented activities for We Are One and spending more meaningful time with her family through it all.
I had known Rida initially through her friend and colleague Kanishk Saraogi. They had founded We Are One together after a trip brought them together to explore opportunities for building shared visions for peace together. I probed more about this part of her journey. I had participated myself in their first tree planting drive that they had organized across a number of countries with their volunteer team. My personal faith in the power of the youth to build a global narrative of peace had found a firm grounding in my experience of knowing these two brave-hearts. This story would be incomplete without a peak into the birth of We Are One.
"Travelling indeed changed my life ma'am." Rida mused. "I met Kanishk on one of these trips only." she recalled fondly. "Tell me more." I urged her to go on.
" It was the year 2017. I had traveled to Turkey for an internship where I was supposed to be teaching kids English. It was my first week in Turkey and Kanishk's last week of internship. The weekend that we had as the only overlapping weekend before he was scheduled to head back to India, we met at a camp organised there for the volunteers. He sat beside me on the bus because there was no other seat available and we started talking. He was the only Indian at the trip. We bonded and found a lot of common things that we wanted to work on. Initially, we had decided to work on India and Pakistan peace prospects. We had teams in both the countries( our friends) and we decided to name our organization 'Souls of India and Pakistan'. We had organised a cross border Skype call also which received a lot of media attention. However, we soon started receiving threats and decided to step back from that initiative. We decided to re-work our vision to work for world peace. That is how We Are One was born. We have projects on in both countries now on promoting sustainable and eco-friendly products."
As Rida continues to work with her international team to lessen the burden of injustices in her society and societies across their network even just a tad little bit, it makes me wonder if her light and Kanishk's wisdom towards building a stronger world across the borders would ever reach our leaders in the corridors of power. Will they recognize the voice of the future which young women and men like Rida and Kanishk embody through their efforts to help each other serve their own people? Will their inspiration perhaps tug at the heartstrings of millions of other young men and women from these two nations to stand for a future of co-operation as opposed to one of mutual hate-mongering?
Rida, about to turn twenty one this December, stands for a generation that is aspirational and decisive. For the many that will come after her, she stands as a powerful embodiment of the gentle and intuitive voice of reason, at present a quiet voice that serves in silence but a potent beam for generations to come who would be guided by her light to hopefully witness a new dawn, rise with a new message and be inspired to pen a new legacy where identity is grounded in a sense of contentment which blesses all like our embodied soul-girl "Rida" does, everyday!