I graduated as an architect some good six years ago. Six years count for ages. It’s quite an aeon. If I had become a mother right away, today my child would have been walking and running around the corridors of a school. His hair would have tossed around his broad forehead while he hopped. He would have started writing by now. He would also have entered his fit-for-scolding age too. Six years is quite a time.

For those of my readers who are remotely or closely related to architecture, the hardships that come during the course of this degree are not unfamiliar to hear. Mostly you hear your friends, nephews, daughters and yourself expressing their urge to throw T-square after squashing it into a bin; the same bin where you have dumped your all-night-worked-upon drafted scholar sheets. No wonder why it is termed archi-torture by many. Many quit during this bumpy ride to a cliff. The survivors are no ordinary. Those who pass through the test of endless nights with eyes wide open and feet bloating due to excessive standing are no ordinary. It’s a labour of love; well, mostly. I hope it is not scarce to quote that there lights a spark of passion in their hearts. Why else would anyone bear the five yearly torture otherwise? Love makes every mountain appear a molehill.

I am one of those survivors.

Life is full of surprises though. You might have encountered many in life. Now is the time for another. This might not change your life but might make you ponder for a while; just like looking at a kohl eyed dusky beauty walking into the bangle stall will make you turn your neck but you will get back to choosing your own set of rings. I am coming back to the surprise now. Do you promise not to ridicule me for it? I chose to pass through the test of endless nights with eyes wide open and feet bloating due to excessive standing but did not continue the profession.

Well, this coming up from a Pakistani woman might appear no surprise as our career choices are more governed by the prospective rishtas and not a woman’s own will. A dad knows it all and when he transfers a woman’s ‘custody’ to her husband, it’s the husband who knows it all being the ‘virtual’ god.

Here comes the sting in the tale. I chose it. Not only did I choose not to ‘utilize’ my hard earned degree but also opted for a far ‘low money-making’ and career enhancing profession. I chose to become a teacher. I chose to become a school teacher.

I never felt like a stranger. It was more or less the same. Teaching, too, is a labour of love. I would stand endlessly for hours just because sitting on a chair made me lose my eye contact with my children. I would not care to sip my cup of tea in the school break just because I had to sit in the freezing corridors of the school explaining the strategic importance of Pakistan’s geographical location to a child who always had a hard time grasping even the difference of North and South directions. I would not care to run back home to have my mom’s cooked Bhindi Gosht with bubbling chapatis well in time just because I had to help a child with improving the pitch of his sound that stopped him from reciting Faiz better than anyone in an upcoming inter-school competition and he never failed me since then. The beginning of a new session was never a happy beginning for me because it also meant losing my touch with the children I had taught for the previous year.

Nothing but love can make you do the feats that the brain keeps discarding as illusory. This was, luckily, a two way road. My children loved me as much as I loved them, or maybe a little more. I liked putting my red shoes on for them because the girls smiled every time I wore them. I never prepared (and still don’t) excessive writing exercises for the ones studying in Grade Six because many yawned when I did.

My every day began with the saintly smiles of my children. The moment I entered the school corridor the little girls and boys would surround me with their twinkling eyes and uncontrollable pushing each other away just to be the first one to greet me with good morning. The victorious was envied by all. My birthdays were never the lonely ones even if I had no one at home to bake me a cake. I still cannot forget how a student once walked all the way from his home to wish me; with a fractured elbow. It was a labour of love.

However, like all love stories mine was also not understood by the world. My teachers from the university always kept condemning my act of ‘divorcing’ my mother profession. My friends chuckled that I had opted for school teaching to become a perfect rishta candidate for the mothers of handsome boys with even more handsome earning packages. My family, however, chose not to be this straight. They kept pushing me to pursue my Masters degree and later a Ph.D. so that I could become eligible for a ‘better’ job.

This frustrated me; at times. Why should I refuse to admit that a few times I even overlooked my decision and started underlining the ‘job’ section of the Sunday weeklies? I was a human; bound to doubt. Since the universe did not care much for anyone’s plans, so nothing worked much, I kept working in the same school with the same kids.

 In the meanwhile I got married and like most of the Pakistani marriages, I was asked politely to give up my job. I had to. The time spent home was not an easy one. Something always pulled; maybe love. I would keep dreaming of standing in the classroom while dusting the side tables. I would silently weep the nights away. This fire was so scorching that the universe decided to take me back into its same wide arms. Their hearts melted and I rejoined. My joy new no bounds.

A week ago, while I and a few colleagues were sitting in the tree lined verandah trying to script up the ending of our upcoming annual play, my phone beeped. My fellows raised their brows silently. It was from my husband asking me if I was safe because a school in Peshawar was under the terrorist attack. Honestly speaking, I stayed calm and resumed my work, looking for the blue ink that had to be used for writing the dialogues. Being a Pakistani, nothing shocked me much. I kept my composure until a peon came running to us. We could not keep calm. Tears flooded his eyes. We were living the worst 16th December of our lives. No one could keep calm. Every heart trembled over hearing what had actually happened.

It was not just a terrorist attack. It was also the beginning of many tales that deserved to be sung as folklores forever. It changed my perspective towards life. A teacher was burnt alive while trying to protect her students. The principal refused to take a safe exit and was shot in head while protecting her children. This was a labour of love. My eyes weep over the loss of children. Not just their mothers’, they were the teachers’ children. The teachers who even gave up lives for their children!

My same friends still text me. They text differently. They are proud of my profession. They are proud of my ‘beloved’. I am a proud teacher. These women I have never seen and will never see are my saviours.

The other day I read an interview of a surviving student about his teacher

She was my hero.’

I silently whisper, ‘So is mine.’

Saadia Ahmed, an architect by qualification, is a jack of all trades. Writing, oratory, activism and coaching are a few to mention in her list of appetites.