“Main buddhi hoon. I am an old woman. Is this the age to be running around in a field kicking a ball?”
“Why Dadi, are you afraid?”
“Aree baba. I have never played football in my life. How do you expect me to start playing at this age.”
“Dadi, you taught me that unless I tried something, I would never know if I could do it or not. Now, I am telling you the same thing. If you are too scared to try kicking the ball, how will you ever know fi you can play football or not.”
“No buts, Dadi. All my life you have been telling me I should not give up without trying. But when it comes to yourself, you don’t practice what you preach. We are one player short. Are you coming with me to play football or not?”
“If you put it that way, how can I refuse?”
Fatima knew that her grandmother was a formidable woman. She was twenty when she lost her husband. Knowing that she could never bring up two daughters on her own, she had married again. Her second husband had not been as well off as the first, and her life had been a constant struggle to ensure that her family did not go to bed hungry. Though her husband had not wanted his wife to work, she had been forced to take on embroidery work to supplement the family income.
None of her children attended school beyond the fourth grade- the sons had been put to work as soon as they turned ten, and the girls had been kept at home till they could be married off. It was only after her three sons started earning that she knew financial stability for the first time.
Fatima was the first of her grandchildren, and the apple of her eye. When Fatima completed her fourth grade, there was talk of pulling her out of school, but her grandmother would not hear of it.
“My Fatima is the best student in her school”, she declared proudly. “She will study as long as she wants to.”
Nothing could sway her from her decision to ensure her granddaughter stayed in school. Not arguments how it was not necessary for girls to study, and definitely not arguments about what the neighbours would say.
“I don’t care what anyone says, my granddaughter is going to school. Other people are just jealous because my Fatima is a better student than their sons.”
Proposals started trickling around the time Fatima entered the tenth grade. Fatima’s parents almost fomalised a match, but her grandmother turned it down.
“My Fatima is too young to get married. Let her first finish her studies.”
They tried telling her that it was a wonderful match, but she brushed them aside.
“My Fatima is one in a million. If they like her so much, let them wait.”
Fatima passed her Board Exams with distinction, and got a scholarship from the government to continue her studies. Fatima’s grandmother couldn’t contain her excitement. “Nobody in our entire community has done so well in the Exams”, she said. “Ask for anything you want and I’ll give it to you.”
“We are one member short in our team. Come and play football with me”, Fatima replied.
If Fatima's friends were surprised to see her grandmother on the playing field, they did not show it. They even passed the ball to her often, and waited patiently while she tried to kick it. When she finally made contact and the ball soared into the air, the girls from both teams gave her a long ovation.
“I have never played any sport in my life”, she said after the match was over. “Thank you so much for letting me play.”
“We loved having you here, Dadi”, said the girls. “You will come back to play again, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I will. I will come every day, and Ishallah, someday, I may even score a goal.”
“Ishallah, you will”, said Fatima giving her grandmother a big hug. “And one day, I will definitely become a doctor.”
Fatima and her grandmother knew there were only three steps between you and success - the ability to dream; the courage to start and the persistence to keep going.
“Main buddhi hoon." - "I am an old woman.
"Dadi" - grandmother
"Aare baba" - "come on child
"Ishallah" - "god willing", literally, "if Allah so wishes"