Living in the bleak rural outskirts of Multan, Razia Mushtaq had a childhood full of hardship. She was from an underprivileged family. There was no silver spoon. Her father was a shoe mender. Such was the bitter reality she had to face, day after day. Their house was a mud-and-brick structure, covered by a flimsy tin roof, incurred at considerable expense.
Looking back, she says, “Often there were days when my siblings and I shared a piece of bread and had nothing else to eat the entire day.” No one should have to bear such adversity. Her children would not, she resolved. She would make sure they were more fortunate. Though her mother was supportive, she was denied an education because of unforgiving social stigma. Women weren’t meant to study or work for a living, and the orthodox and traditional nature of her family meant she would not be able to pursue her dream.
Then the world as she knew it came to an end. At the tender age of twelve, she had to bear the worst privation for a child to face. Her mother was no longer with her. She had been involved, along with Razia’s two sisters, in a fatal motor accident. The family was devastated, and everything started moving at warp speed. Within a year, her father arranged for her to marry a man she barely knew, known as ‘Charduga Sahib’. Ill-fortune soon came to haunt this union, as the couple could not have children. Quickly, she was divorced, and sent back into the world on her own, abandoned and friendless.
Again, she got married; this time, to a neighbor of Charduga Sahib. With him, she returned to Rawalpindi, his home town, where she was introduced to his three children, which she would not treat as her very own. This proved to be a mistake. Her in-laws promptly denounced the marriage and refused to take them in. They were disowned, and put on the streets. Left with no choice, they ventured to Islamabad where her husband managed to find a mediocre job and made modest living arrangements. Razia learned how to sew, and soon managed to get a few permanent customers, providing a meager but stable income. But fortune was not to smile on this family. Just as soon as it had seemed that they would manage to pull through, their landlord and her husband employer let them go. His salary had been their primary source of income, and without that, they had nothing to live on.
This is how, in later days, one could find Razia in a tent, on a sidewalk; this is what she had been reduced to. All she could call her own in the world was contained within that tent, maybe eight square feet of canvas tent. After a considerable struggle, her husband found another job and they managed to move into a one-room quarter. Penny by penny they saved what little they could, cherishing each little bit. A sewing machine was consequently bought and her hard work and dedication earned Razia a few customers.
She slaved day and night, aiming for the highest degree of customer satisfaction. Soon, word spread, and more people came to her for their tailoring needs. She had three sons, and zero qualms about her duty in life. She must provide for her children. They must get educated, and there was no question about it. It became her sole focus, and her eyes would sparkle as she thought of the bright futures they could have, the success they could achieve. They were enrolled in a local government school, by all means humble, but the greatest gift she could give her children.
All was well for some time, but as her sons neared graduation, they started asking for extra tutoring. How was she to afford this? Her little tailoring business could hardly sustain the family now, any additional budget-stretching would surely spell disaster. Even in this seemingly hopeless situation, she kept her head up and went out looking for work, mustering all her courage. Razia started working over 10 hours a day, at three different jobs. She was a domestic servant during the day, cleaning house for a wealthy family. Her afternoons were spent in a grocery store, in a lowly bagging job and at night she was glued to her sewing machine, her trained hands handling the fabric as her she strained her eyes to see in the feeble light.
“Sometimes I cried myself to sleep. Thoughts of my childhood spun through my mind.” She recollects. Sleep deprived and worked to the bone, she realized she could not live like this. She turned to others for help, the young boys who lived on her street.
“I felt a burden came off of my shoulders when they agreed to tutor my boys.”
Sometime afterwards, her husband became extremely ill. His condition was critical, and Razia was under tremendous stress. There was simply no money to pay for his treatment. His family refused to help financially and Razia began to take loans, reduced to begging for her husband’s life. Bit by bit, the money was collected with the help of sympathetic acquaintances and friends. Her husband returned from the hospital awfully weak, and unable to work. Forced to pull her children out of school, a hard decision for any mother, she paid back the loans.
The couple took one more shot at happiness. They had not given up despite every disaster that had struck their little family. The single property they had was sold, and a grocery store was set up. It slowly picked up pace, and once they passed the break-even point and started making a modest profit, her sons were able to resume their studies. They went back with twice the hard work and commitment, realizing the cost of their education. They passed with flying colors and made it to one of the best universities in the area.
“My children were my main motivation and foremost priority.” Her family was also very supportive and helped her throughout. Razia went through some very difficult and difficult times which often left her tense and anxious. ‘My life experiences made me think about the life I want my coming generation to have. And it is definitely not the way I lived it.’ She wanted to make a difference in the lives of her offspring. She frequently had to take anti-depressant pills due to all the stress.
Two of her sons graduated from the National University of Science and Technology and are now engineers. Her eldest son, now working in Australia, graduated from Rawalpindi Medical College. Due to his excellence in academics, he was called to John Hopkins University on a full Scholarship for his specialization. All this aside, they faced a dearth of social differences and many major cultural differences living abroad. Razia rented a house in I-8 to cope with the social problems her sons were facing. Her sons later bought her a house and she now lives in Margalla Town.
Even though her financial and social differences have come to an end, she still runs a tailor shop. ‘Stitching and designing had now become a part of my life. I don’t want to give it up.’ She also designs some embroidered clothes and has hired many workers. She is now one of the best tailors in Islamabad and is well known amongst many old Islamabadis. Razia Mushtaq is at present living a happy, content and satisfied life, but you can still see the tears in her eyes when she talks about her past.