It’s my birthday today, and for some reason my mind is drifting to another birthday six years ago. Not mine, but Shagufta Ahsan’s. Then 16, the petite, smiling teen was a student in my class. I was teaching computer and English courses at a nonprofit school in a slum outside of Karachi, Pakistan.
She walked into the classroom that morning, announced that it was her birthday and said she would like to share a poem she wrote for the occasion. She asked everyone, and especially me, to close our eyes as she read it.
And then this is what she said:
A precious year has passed of my life.
And I don’t know how many expectations
And hopes and wishes have grown up with me.
And it’s not the foremost wishes because
They are coming from sixteen years with me.
What are my wishes?
Only these that I want to catch butterflies
And then I put them in my peaceful books.
I am to count the stars.
I am bound to the sunlight.
I am always to take flowers fresh.
But these are only imaginations.
And the wishes which were my necessities
That I want to go in Air Force.
I want a computer.
I want to read good books.
My these wishes are too stupid for rich persons.
Because they don’t know about poverty.
But can these rich persons provide me,
My dreamy things?
No they don’t.
So, I think my all these wishes
Will go with me the next year too.
— “A Precious Year,” Shagufta Ahsan, Umer Maingal Goth Class 10
I hope she is somewhere safe and stable, catching butterflies.