Continued from last week,
from an address to ASJA Girlsí College students on their graduation day
on July 5.
Who are you?
Many pieces of a bright,
mutating puzzle. Your dressing room tables at home are already lined with
pots of cream, lipsticks, mascara; tomboys, recognising that childhood
once gone will never come back.
Here is the 16-year-old in
me, telling you stuff I learned years after I left school. Many grown
women like myself are as agonisingly self-conscious about their looks, as
we were when we were 16 or 18. Many of the grown women you see now were,
at 15,16,19, practically anorexic, thinking if they stopped eating they
would be beautiful and loved.
In our late 20ís and
30ís we still get depressed when we put on weight after having children,
forgetting it is the most natural thing in the world; forgetting
well-rounded women are beautiful, and fullness has been immortalised by
great painters everywhere.
The Most Effective
We, like you, are
listening to the fake tinsel voices of TV and glossy magazines. I
struggled with my self-image for years, wanted to change this and that,
hated this and that, and took a long time when I discovered the most
effective cosmetic in the world. Only, it doesnít come from a bottle. It
comes from within.
Itís called confidence,
self-esteem, belief in yourself, a sense of your own destiny which makes
you glow from within and lights you up with astonishing beauty, and draws
people to you, makes them love you, and allows you to love them.
Isnít that what we all
want? To love and be loved, not just by men but by the many people woven
into our lives? If you hold that bubble, glue it together with energy,
curiosity, a capacity for hard work, vigorous exercise routine, and a
disciplined diet, remain as curious and excited about the vast complex
world you live as you are now, then you can cheat time and never get old.
There is another secret to
cheating time - books, novels, biographies, fiction, non-fiction,
newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, the lot. Read
voraciously. Books are a
time, place and people machine, and allow you to escape into many worlds,
meet hundreds of people, go into their minds, live a multi-layered life.
Books will allow you to access the accumulated knowledge of the lifetime
of work of the great philosophers, economists, historians, writers,
painters of all time. They are your escape, your knowledge, your power and
your ticket to a larger life.
They will push past the
borders of your mind and life into this vast universe. Which you must see.
Travel whenever you can. All you need is the will, savings and a friend.
Go see the Taj Mahal at dawn for yourself; wake up to a brisk, cool
African winter, visit the pyramids in Egypt, walk amongst ancient ruins in
Rome, see the Mona Lisa in Le Louvre. Live in youth hostels, walk
everywhere, pitch tents, starve a little, but see the world.
Being empty of pocket and
light of heart is the greatest gift of youth; a time of no
responsibilities and many dreams. You belong to a generation that has
grown up fast - technology,
Internet and cable TV have allowed you to witness terrible acts of
violence in your world - domestic violence, murder, hangings, AIDS, drug
and alcohol abuse.
Yet, it has brought many
compensations - the delight of communication with e-mail, the ability to
switch on the television and watch the unfolding of dramatic events around
You belong to a quick-fix
generation. That is why, I suppose, your teachers and parents, fearing you
may get sucked into this bottomless pit of consumerism, want you to be
Donít get impatient,
yet. Donít ask whatís that got to do with me? It does. When I was your
age I had no idea what older people meant when they went on about God. I
associated religion with a harsh judgmental God who would make me feel
guilty for having the impulses and energy of the happy and the young.
Itís not that at all! It
doesnít matter if you choose to worship Allah, Shiva or Jesus, the sun
or the moon. Itís about accepting responsibility for your actions, about
doing the decent thing because you have to live with yourself; about times
when only faith will step in to help you, because no human can; about
huge, unexplained forces and matter out there - call it a universal
intelligence, or God; about shedding your ego so you see yourself in
context - one human being among billions.
Religion is a very private
thing. More private than your diary or the thoughts you will never share.
All religions flow and converge into a vast sea of humanity, of helping
conquer our natural selfish human instincts, pushing us to be bigger than
But it isnít about
shutting your mind to different people and races and religions, or
thinking yourself better than them. Your history books will tell you
religious dogma, and that brand of blind self-righteousness will narrow,
shrink and click shut your minds, lead to bloodshed and hate. That dogma
is about power and control, not religion.
Donít succumb to it. You
didnít arrive at this place by accident. All of you are thinking, ďI
could be a doctor, a surgeon, an engineer, a computer analyst, a
banker.Ē Remember, you didnít arrive at this place of opportunity
where the doors of every profession are wide open to you. Many brave women
fought passionately and selflessly for all these rights that you will take
for granted. The right to vote. The right to choose. The right to be
educated. The right to speak your mind. The right to travel. The right to
worship as you choose.
In many countries in the
world today, millions of girls your age are illiterate, chipping stone on
construction sites, emaciated and begging on crowded roads, or are
repressed, not allowed to be educated or practise a profession, not
allowed to dress as they wish, not allowed to travel or marry someone of
their choice, made to cover their entire faces, and shut their mouths.
They are not allowed to make a single decision.
While I speak to you,
there are 37 wars raging around the world, tribal wars, wars over land,
wars over religion.
Concept of Tolerance
Yet, here I stand, at the
podium of this Muslim school, half Hindu, half Muslim. Here I stand, in
this Muslim school with my Hindu maiden name. My eyes run down the list of
graduates - Khan, Knights, Lallo sitting now shoulder to shoulder. Do you
have any idea how mind-boggling, how astonishing this concept of tolerance
is to most of the world?
Today in India, although
it is the largest democracy in the world, you will not easily find a Hindu
entering a mosque, or a Muslim going to a Hindu function.
In Northern Ireland, the Catholics and Protestants struggle to
cover the wounds from deaths brought about by extremists on both sides.
It is your responsibility
now, to be guardians of democracy and tolerance of this tiny special
twin-island state which has given to you as your birthright, access to the
cultures and peoples of four continents.
Remember, the price for
freedom and peace is eternal vigilance. Live in a context. Care about your
environment, the laws and politics of your country. Be the voices of
reason, justice and tolerance. Give something back or your lives will mean
Girls, take a good look at
one another, at your best friends, even the ones you have squabbled with,
at your principal, your teachers, especially the ones who pushed you the
hardest. Think of your parents and all the people who have brought you to
this point of beauty. Burn this moment into your hearts forever. Because
they have managed to instil in each unique beautiful bright girl, in each
star on this graduating galaxy, a sense of her own destiny. They have
prepared you to take your rightful place in the world.