Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Looking Back, and Forward: The Sister Edition

Today, my sister starts college.

I look back at the girl she was in tenth grade, struggling with subjects she didn't like, her temper flashing at the merest mention of academics, driven to tears by a teacher who made a particularly unkind comment about her being nothing like me. Contrast that with the cheery girl who scored A-pluses in all subjects in both eleventh and twelfth, and you'd think this is a story of someone who learned to score well.

It is not.

That bit is an incidental subplot to the story of a girl who made her choices in a constructive learning environment, and worked her ass off to redeem herself in her own eyes, astonishing her family in the process.

Clearly the smarter one, she chose Commerce and moved to a government school after tenth, one which boasted of facilities at par with (or even better than) a lot of private schools in the city, having been adopted by a public-private initiative called PRISM. And boy, did she reveal her true colours there.

Finally free from my oppressive shadow, finally exploring subjects she could relate to, finally learning under teachers who saw her spark and nurtured it with care and the occasional admonishing, Hiba bloomed into a creature I was beginning to recognize again, after the soul-crushing ordeal that was her tenth grade at Presentation.

And it was not just her old self that was back; she was reforging herself in many ways. Along with a select few students, she started becoming the face of Nadakkavu GHSS at various official events, be it organizing a reception for the chief minister, skyping with students from a UK school during a cultural exchange initiative, or just emceeing for school celebrations. She helped her new friends, some previously educated in Malayalam medium schools, find their feet in the English language. She joined her school's NSS team, going on sanitation drives and rain-walks, with a winter camp to top it all off. She cheered on, without any reserve, her crazily talented classmates as they conquered sports meets and dramatics and a host of other extra-curricular events. She even joined her school oppana team, and the memory of her going up on stage at the sub-district youth festival is one I'll cherish for ages.

In other words, she shone. Fiercely. Bravely. Happily, and with a renewed faith in herself.  For the most part, my parents and I were mute witnesses to this transformation. Her teachers and friends contributed a great deal, grounding her in a community and giving her perspective, but at the end of the day, this story belongs to her.

And today, as she begins a new chapter, it is not the academic turnaround that I am proud of. It is of her resolve, of her courage, of her juvenile sense of humour. I'm proud of her hard work, of her whip-smart retorts to my oft-nagging mom, of her ability to recognize her privilege and channel it for good, with humility. I'm jealous of her almost-diabolical power to wrap dad around her pinkie finger, and her general "people skills." Above all, I am proud beyond words that she stood up for herself.

So, on her first day of college, here's a toast to my absolutely fabulous sister. May the years ahead bring you more joy, much as they will bring you grief. May you hold on to your self-worth, even as the many lives waiting for you will challenge it in ways you didn't think was possible. May you find new dreams, if life extinguishes your old ones. May you create fullfilment on your terms.

But mostly, I hope you move forward with your trademark exuberance and generosity, brightening up people's lives by that much more, staying true to your name: Hiba, God's gift to us all.


  1. I've know Hiba foe the pat two years. Is there better description of her than this? NO.
    I dont have to add anything to this wonderful decription of a beautiful soul.
    Cheers to Hiba!!!

    1. Coming from a person Hiba adores, this means a lot, Niranjana! Thank you :)

  2. Wonderful write up!
    3 cheers to Hiba!
    3 cheers to her sister!