By Sonya Rehman
In the summer of 2007 one of my biggest dreams had come through: I received admission at Columbia’s School of Journalism!
I felt myself reeling in shock – and utter delight – as I quickly scanned over the email which stated my acceptance to the school. Sadly, things plunged headfirst – like a copter without wings – when the scholarship granted to me wasn’t enough to cover my entire graduate program’s fees. I decided to wait it out. And quite wonderfully, my admission was deferred to the following year’s session. Little did I know what more challenges were to come.
In that one year alone, I went a little bonkers trying to tap into just about any local and foreign scholarships (for international students) that I could.
I applied for two and got rejected in quick succession. I couldn’t believe things weren’t panning out the way I thought they would.
The worst part was that my loved ones kept assuring me that everything would be ‘okay’ and that I’d be on my way to New York with a little hop, skip and jump in the summer of 2008.
They couldn’t have been more wrong. And in the few months before the program at Columbia was to start, I was left with a jaded heart and very little funding – too little to cover my costs. Funnily, around the same time, a friend of mine bagged a full scholarship to Columbia and twisted my arm (literally!) into applying for the local Fulbright Scholarship. Strangely, and quite idiotically, I had conveniently forgotten all about the USEFP (United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan) as I wallowed away in my self-pity like a baby bear without her jar of honey!
Applying for the Fulbright too, wasn’t without its fair share of challenges. But I threw caution to the wind. By that time, I felt I had absolutely nothing to lose. And I didn’t. Four days before my GRE exam (a pre-requisite for the Fulbright Scholarship) I wound up with chicken pox! Yes, laugh it up. There I was, a pock-marked twenty-five year old – with a GRE book in hand and a quizzical ‘what next’ expression on my face.
In full-blown fever that made my knees go weak like jelly, and a rash so ripe, I sat through the exam.
Unbelievably, weeks later, I was called in for my scholarship interview in Islamabad! Leaving Lahore at 3am with my mother – the journey to the capital was one crazy little road trip. But to cut a long story short, we reached Islamabad in the nick of time at 9:15am (my interview was scheduled for 10am sharp that day).
You’d think it was pretty smooth-sailing from thereon, right? Wrong! We got caught up in the most freakishly sudden and wild hailstorm ever! My mother brought the car to a snail’s pace for a good ten minutes – as we inched our way down the main road – with fat hailstones (the size of rupee coins) slamming into the car from all sides.
“I can’t believe this”, I told my mother incredulously, “I’ve waited for this moment for 2 years, wound up with chicken pox and now – barely minutes away I land up in a hailstorm!”
My mother and I had a good chuckle. God surely had a fantastic sense of humour, the endearing old chap.
After my interview, dead-beat, my mother and I grabbed a quick bite and headed back home.
The drive back to the Punjab was long and hazy. I was delirious. The gentle drizzle of rain against our windscreen made the lights outside appear blotchy and surreal. Like a kaleidoscope of round, morphing patterns. I dozed off. My heart was at ease. Finally. I’d given it everything I had.
Today, barely a few days ago, I got my Fulbright acceptance. Instead of shouting in euphoria, I sat down in quiet surprise.
It was then when I recalled a speech that Nayyara Noor (an eminent Pakistani ghazal singer) had once made during a local awards ceremony many years ago.
She’d said – in the most eloquent of Urdu – that our darkest days are in actuality, little lamps of light (dia’s) which carry us through our lives. When I remembered her speech, I didn’t cry. Yet, I felt healed somehow.
The window in my soul had finally unhinged and opened. There was calmness within. The kind of calmness that you get when you look out into a tranquil sea, as the sun’s rays gently leap – like gold fairies – on its soft, rippling surface.
I felt as if my life had finally come full circle.