Over the course of last almost 40 years of my life, I’ve met some rather incredible people. Some of them include famed authors like Stephen King and Paulo Coelho, while others include Bollywood stars like Shahrukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. Then there have been political figures too like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, as well as the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Then I’ve met local, homegrown celebrities who are known internationally such as Atif Aslam, Shahid Afridi, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
In most cases, the above-mentioned people have left an impact on me in one way or another (my favorite experience has to be meeting Paulo Coelho at the launch of his book The Witch of Portobello), but it was this past weekend that led me to meet a certain personality who made a huge impact on me.
This person is Muniba Mazari, an artist who is wheelchair-bound.
The date is 15th April 2017. The event is an art event in Islamabad, where two internationally renowned artists, Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi, are displaying their evocative artwork. It is being held at Pakistan National Council of Arts building which in itself is a gorgeously designed building. The event is a privately held event, as it is an all-exclusive affair where some seriously high profile personalities are present. Being in the same space as them, breathing the same air as them, is an incredible experience. There is just something magical about a great deal of positive energy emanating from them in the room. It’s not an elitist event, nor was it a ‘be seen and be heard’ kind of event; this is a hardcore art enthusiasts event where it’s all about the art. The people were classy, refined and polished. They discussed ideas and thoughts around the artworks, which opened my mind to a whole new level. I felt like I was standing at Tate Modern Gallery in London.
While I am walking around, meeting friends and admiring the artwork, I happen to catch Muniba entering the grand exhibition space. She is in a wheelchair.
When I see her initially, the first thing that strikes me is her beauty. She is a drop dead gorgeous looking woman. She has bare minimum makeup with a red shade of lipstick. She is sitting upright in her wheelchair, with her legs pressed together at the knees. On her lap is the program guide upon which rested her Gucci clutch.
She has a huge beaming smile on her face. It is one of those smiles that is infectious, making other people around her smile automatically. It is a smile that is spreading cheer and goodwill. It is a smile that is telling the world something: “even though I am paralyzed waist down, I will continue to live my life with dignity, pride, and joy. I am grateful for what I have!”
This is a woman, who has risen to great heights after a series of misfortunes she endured. About nine years ago, she was involved in a car accident that left her legs paralyzed. Subsequently, her husband left and divorced her. She has a child which she is raising as a single parent. Just to imagine these things happening is devastating enough, let alone experiencing them first hand.
I start to imagine what her life is like, being wheelchair bound. How hard would it be to get up each morning, to take a shower and getting dressed? How hard would it be to travel in cars from one place to another, let alone traveling internationally? How hard must it be to move around in a city which is not wheelchair friendly? Most of all, how hard would it be to raise a child as a single parent, not being able to walk?
She is using her own hands to push the wheels ahead. Several people approach her to push the wheelchair, which she politely declines. She is a very self-reliant woman, reminding me that at the end of the day, the only people we can rely on is ourselves; our happiness lies within us and not in other people.
As stated on her website, Muniba is “a dreamer. Ms. Mazari chose art as a way to break free from the fetters of her physical disability and transcend into the vibrant world of her dreams. Her art is a glimpse into her aspirations in life, her fears and her never fading hope. It is a depiction of memories that may have once haunted her but has now transformed into opportunities, passion, and resilience.”
She had an aura around her. We all have an aura around us; some are more powerful than others. I want to find an opportunity to speak to her and ask her one simple question: what is it that helped you overcome your misfortune and turned your life around?
Seeking an opportunity, when she is not surrounded by those who want to take selfies with her, I quietly approach her and say to her what a huge inspiration she is to me. She appreciates me and acknowledges my statement, just in time before someone else came and interrupted the few seconds I had with her. I somehow didn’t even think of getting a photograph taken with her as I was merely captivated of being in the moment, of taking in the experience of meeting her.
I am sure she gets loads of compliments every day from people who admire her strength to do something with her life. As I am writing this, I am beginning to realize one thing. It isn’t the looks that makes her attractive (though she is so much more gorgeous looking in reality), it is her personality. Inner beauty does indeed shine on the exterior.
I admire people who turn the negatives in their lives into positives. I fall in love with people who turn their lives around, overcoming bullying, abuse, divorce or any other misfortunes they may have endured. I can’t help but be drawn closer to those people who have a streak of optimism running in their lives, despite the fact that they may have been through a lot. My father is a prime example of someone who stayed optimistic till the end of his life.These kinds of people remind me clearly that at the end of the day, the human spirit is very strong and resilient and can overcome odds.
There are umpteen examples of personalities who have had rags to riches stories, but Muniba’s story is a real-life example of what one can do to turn around their lives. This is not to take away the struggle and fights thousands of others are going through– each person has their own battles to fight. One can even argue that Muniba comes from a privileged background so she has the resources to recover and move on, so it’s no big deal, as opposed to perhaps a woman from a lesser privileged background. That may be true, but we all face battles that are unique to us. We all deal with our battles in our own individual ways. She reminds me that clearly there is nothing that can stop you from overcoming the odds.
Muniba has done so much goodness with her newfound fame and celebrity status and hasn’t let any of that gone to her head. She’s a Goodwill Ambassador with the UN Women Pakistan, helps set up medical camps all over Pakistan, is a motivational speaker and a television host. She has also been named by the BBC as one of the most influential women in Pakistan. She uses her fame for the betterment of others.
Staying positive, being responsible for your own feelings, taking a proactive stance in life are paths to happiness and satisfaction. No matter what life may throw at you and bog you down with, we all have that inner strength that will help us get up back on our feet and conquer our fears and failures. The human spirit is the greatest force indeed. Muniba certainly reminded me of this.
As Muniba, who is only thirty years old, has endured so much and allowed the negatives in her life to achieve the positives, she has this to say to sum up her life motto, “I could not find a hero in my life, so I became one. You are the hero of your own life story and heroes never give up!”