Published in Dawn on July 26 2016
WORLD Youth Skills Day on July 15 went by quietly in Pakistan. There was no fresh resolve, nor any policy announcement by the government for ‘skills development to improve youth employment’ — the UN theme of the year — though it would have been an opportune moment to share recommendations of the task force on the national technical and vocational education and training policy the government formed in May 2014.
The stars above us, govern our conditions.— Shakespeare
Azam Khan, an 18-year-old, works in a boutique in Karachi for 10 hours as an errand boy and earns Rs12,000 a month. Shy and soft-spoken, he thinks it is the stars that determine one’s life path. “What can I aspire to? I have no education. Jo naseeb mein hai [whatever destiny has in store]…” he mumbles. He comes from Shangla, one of the most deprived districts in Pakistan. He is the lad who irritates the policymakers and the politicians because he has no story to tell — no story of hope, no story of reaching out for the stars, no story of ‘youth creativity and energy’, the phrase our policy documents on youth bulge and youth dividend are full of.
During my early youth I believed that adolescence was the most wonderful period in a person’s life. And I thought every teenager in the world was in a blissful state. It made me feel miserable. Because I wasn’t having ‘the most wonderful time’ in the least!
I think it was Urdu poetry that played mischief and filled my head with romanticised notions of youth. I am sure fiction didn’t do any harm because for one thing, it was ‘taraqqi pasand afsanay’ I was reading since class five; for another, they must be going above my head at that time anyway.
Whatever poets said about ‘sweet sixteen’, to me it was nothing but sour. All my complexes (inferiority complexes) intense ambivalence (particularly toward my mother), fights and frictions (with siblings), dreams, aspirations, frustrations, etc, made my mind a confused jumble of thoughts and feelings, and my ‘stream of consciousness’ a torrential, frothing mass. But mercifully all that was behind a placid facade: I was quite a quiet person.