People & Society

When you break stereotypes

“We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like others” — Schopenhauer

Our society has unrelentingly dogged concepts about myriad issues including the right age to marry, narrow definitions of beauty (gori chittee), what constitutes an eligible suitor, suitable education and career choices and the stigma of divorce et al. 

Regardless of their socio-economic class and which academic degrees they hold, most individuals’ mindsets are unalterable. This illustrates that we are far more governed by rituals and cultural mores rather than our own ideas.

The sad truth is that most of us spend our lives involved in things ordained for us either by society or our families. Anything out of the box is deemed unacceptable and met with hostility and antagonism. Hence, one ordinarily lives a life bent upon pleasing others and not oneself. Exploration and experimentation are considered dual sins.

I often come across a quote on a much-shared Facebook which reads: “I regret situations in life where I should have said no but ended up saying yes.” 

This statement has more than one dimension but the one I feel is truly devastating relates to situations where people are prevented from pursuing their dreams only because it is objectionable to others.

Right from the beginning, the first born or the smartest child of the family is encouraged to become a doctor regardless of their interest or knowledge about what a medical career might entail. It is ingrained in our minds that nothing can supersede a career in medicine. As we matures and explores our options, we may want to perhaps venture on a different path but is however ordinarily discouraged by the debilitating societal refrain loag kya kahen ge (“What will people say”) or “These are not proper career-jobs.”

While creating us, God imbued all humans with a hidden talent that can be further enhanced with proper training. If we pursue our passion, we can climb the ladder of success far sooner than what it takes those already defeated by familial and societal pressures. 

No matter how much we insist on concentrating on ourselves and trying not to appease others, most of us continue to fall into the trap of living according to others’ expectations and predestined, rules and rituals.

To ruminate about how life might be if we did exactly as we pleased despite the risks and repercussions involved, following are the experiences of some phenomenally brave individuals who went against the grain, travelled a different path and remain content.

“I have had a troubled past. My family was least supportive about my choice of taking Arts in Matric,” says Sania, a 50-year-old interior designer. “I still remember being yelled at for even thinking about it. My dad said, “Your siblings are either doctors or engineers, how can you even think of something so bizarre. Doing Arts leaves you with no career opportunities!” Due to pressure from the family, Sania took pre-engineering and often flunked her classes. “At home, I was tortured with statements like ‘you are stupid, you will be a maasi, you can’t score well, etc.”

She got admission in Syracuse University for Fashion Designing but then her parents called her home and had her enrolled in a B.Sc programme. However, she begged them to get her enrolled in NCA. “For this I lied and told them I was getting admission in architecture whereas I had applied in design. After four years when my parents found out that my degree was in design, there was a huge uproar at home,” says Sania. 

She also had to marry her parents’ handpicked man because it was unacceptable to be single and studying at university at the age of 23. “That marriage was again a struggle. But I started saving money and researched for something based on my interests,” she says. “Thankfully, I found a programme and paid for it myself. That is when I asked my husband for a year out of my life to do something for myself. He didn’t allow it and threatened to divorce me. That is when I decided to take a stand and went ahead with the course. Halfway through my course I came back to town and arranged for khula. In the meanwhile, people started appreciating and acknowledging my work.”

Sania was proposed to by a foreigner and they got married. “Again, this was met with immense opposition from my family, as per Pakistani and Islamic tradition, interfaith marriages are a sin. However, I took a stand. Today I stand with a career, family and most importantly I am happy with all I have,” she says.

“The only message I would like to give to people is don’t become someone who at the age of 70 sits on a rocking chair thinking, ‘Gosh! What if I had done this or done that!’ You only get to live once. Achieve what you want to achieve, learn to say no when you must and live how you want to live. So what if you are different. Be you. Everyone else is already taken.”

“I am from a family where everyone is into businesses and people hardly study science,” says 25-year-old Jameela, a doctor. “I had always wanted to be a doctor. No one among my relatives is a doctor yet I became one. My family was worried about my marriage and they had to break another ritual when a friend proposed to me. They got me engaged outside my community which was also the first time in our community. I have done things differently from everyone in my family and it has taken a lot of effort to convince everyone that I am not doing something sinful or inappropriate. However, today I stand happy and content with all that I have achieved,” she says.

It is truly disheartening and even devastating when one is asked to pursue a career that one has little interest in. Some professions like moviemaking, acting and horticulture are not looked upon favourably. Sadly, this type of bias essentially exists in our part of the world. A woman marrying a younger man; interfaith marriages or pursuing an unusual career are all considered unacceptable.

“I convinced my parents to let me pursue a career in medicine while I performed stand-up comedy alongside,” says Dawood, a 35-year-old comedian. “Whereas my family was supportive, my peers weren’t. Some of my more judgemental doctors and medical students habitually teased me saying, ‘Oh look at him the fool.’ 

“Those same people are now usually the ones calling me for an autograph for their niece or friend or asking for free tickets to a show, so I guess the jokes on them!” Dawood adds.

I myself pursue medicine alongside journalism and many other things. It is difficult to explain why I write when interrogated. At times I try to hide it too. However, when I see the outcome of whatever I do , let it be in the form of a patient recovering, a praise in my inbox about how an article resonated with the other, or my sense of fashion complimented in the form of imitation, I feel content. It gives me meaning to life.  

Life can be much simpler when it is wholly crafted by you. When you stop trying to be all things to all people, you will perform your finest, most impactful and satisfying work. When you give your greatest from a place of soulful abundance you will discover how much more you are able to offer. In addition, this also allows you to offer others an opportunity to do their best.

When you respect who you are and who you’re not then you honour and accept others for who they are. Always be yourself. 


The author is a practising doctor and an occasional writer. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Big Picture.

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