I was better friends with the other girls. The ones who giggled if spoken to, or cast their eyes down, or replied softly and haltingly.
You spoke softly too, but with confidence. In English as well as Urdu; I wish I knew Pashto, because that would have been pure poetry. The eloquence was a gift from your father – Ziauddin Sahib held a variety of urban audiences in thrall during that trip. And he looked at you with such pride, I could tell that it was partly for him that you had changed your dream of becoming a doctor to that of becoming a politician.
Partly, of course, it was your destiny. For an eleven year old school-girl, you had seen far too much of a world complicated by conflict, violence, politics and journalism. And you had emerged strong and smart and, inevitably, far older than you should have been.
But of course, you were still eleven years old. And what I remember most is your look of amusement during the ice-breaker – your eyes just lit up, spirited and green and all of eleven years old.
The others accepted you as a natural leader. There was very little envy, really, only goodwill. That was the beauty of the Swat Valley Girls – they were happy to see you shine.
I was too. I think you thought I held back, but that was because I knew you’d be fine. The girls who could be shy, they need to look out for their own kind.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the girls who will be Great. I’ve been smiling at your trajectory as an ambassador of Swat, and nodding at how your steady voice has reached the highest levels of government all over the world. It was meant to.
It’s been three years since that week we spent with the Swat Valley Girls in the summer of 2009. Like a fool, I’ve been content with watching your ascent from a distance. Now, I’m in a tiny dorm room thousands of miles away in the throes of insomnia and panic.
There is so much that you need to do. So much growing, so much giving. You have a destiny, Malala, as that beautiful girl from Swat who says the things that need to be said with such courage, grace and bursts of dry humour. And that particular blend of tradition and modernity which has come from your father’s gentle, attentive upbringing.
To be honest, Malala, I’m going to find it very difficult to sleep tonight. And I’m panicking. I always wanted to be better friends.
This is the third time I’m watching this video today, with pictures of Malala, Shazia and Kainat. The lyrics are from “Taare Zameen Per”, and speak about the fragility of small stars. If you watch it too, please pause it when you see the ice-breaker ball.