God willing, I will return to Pakistan soon,” Malala Yousafzai had said in an interview after becoming the youngest Nobel Prize winner in 2014. Many in her country poured scorn at these sentiments, then. “We hate Malala Yousafzai, a CIA agent,” one Facebook page reacted. It’s a measure of how much things have changed in Pakistan in four years that social media has gone abuzz welcoming Malala back home. On Thursday, the country’s twitterati stayed up well past midnight to “welcome our very own Nobel laureate & the brave and brainy daughter of the soil”. “If it were up to me, I would have never left the country,” the 20-year-old woman responded.
Perhaps she has yearned for this day more than her people. “When I woke up in hospital in the UK, I looked outside and asked the doctors where are the mountains and the rivers. I miss my friends and family. But I also miss the landscape,” she told the Pakistani publication Mangobaaz, a week before her visit — when it was still under the wraps. That much of her itinerary is still not public is a testimony to the fact that the authorities who shower accolades on Malala are still edgy about her homecoming. It’s a compulsion the young woman seems to understand, even when emotions get the better of her. At public functions to fete her, she often says that she has “seen much”. And then, with equal candour, professes that she “rarely cries”.
During her short visit, Malala has been moved to tears several times. Her homecoming will not be more than four days. “I want to be able to move freely in the streets and meet and talk to people, peacefully without any fear. And I hope, it will be like my old home,” she has said. Let’s hope that the welcome accorded to Malala portends her wish coming true.