Maliha with Shabina Mustafa, one of the inspirational women in her book who is an educationist and founder of The Garage School. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: Maliha Abidi’s book starts with these famous four words ‘Once upon a time …’ and has the look of an enchanting fairytale, but it’s not about ‘Snow White’ or ‘Cinderella’. This vibrant book, beautifully illustrated by Maliha Abidi, tells the epic tales of real-life heroes, the tales of 50 extraordinary Pakistani women, their dreams and achievements.

The first-of-its-kind book in Pakistan shares the stories of many firsts — Pakistan’s first female fighter-pilot Ayesha Farooq, first woman to climb Mount Everest Samina Baig, country’s first female firefighter Shazia Perveen, first female motorcyclist Zenith Irfan. The 110-page book also celebrates iconic figures such as “Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, child prodigy Arfa Karim, Queen of Melody Noor Jehan, Asma Jahangir, as well as Hindu activist Veeru Kohli and many remarkable women” according to author and artist Abidi.

Why Abidi wrote this book?

In an interview with Gulf News, Abidi explained the idea behind the book. “This book shares the true stories of extraordinary Pakistani women, from mountaineers to astrophysicists to educators to athletes, in a way to encourage the readers that if these Pakistani women can achieve their dreams through hard work and dedication, so can all the girls, reading their stories.”

Abidi — writer, author, student

The book titled “Pakistan for Women: stories of women who have achieved something extraordinary”, has been written and illustrated by Maliha Abidi, 23-year-old author, artist and medical neuroscience student at University of Sussex (UK). She was born and raised in Pakistan’s coastal city of Karachi before moving abroad.

Amazing response

She came back to Karachi to celebrate the book launch in early March 2019. “The response has been amazing as we’ve run out of all the copies and already have pre-orders for the second batch” she claimed.

The book costs about Rs2,500 (Dh64). It was funded publicly via Kickstarter, where Abidi raised more than £2,000 (Rs370,000 or Dh9,590) in just three days. Being a full-time student who only worked on the book on weekends, Abidi says, this was the way to fund the project.

Celebrating 50 Pakistani Women

The book reads like a storybook complete with colourful pictures. It features brief stories of women heroes with illustrations, exquisitely hand-drawn by the young artist using different mediums from coloured pencils to markers. Each chapter looks into their lives, their journey and their successes. When Abidi was making the list of women for the book, she realised that there are so many amazing women in Pakistan that “the book could’ve easily been about 1,000 Pakistani women” she said, adding that she hopes to cover them in coming books “because Pakistani women do not lack talent, bravery and brilliance.”

The artist, Maliha Abidi, busy working in her art studio. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

The idea behind the book is simple — to highlight the contribution of Pakistani women despite all odds. “Like many countries, Pakistan has its owns problems, but at the same time, here’s a book about women who have achieved immense greatness.”

When asked about her personal favourite hero from the book, she said “It is like asking a mother to pick her favourite child. This book is like my baby and for each story, each illustration, I have worked with equal passion.”

And Abidi hopes it would inspire and teach girls the way it did her.

Supportive family

Abidi feels proud to be surrounded by a family who supports her passion. The two people who have been most supportive of her efforts have been her father, Jaweed Abbas, and husband, Askari. “At times when I was overwhelmed, they kept encouraging me.” She did not have any professional training in art, but picked up paintbrushes at an early age following her father’s passion for art. “His constructive criticism and support is the reason where I stand today with my art.”

Future plans

Abidi plans to combine her knowledge of neurosciences and passion for art to start a non-profit for women that will focus on women, improving their mental health by offering them a creative, therapeutic platform and provide them with a safe space where they can grow with the power of art.