The Choice You Made

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| This is the 503rd story of Our Life Logs |


For better or worse, it is all a matter of what we choose.

I was born in 1974 in a small settlement called Harappa in Punjab, Pakistan. My family was not too poor, but we most certainly weren’t rich. We lived in a joint home with my uncles who were illiterate farmers. My father was a little different. He worked a mediocre government job. It didn’t pay much, but still, it was better than farming.

Hoping to lift us out of our monetary class, my father made our education his top priority. Although, keeping us in school was no easy feat. Often times, he had to pick up extra shifts to cover the costs. My four siblings were very obedient and quite into their studies, but I, unfortunately, had other things on my mind. I was the rebellious one, roaming free among the villages and trying to build my “social” circle.

Despite not caring for studies, there was one thing that motivated me to attend school: debate team. When I was 12, I won first place in a debate competition. I kept competing in debate and speech as I got older. I guess I had a thirst for the rush of lifting the trophies high above my head. Winning many contests made me one of the popular guys in school and boosted my confidence.

My reputation translated well into college (grades 11 and 12), where I stayed “popular.” I joined the school’s political student union. At the time in Pakistan, unions were considered very powerful, and because powers were often misused, they also had a bad reputation. I mean, to the outside world, these student unions were nothing more than groups of goons who would bully other students and incite violence. But I didn’t see that at first. I enjoyed being part of a community, and the idea of gaining more power in school was enticing.

My popularity soared after I was selected to deliver a welcome speech for a school rally. I took it as an opportunity to showcase my speaking skills and hoped that it would land me a leadership role in the student union. After delivering a captivating speech, I was thrust into the limelight for how well I carried myself and spoke.

My father’s dreams for me to have a successful career now felt like wishful thinking, as I started to focus less on my classes and more on union duties. Seniors began inviting me to political gatherings which eventually led to my promotion as Vice President of the student union. It was a proud moment for me, but not for my family who were appalled at my choices.

After my promotion, I became more powerful in the eyes of the community. Students, teachers and staff alike respected me. It didn’t take long for this power to go to my head. I would often bully other students just for the thrill. No one dared to stop me. Their fear was thick in the air, and I got drunk on the power.

As time progressed, I became more influential among different college unions. Soon enough, I gained influence over all the students in the region from different cities. When I caught word that two unions I had power over had gotten into a gang fight, I sprang into action and helped them come to an agreement. This was something that the police were not even able to solve in the past. You can imagine how my ego swelled after this incident.

In 1992, when I continued into university for my bachelor’s degree, I still held my position in the student union. I practically became a gangster, beating anyone who was doing something I didn’t like. Because students and staff were all afraid of me, I always got my way. I could change a working day into a holiday. Quickly my name developed in the entire city. In the back of my mind, I knew I was disappointing my father who wanted me to have a good career and raise the living standards for my family. But at the time I didn’t care, because, well, I was so drunk on the power.

After completion of my bachelor’s in 1996, I took admission to a master’s program. By then, the criminal world had taken over my life, and I didn’t attend a single lecture at school. A month before the final exams, I hadn’t even cracked open any of my textbooks.

In the midst of running my gangster life with school in the very back of my mind, I received a phone call from my father who was excited for his son to finish his master’s degree. “I look forward to attending your graduation ceremony, son!”

He told me that many other relatives and villagers planned to come too since I was the first one in my entire village to get this high level of an education. My stomach sank when I realized how many people were counting on me. They had no idea that I was not going to clear my degree. I knew I couldn’t let them down, so I decided to ensure I graduated in my own way—the gangster way.

I contacted the head of the university academics and asked him to pass me despite the little effort I put in my studies. The administration could tell how desperate I was and agreed to pass me with my low grades, but, of course, there was a price—a hefty set of fines. I was appalled by the price tag, but I knew I had no choice but to come up with the money. After six years of education funded solely by my father’s savings, I couldn’t fail him. It wasn’t an option. I decided to do whatever it took to pay the fines.

But the question was, how? A few of my close friends were in the same situation, looking to pay the heavy fines to graduate with forged grades. We were all struggling, trying to find a way out, until one of my friends proposed a bizarre idea. A bank robbery. I know, it was a terrible idea, but we were desperate. I knew it was wrong and that it would be difficult, but to make my parents feel proud, I was willing to do anything.

My friends and I were no strangers to weapons, so we were confident we’d get the job done. We started researching banks, building structures, security, employees, how much money was kept in each branch, and the routine of transporting the money…

All of us on the plan had the same criminal mind, except for one. This friend was a gentleman who actually wanted to go somewhere in life. He had ambitions and goals to join the police force, probably because it was his father’s will. As we were finalizing which bank to rob, he applied to the force but was rejected because they deemed his nature too gentle. He was very disappointed, and when he told me what had happened, I was livid.  I decided to get my friend’s application accepted at any cost.

I went to the police station. The head officer was cordial with me, thanks to my “power.” We had tea, and I brought up my friend’s rejection. The officer immediately apologized, saying that they didn’t know he was my friend. They gave him a new application form and an additional application form as a gift. My friend was delighted by this turn of events. Then, he surprised me by suggesting I apply for the police force too. He was so excited about the idea that I didn’t even stop him from filling out the other form with my info and sending it out. I didn’t think I would get in anyway. Why would the police force want a criminal like me? I put it out of my head as we set our plan to rob the bank.

Our strategy was set. We knew the route of the van that transported money out of the bank. One of my friends followed it and made a schedule of its arrival time. Our plan was to hijack the van and get to the central lock by convincing the driver at gunpoint. We even had an exit plan figured out. We had our weapons, and waited for the day of the robbery to come. Everything was ready to go.

In the meantime, my friend who had applied for the police job on my behalf told me that we had both been selected for an interview. It was scheduled for the day before the bank robbery. Suddenly, the bank heist didn’t seem as enticing. Becoming a member of the police was an honorable job in the country.

Now, there were two paths my life could go. I could rob the bank and get my degree, or I could prepare for the interview and try my best to get the job. I asked myself, will it be satisfying to have a fake degree? Is it something I can live with for the rest of my life? My heart and mind were both saying, “No.” But then, I knew selecting the job would be against loyalty with my friends who were to accompany me in the crime.

I went to the mosque and prayed for guidance. I spoke to Allah like I would to a friend; I cried and cried, asking him to help me become a better man. That day, I made a choice to turn a new leaf away from all the criminal activity in my past and go to the interview instead. I would stop my gangster life. I had grown far from the man my father raised, and I was ashamed. I asked for His help to pass my interview.

That same day, I walked into the interview room, nervous but excited for a chance at a different life, a better life. The results came right away. I was surprised to learn that I had been selected, but unfortunately, my friend was rejected.

I was nervous to tell my dad at first. I worried he would be disappointed about my education. But to my surprise, he was thrilled by the news! He told me to take the job even if it meant quitting my studies. There, at that defining moment of my life, I finalized my choice. I would not rob a bank the following day; rather, I would become a police officer and help prevent crime instead of adding to it.

This choice changed my life. I became an Assistant Sub Inspector at a nearby station. In my first posting, I was assigned under the respectful Inspector Sikandar, who became my mentor. Over the years, he changed my criminal, power-tripped mind and made me see how good and bad differentiated. He taught me, “There are always two ways to walk for a person—the right way and the wrong way. There are no grey areas.” He inspired me to promise myself that from there on, I would always follow the right path, no matter how hard it might be.

Later, I was transferred to my hometown police station, where I worked with my full sincerity and honesty. I recently got promoted to the rank of Inspector and was posted to the nearby city, Okara. I don’t know what it was that made me change my decision that many years ago, maybe the prayers of my father. But I’m glad and grateful that I chose the right path. We all face choices in life, and what we choose makes who we are. If I had chosen to rob that bank, my life would be very different, and I would have been regretting it forever. So, be careful with your choices.

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This is the story of Ali Imran

Ali currently works as an inspector at the police department. He is expected to be promoted to the rank of DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) by the end of this year. Growing up in rural Pakistan, Ali’s father put all his money into getting Ali and his siblings educated, but Ali took advantage of that and got involved in gang violence. Desperate to hide from his father that he had been wasting his money, Ali crafted a plan to rob a bank in order to pay off his university to get his master’s degree. A turning point arrived when his friend helped him apply to enter the police force. Instead of robbing the bank, Ali chose to join the police instead. Today, he is one of the best Police officers known in the state of Punjab and has got the title of “Crime Fighter.” Ali’s story shows that it’s never impossible and never too late to make change and start a better life.

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Inspector Imran, 2019.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 5, 2020.

| Writer: Zaid Mubbasher | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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