In response to Word High July the snippet below is inspired by the Filipino word ‘kinaadman’ or ‘knowledge’. It’s part of a series charting the impact of the discovery of intelligent life in space on five ordinary people over the course of a month. Enjoy!
Image taken from Buzzfeed: “36 Of The Most Beautiful Words In The Philippine Language”. All credits goes to them.
Maliha shuffled her notes and tried to make sense of the words where the ink had been blurred by her fingers. She couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was moving too fast, like a boulder gathering speed as it rolled downhill; sure to smash anything in its path without direction or control. But almost despite herself she couldn’t seem to stop; in less than five days their building had been cleaned and rearranged. She and Ramin now had offices and the exhibition room was coming along nicely. Ramin had used the time to track down some of their friends and explained Maliha’s vision, some had been interested enough to agree to help out at least temporarily.
But it all needed money, and there was precious little left until they attracted sponsors, which was why it was so important that she make a good impression on Tariq Khan. The man was well known for philanthropic acts and had been vocal about his interest in SUPARCO, Pakistan’s space agency, joining worldwide efforts to develop information on the exoplanet believed to be the source of the signal.
“He’ll be just a few minutes longer Ms. Hassan.”
Maliha, startled from her thoughts, flashed a smile and nod at Khan’s secretary. The chair she sat in was comfortable but she couldn’t help but fidget a little, the air seemed sticky and close despite fans turning overhead. The door to Khan’s office clicked open and Maliha flinched, dropping one of her cards. She scrambled to pick it up, and felt very luck when she realised the gentleman who walked through the door was not Khan himself.
“You can go straight through Ms. Hassan,” the secretary instructed and Maliha chose to ignore the way the woman’s lips had turned up at the corners.
Inside Khan’s office was surprisingly plain, and very modern, decorated in shades of white and grey with a large glass desk. But where the office was simple, Tariq Khan was not. Surprisingly youthful for his age, his thick black hair was cut very short on the sides and tapered into a neat beard. His clothing was in a traditional style and made from the kind of elaborate fabrics that Maliha associated with Eid celebrations, in shades of gold and red with a cream sash fastening over one shoulder. She felt positively casual in her dress by comparison and tugged at the edge of one long sleeve uncomfortably.
Realising she’d been staring, Maliha rushed forward and instinctively offered her hand, only realising her error when it was too late. “Thank you for seeing me Mr Khan, particularly on such short notice.”
Khan smiled and took her hand in a firm shake.
“Not at all Ms. Hassan. From your accent I think you must be American?” he said and gestured for her to sit.
“Pakistani by birth, but raised from childhood in Canada,” Maliha replied. “Most of my mother’s family still live around Karachi however.”
Khan nodded benignly but his eyes were sharp, he reminded Maliha of her father in his mannerisms and she made up her mind to take the plunge rather than dance around her request.
“Mr Khan, as I’m sure you suspect, I’m here to ask for money,” she began. “In the past few weeks there have been fourteen attacks on individuals accused of blasphemy following their sharing information about the signal, this doesn’t include some of the abuse and threats key scientists within the Pakistani community are receiving. I want to combat the problem through the sharing of knowledge. Not at universities, not in private seminars where the wealthy can agree with each other, but in an open location that offers a safe haven for learning and sharing unbiased information with the general population.”
Chest heaving, Maliha paused. Khan was watching her keenly but made no move to speak so she continued. “The work my colleagues and I have already done demonstrates a significant population using online forums and social media as a speaking platform, but there is intrinsic mistrust of internet data; it’s so easy to falsify. We already have a building we believe can be appropriately secured for use as a physical location for peer to peer discussion as well as guest lectures and exhibitions, but not the funding to see it through.”
Khan hummed and sucked at his teeth slightly as Maliha finished but she waited, unwilling to be drawn into babbling any further. Silence was an important tactic and she let it linger.
“I like the principal of the idea and I commend your bravery in approaching me in a forthright manner,” khan said after a moment. “But I won’t commit until I see a working development plan.”
Maliha felt a stab of satisfaction and reached into her bag for the USB stick she’d prepared.
“If you are willing to look this over, I have taken the liberty of putting together an expenditure and business plan along with a 12 month vision timeline,” she replied as she handed the device to him.
Eye’s narrowed, he accepted it and tapped it on the desk thoughtfully. “I’ll look at it,” he said. “Tell me, why do you think spreading knowledge like this is so important?”
While the question wasn’t entirely unexpected, Maliha took a moment to think before she answered, tugging once more at her sleeves as she thought.
“I suppose I believe that the world is going to change now,” she replied slowly. “And I want Pakistan and our people to be an active and important part of that change. We can’t change the history that led us to shape the society we have now, but by sharing knowledge we can give people the opportunity to shape their future.”
Khan stared for a moment then turned to the intercom on his desk.
“Mrs Zaidi, please prepare a cheque for Ms. Hassan before her departure. She’ll let you know the value.”