In July, 19-year-old student Nisar Bostan embarked on his own stammering challenge for Ramadan. Here he explains how his quest for openness led him there.
I hail from a Pakistani family. My dad stammered until his late teens and I have stammered ever since I can remember. As a child I was never made aware of it, oblivious to its constraints. But my bubble soon popped. As was tradition, my mother sent me to the local mosque to learn the recitation of the Quran. It was part and parcel of the rituals, almost sacrilegious to do otherwise. All of my Muslim friends did so too. On one occasion (I remember it as clear as mineral water) I was caught talking out of hand by my teacher. Singling me out (rightfully so), he asked what it was that was flirting my attention away from the holy book of God. I remember stammering on every syllable I was trying to vomit out. “That is w-w-why you should n-n-never talk in c-c-class,” he said back. Not fair. Needless to say, the class was in ruptures by that disparaging pun thrown at me. I clasped my head in my hands and wept, staying in that position until home time. None of the seniors dared to question the status quo; a culture of tolerance. I left to the taunts of the other children. I was nine and felt hopelessly impotent.
My family moved to Birmingham when I was 10. I was excited but fearful of how I would fare with alien people, different surroundings and life without my grandparents being nearby. My new school embraced me with open arms. I made friends who kept me away from the preying eyes of bullies but went through a radical transformation. The buoyant child I once was was no more. I stayed reclusive and reticent, holding back from putting my hand up in class. I spent weekends at home chewing on revision books and watching an endless reel of Bollywood movies. It beat explaining to others why I moved from London to B-b-birmingham, or that I had three sissssters. Mum pushed my stammer to one side, claiming that it would whizz off as I got older. “Nisar, don’t think about it too much,” she said. “It will go away soon. Look at your dad… he doesn’t stammer now, does he?”
When the time came, I was sad to leave the safe haven of primary school to go to an all boys Muslim secondary school. There I kept my head down, befriended everyone and got impressive grades enabling me to go to university. Barring a few close friends, no one there knew I stammered. I used the lot - breathing techniques and substitutions. Maybe a little quiet, I was ‘ordinary’ in the eyes of others and that was all that mattered. It was only at university that I was encouraged to dig deeper and explore myself. University was awesome! I acquainted myself with one of the most alluring girls there. She was my best friend and had a lisp (cute, eh?). I did my homework on time, sat at the front of the class and knitted in with a group of charismatic individuals, attracting attention for good reasons and dawdling with the girl I had fallen heads over heels for.
Last summer, my mum decided to move back to London after divorcing my dad. Moving to a new university, a new home with new neighbours and an entourage of family was the epitome of nuisance for someone who stammers. My guard fell when I had to give a presentation in a tutorial. I started with a pun, evoking laughter from classmates. That was where the mirage, the same mirage I had been living in for 19 years, gave way. Techniques have limitations. I stammered on every other word and sought refuge in reading from the board, red-faced. No one laughed, thank God. I don’t know what my reaction would have been if they had. My compassionate friends gave me a rousing round of applause.
That night was the first time I was coerced into facing my demons. Was this how I wanted to spend the rest of my life? Rehearsing everything I wanted to say? Wanting to fit in and be deemed ‘normal’? If so, how did that reflect on me as a person, my morals and principles? Why did I feel unsatiated and frustrated even when I spoke fluently? Stammering is innate within me. It is a blessing, not a predicament. It makes me different.
Stammering is innate within me. It is a blessing, not a predicament. It makes me different.
I have always wanted to do something positive for others. At the time of writing it is halfway through Ramadan and I have devoted the month to raising funds for BSA and stammering awareness by going into mosques and schools (including my old school) and telling the wonderful people who spare their time that we do not need sympathy, but empathy. I hope that my act inspires others. Has it been scary? Of course! But I am on course to hit the £800 target I set myself.
There is no greater feeling than stammering openly and saying everything I want to say. No substitutions, no techniques, just the spontaneous me, stammer and all. It is hard, sometimes impossible - but so is getting up for work on Monday mornings. It’s all thanks to the folk at BSA who let me volunteer at the office for the summer, and especially Trustee Mandy Taylor, who, before meeting her, I never knew stammering openly was allowed. Stammering is slowly becoming… normal.
From Speaking Out Summer/Autumn 2014, p.12