It was one of those hazel sort of days that you sometimes get in Pakistan, in which a pleasant chill permeates the shining bright rays of the sun.
The sky was as azure as the sea and the trees never looked so verdant. Summer was just around the corner, ready to scorch all beauty from the earth, yet even this could not take away from the serenity of the moment as my family and I made our way to Islamabad for a weekend sojourn.
We got stuck in one of those interminably long CNG queues at Bhera which seem to proceed slower than the lope of a drowsy snail.
Still, a four day getaway and a cylinder full of gas would be ours eventually.
My wife and son had gone to the rest area. Something to do with nappies – it always is with young children.
My daughter took advantage of the empty passenger seat out front to scooch up and sit with her dad. She was almost a year old at the time. Of course the first thing she wanted to do was break the gear stick from which she was promptly shushed away. Her attention next fixed on the glove box. That I let her play with albeit under a watchful eye.
Ahead of us was a small Suzuki Mehran. From what I could tell it was full beyond the capacity of its creaking frame. The line was as slow as ever and the doors of the car soon burst open in perfect synchrony.
Six pot-bellied maulvis bundled out and began to stretch and yawn and scratch every last speck of itch that had tyrannised them back in the car. One of them saw my daughter and smiled, she smiled back and then she laughed. She turned to me and then back to this new found friendly face and giggled again.
I, too, acknowledged his pleasantries with an awkward head bob. And that was it. A small fleeting connection; a common human bond.
And then it came – a sort of epiphany.
What if he knew that the little girl he had looked at so tenderly was the child of Ahmadi parents?
Would the smile on his face turn into a frown?
Would he see apostasy in her innocent, creedless eyes?
Would empathy give way to hate? Would he want her to live or would he see her die?
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I have never been to Gujranwala myself. But from what I know it is a lively town; the home of the pehlwans and the self-styled food capital of Pakistan. It is where you go to eat batair or view a wrestling match fought in the ancient traditions.
But on the night of 28 and 29 Ramazan the city was host to a terrible tragedy.
It all began with an allegation against an Ahmadi youth for putting up a blasphemous image of the Ka’aba on Facebook. His denials were not enough to assuage sensitivities and retribution was demanded.
People began to gather.
Their numbers grew and grew until an an ill-tempered mob descended on the Ahmadi neighbourhood to which the youth belonged.
Local trade unions called on nearby shops and businesses to close early for the day or suffer the consequences.
Amidst the clamour of protest and the cacophony of hateful sound, a fire was lit.
Then another and another.
In no time at all, several Ahmadi homes were ablaze. The arsonists danced along with the burning flames as the police nonchalantly watched the unholy spectacle. The swarming hordes were not mere arsonists for long.
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Soon, they were also murderers; their fire having consumed the life of three innocent souls. Still they danced and revelled in their sinister feats impervious to the miseries they had wrought.
|Crowd of attackers cheers on during the attack in Gujranwala. -Screengrab|
A day later and I attended the funeral of eight-month-old Kainat, the youngest of the victims, as she was laid to rest with her seven-year-old sister and grandmother. They were buried alongside numerous other Ahmadis of all ages and backgrounds whose lives had been cruelly snatched away.
|A young child belonging to the Ahmadi community is rescued from a burning house. -Screengrab|
Eight months is less than the time it takes for a child to be conceived. The only world Kainat knew was the gentle fold of her mother’s arms.
In a selfish way, I kept on thinking about my own kids. The hopes and aspirations I have for them. How I was never caring enough. That I would embrace them the moment I got home.
I then thought of Kainat’s mother who a day before Eid had no daughters now to dress.
No thin strands of hair upon which to place a bow, no delicate hands to adorn with henna.
In her every solitary moment, she will recall them with indescribable sorrow. She will whisper to them her love as she thinks of what their futures might have held; the colours of their wedding dress and all else that was to be their destiny.
A tear trickled down my cheek. I wasn’t embarrassed by it. The eyes of most around me were wet with sorrow.
Sorrow was all anyone had.
Kainat has gone. It feels as if the rest of the kainat has departed with her. What is there left to stay for in this derelict place?
To kill one human being is to kill all of humanity. I know what that means now.
For we are all of us among the dead. I have my answer. I only wish I didn’t.
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