It couldn’t have happened on a worst day. December 16 is not an ordinary day in the chequered history of our country, but if anything could erase the bitter memories of December 16, 1971, it had not to be any less inauspicious and devastating than what we witnessed on December 16, 2014.
It started off as a normal day with the weather here in Peshawar like most parts of the country cold and turning colder by the day. Peshawar’s winters are as infamous for their intensity as its relentless and long summers.
But the students, on way to their schools in their cars and rickety buses and vans, seemed quite indifferent to the extreme vagaries of weather. In their colourful school uniforms, they looked as happy as birds, looking forward expectedly to their forthcoming winter vacation with promises of fun-filled activities from their parents.
But it was not to be. As soon as the news of the brutal terrorists having entered one of their schools was aired, Peshawarites came out of their homes and places of works and started running helter skelter. The traffic came to a halt as if a trumpet had been blown. Those in their motors at the ubiquitous check posts and unwary of the heart wrenching drama unfolding in their city looked aghast at those running wildly on roads.
Parents whose loved ones were trapped in the hapless school left their vehicles in the middle of the roads and were seen running bare-footed and crying uncontrollably. The pandemonium was widespread, and even those who did not have their children in the Army Public School were seen crying loudly on the roads. With no one aware of his bearing and surrounding, it looked that the feared apocalypse had finally struck.
Peshawarites are no stranger to extreme forms of violence unleashed by Taliban and militants of various shades since the onset of the present millennium. Suicide bombings, targeted killings and kidnapping for ransom have battered the provincial metropolis beyond recognition. In one most brutal suicide bombing in 2009 in the Meena Bazaar area, frequented mostly by women, more than 150 people lost their lives while not far from the same site one hundred and twenty seven Christians were mowed down by two young suicide bombers inside the All Saints Church.
Living here in Peshawar where death shadows us every step of our fugacious existence, one had literally reconciled to the fait accompli. But then who could have even imagined that the predators will target our children with such unrestrained ferocity. It was inconceivable to accept the killing of even one child, and thus when the first news of five students having been injured filtered in people anticipated with bated breath that the tragedy will be contained at that level.
What later transpired with the death toll climbing unstoppably and crossing one hundred literally left all and sundry bereft of any sense of understanding. Why, God why, the air was rent asunder with the refrain that seemed to be emanating from all around. There was hardly anyone left untouched as people started crowding outside the houses of the victims. Consoling the devastated parents was out of question as those who were supposed to do so were themselves in need of being taken out of their state of paroxysm.
The evening of December 16, is indeed the darkest yet to have ever descended on Peshawar. One tried to offer condolence to a grieving father who was preparing to take the dead body of his son to Landi Kotal. But then one had to give up, breaking down uncontrollably. The killers must not have been human beings, born to normal human beings. How could they do it, how could they harm even a single limb of those young souls let alone ending their brief existence so mercilessly?
One must respect the emotions and feelings of the parents who have lost their beloved ones by refraining from recollecting the gruesome circumstances surrounding their felling.
People across the world irrespective of their religious backgrounds are offering prayers for the children of Peshawar. One learnt from a friend, Carol Gould, that even Jews were planning services in their synagogues. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, are venting their emotions on the social media.
But do those children need our prayers? Whenever one tries to raise hands for a prayer for their sinless souls, some supernatural force intervenes and preempts such attempts. They were our sinless young angels; it is inconceivable to think they might have committed any wrong. If anything, one might in fact need their intercession to ask for forgiveness of our own sins, the grievous one being that we could not save them from the claws of the pitiless murderers.
For quite some time one was thinking of translating one of Ajmal Khattak’s poems titled ‘Faryad’ (Lament) that the late Pashtun poet had devoted to the dispossessed of the society. One had never thought the protagonists in the ‘Lament’ would be these young children.
Published in Dawn December 20th , 2014