“Mama, I am getting late, where is my jam and bun,” my daughter started throwing tantrum at the start of the day. “Mama Bhai ko dekhen, usne mera pen nikaal liya hai.” “No Mama, she is cheating. She did it herself.” Bhai became defensive while smiling. He actually does these things. “Mama, I need some money, Pizza Hut people are coming to our school today, we have to buy a Hot Deal,” my daughter’s usual demand. “And, Mama my chocolate, you promised last week,” my daughter further added. “Oho every day, you people have a new list of choices, and it disturbs my budget,” interrupted my always complaining hubby, who is concerned about his short budget. Beeep…and with the school van horn honking, the children, waving “Allah Hafiz Mama, Allah Hafiz Papa”, were off to school.
A sigh of relief, their little fights give me real headache…..and I had a series of things to do, to tidy the room first which now showed the sight of a battleground, clear the dastarkhwan which now had so much left over food…, as they say the parents are the junk box of the children, so me and my husband had to eat all that they both had left half eaten.
But suddenly, a thought griped me with a strong pang of pain inside…isn’t it the scene in every house, every day, in the morning where school, college going children reside. Yes. And 16th December must have witnessed the same morning sight, in 147 victim families where children were getting prepared for schools and their moms must have also bade “goodbye” to their children. In the house of 6-year old Khaula Bibi, who was going to experience her first day in school, and which became her last day, and in that of Syed Abdullah Shah, 16, Syed Hassain Shah, the two brothers who had high aims to become doctor and army officer, the last morning of the bravest lady, the principal of School Tahira Qazi, who never knew that what fate had in store for her that day, and how the surviving sons of Farhat Bibi, the Urdu language teacher who lost her life while trying to protect her students, will find their mother again. And the boy whose parents had to say him goodbye for ever on the day of his birthday, the boy who wanted to become pilot and so many others. Their smiling pictures with awards, trophies, their notebooks with their thoughts, playing or giving some stage performance, all were larger than life. Many things in life which we take for granted become so special when such a tragedy stuck.
And the heart wrenching news like “There is no class 9 in APS anymore. All students were killed in the attack. Dawood, 15, is the only survivor”, statements like “Smallest coffins are the heaviest,” ‘Talk to me, I am their mother.’ “They’ve forgotten how to smile,” “acute post traumatic shock syndrome”, “a chill went through my spine”.
And then the survivors’ trauma, “a part of me was peaceful with the feeling that my son was at home. …But at that moment I did not feel that I loved my son any more than I loved these kids – all his school friends who had died”. And story of Aakif Azeem, the survivor of the deadly attack, who pens down “The Darkness Within” and questions everyone, “Everybody now enjoys their lives, they celebrate festivals on the roads, and live a life without much fear. Turn around, people, and see where I stand: on the graves of many whom I lost that days,” speaks volumes about the tragedy itself and its aftermaths.
After that fateful day….all the dreams of these students and their families shattered, moms kept waiting and their children never returned. The tragedy which had torn apart the hearts of parents had left scars which will never be filled. The tragedy has also left many questions unanswered.
With no bias to electronic media, they found their content to broadcast (along with a series of ads running intermittently, the strong selling point for them), for the entire month to play and replay the videos, collages of the picture, tears, blood, sobs, the families, the discussion of the type … “this should have been happened and that shouldn’t have been happened,” but what this tragedy has done to us the parents, the children, the education system at large.
As a first step all schools were closed for an indefinite period of time throughout Pakistan. The children were fearful, the parents were afraid to send their children back to school. The government, with its politics at its peak, was frightening the already frightened parents, with its security lapses. The security plans, viewed and reviewed again and again, with some alterations, security staff was hired and at last the schools started. The first day in Peshawar Army Public School, again became a media highlight. Some people started politics on the tragedy, but children were there, brave yet shattered from inside on the loss of their friends and classmates. The heart wrenching stories hit the media, as to how these children responded. The schools, like in other parts of Pakistan, were also opened in Karachi albeit under the sense of great fear. Like all other parents, I was also afraid to send my kids, as the stories of sending threatening mails and letters, were taking round, specially in English medium, Grammar schools or convents giving modern education, which in the opinion of these terrorists were drifting children from Islam, were the main target.
Alert exercises were started in schools, where the children were trained; special self-defence training was also imparted. Suddenly, the experts of disaster management came up with the novel idea of giving training to children how to use firearms. The teachers were also asked to keep guns. And, those who were holding pen and pencil earlier were now holding guns. (And I just thought and prayed that God forbid, Pakistan never ever witnesses 7/7 incident (in case these children are keeping guns with them).
Stories were also taking rounds that terrorists are not only sending threatening mails but also throwing “shrouds” in various schools. More fears. The only solace was the staunch belief on “death is inevitable. A Muslim is always prepared for it.” So no fear. But the fear was there, deep down. One can’t stop it. I would madly wait for my children’s text messages after they returned home. Only five minutes late and I would start frantically calling them. I started giving special lessons to my kids, telling them that they shouldn’t be afraid of death. But suddenly I felt, that my children were not paying much attention. They were busy in watching the stories of those children from Peshawar high school, who were going back to school more than that of my preaching.
And one day, not withstanding my anxiety, I asked my kids? “Aren’t they afraid?” And both of them said, unanimously, “No mama”. And with more somber voice, my son replied: “Mama, Peshawar school children were also like us. They have resumed their school. And the survivors, who either didn’t attend school that day, or were saved in the tragedy, are braver than us, because they have witnessed the tragedy face to face and now they have to start afresh. “And what this shroud throwing and threatening letter stories”, I was awe struck. And he said, “Mama these are cowards. Musalmaan maut se nahin darta. (A Muslim is never afraid of death). They are not Muslims, that is why, they are trying to scare us”.
And then I had a sigh of relief. Yes, I should be thankful to Allah that I have not seen the tragedy personally. And many thanks to Allah that I am mother of two children who are safe and sound. They are with me. Their little fights and their concerns, our struggle to provide for their needs, is just because they are with us—brave and confident. They are sad on the loss of lives of these children, but that have given them extra strength to see the stark reality in black and white and think maturely on the major issue which has disturbed the whole world—terrorism.
And then I found further strength in songs like “Bara Dushman bana phirta ha jo bachon se darta hai”. “Maa mujhe jana hai …dushman k bachon ko parhana hai”. Yes, these are our real “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie”. Salute to my little flowers and their families. You are our real heroes.