A Telling Tale
By Shamim Kiyani
“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory”. Fitzgerald
Count from one to one thirty two. Multiply it with sixty two. Add another one hundred and twenty million into it and the sum total will tell you how many hearts, souls, minds, bodies, families, ideas and human beings have been brutally affected by one incident that took place in one hitherto unknown school of Peshawar on 16 December. Human history has unwillingly seen many a horrendous incident. This one will take a while to be called a national or human tragedy.
Terrorism is being abhorred. Extremism is being condemned. A not-so-friendly shake hand announces the closing down of shutters and containers. Someone has made a “larger than life” gesture. The other has made history by hoisting the flag of the “larger national interest”. For a moment, the masses forgot the empty schoolbags lying in one hundred and thirty two homes. Momentarily, a ray of hope overtook the sheer grief. And me? I am not thinking anything. I am not feeling anything. I am numb. Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps it is the end of the world. Perhaps the humanity has failed the ultimate test of logic and reasoning.
As a freelance journalist, I have travelled through Pakistan. I have lived in Peshawar for many years. I exactly know the location of the unfortunate army school. I know the surrounding areas too. There are memories attached to my second hometown. Would I ever be able to visit Peshawar now? Forget about Peshawar. Would I ever be able to write straight? Something has died inside me. Forever.
Wait. I see a mother not crying over the sudden death of her son. She is looking towards heavens with a huge vacuum in her lifeless eyes. Let me see what she is thinking. Or feeling?
Can I sit with you?
(She looks at me and nods)
Can I talk to you for a while?
(She nods again)
I am a journalist. I have come here to help. I am here to be with you in this hour of grief. Please talk to me.
What is left there to be talked about? My son is dead.
I am so sorry to hear that.
Sorry? Are you a mother?
I felt like running from the scene….fast. How can you talk to a mother who has just lost her 12 year old son? A son who has been shot dead pointblank…!!!
A Black Day. The worst ever terrorist attack in Pakistan. The most heinous crime ever committed in the Land of the Pure. Loss of precious human lives. The most savage and brutal act evr. You call it anything. To me, 16 December is an eye opener for the people of Pakistan. You will keep on experiencing such unbelievable inhuman acts unless you open your eyes wide open, distinguish between reality and perception and act accordingly. From Hamood ur Reman Commission Report to Ojheri Camp tragedy to the Zia’s mysterious plane blowing away in the air to the fall of Dhaka to Agartala case to Rawalpindi saazish to 9/11 to Usama bin Laden to Al-Qaida to Taliban to Benazir’s assassination to NRO…..there is a long list of mysteries which will perhaps never be unraveled. Peshawar army school incident is no exception.
The pattern is clear. Our short memory will remain short. In a couple of months time, there will be another tamasha to watch and we would have completely forgotten the images of 16 December. Who recalls that in 2006, in Pakistan, as many as 657 terrorist attacks, including 41 of a sectarian nature, took place, leaving 907 people dead and 1,543 others injured. In 2007, 1,503 terrorist attacks and clashes, including all the suicide attacks, target killings and assassinations, resulted in 3,448 casualties and 5,353 injuries. Do we remember that Pakistan faced 60 suicide attacks (mostly targeted at security forces) during 2007, which killed at least 770, besides injuring another 1,574 people. And in 2008, the country saw 2,148 terrorist attacks, which caused 2,267 fatalities and 4,558 injuries.
The pattern is clear. Our short memory will remain short. Do we remember that someone promised us roti, kapra aur makan? Do we stand fed, covered and housed? Do we realize that we have a third time Prime Minister who promised us electricity in months and now he is talking about 2018? Don’t we have floods every year? Who does not know that education is our number one priority? Motorways? Many of us know the tax to GDP ratio in Pakistan. We now know by heart who has amassed millions of dollars in which country and through which means? Do you need an Einstein to know why a recounting in a few constituencies has been made an enigma? All of us are aware how to spell corruption. The question is: why don’t we learn lessons? Why do we insist on accepting a country the way it is portrayed to us? “For the soul is dead and things are not what they seem”.
Am I suggesting something revolutionary? What is so disturbing about it? Just a little over one hundred school kids have been killed, mercilessly. Forget about waking up my dear fellow Pakistanis. Let us talk about …let us say….the connection between Peshawar tragedy and Malala. Oh yes, Salafis? No, Takfiris. O my God….!! Really? Taliban did it? No no….America. Oh, please….it has to be Afghanistan!! While you are at solving the mystery, let me go back to that sonless mother. I think my time would be better spent in giving her a big hug and telling her that we have “strongly condemned” the killing of your only son. Relax and enjoy this condemnation and keep looking at that empty school bag with your tear-hungry eyes.