Measuring a massacre – Should we mourn for longer? Louder?

Published: December 19, 2014

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar December 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Out of a student body of a little over 1000, 132 children are dead. At a moment like this, how do you quantify tragedy? If a thousand children were standing in line, every tenth child was shot and killed. One in 10.

“One in 10 children worldwide has no access to schooling.”

One in 10 families whose children went to Army Public School (APS) probably wish this statistic applied to them.

“There are 1.6 hours of dream consciousness for every 16 hours of waking consciousness; this means that your chance of dreaming at any given moment is one in 10.”

There is a one in 10 chance that you are dreaming right now. One in 10 households affected by this massacre in Peshawar are probably hoping to wake up.

“One in 10 children in the UK is a victim of neglect.”

10 in 10 of the children in our country are continuously failed by Pakistanis on a social and administrative level.

10 in 10 children are expected to come home when they leave for school.

No parent should be made to identify if the murdered child lying in front of them is theirs or someone else’s. To be caught between finding answers and hoping the answer is not a birthmark or a barely recognisable face left ravaged. No parent should have the last memory of their child burned into their conscience.

“So, you’ve changed your display picture to black. What will that achieve?”

I don’t know. Tell me what I can do that might change something and I’ll do it. I saw my friends and family expressing despair in the few ways they could. My mind is preoccupied, questioning how something of this magnitude could happen. I don’t think I can question the intentions of the living at this point.

On December 16, I was spending the day with my brother and his family. He has three daughters. Three healthy and highly intelligent kids aged 11, nine and three. During dinner, my brother, sister-in-law and I were eating in silence, making the usual chattering of these kids all the more pronounced. At one point, my sister-in-law snapped.

“It doesn’t matter who opens the new ketchup bottle!” she yelled, “A 100 children have been killed in Pakistan. Those are a lot of kids that have died. Senselessly.”

There was silence for maybe a few minutes. And then the chatter gradually resumed. It’s not because these kids are insensitive or ambivalent. It’s because children of that age cannot fathom a tragedy of that magnitude. And they shouldn’t be expected to. A child cannot make sense of his teacher’s body burning in front of him like it happened in Peshawar. A child cannot understand why he is being made to kill his classmates. A child can’t be expected to piece together the reasons why he is the lone survivor in an entire grade, just because an alarm clock failed to ring. I can’t understand it. How can a child?

“We are a nation that was built on resilience, don’t you know? Something like this happens and the next day we soldier on.”

Is this supposed to be comforting? Inspiring? So, we are a nation of Nero’s playing the fiddle as the palaces burn. Our symphony rises to a crescendo and then fades away. Should we perhaps mourn for longer? Louder?

I don’t know.

What was going through the minds of those seven Talibans when they were told of this plan? I’d like to believe that someone within their ranks might have perceived it for what it was: utter insanity. Or did people volunteer? What was going through their minds when they were pulling the trigger? Were the rows upon rows of children, turning their heads in unison towards them, when they stormed the auditorium, really seem like a mass of targets? Did their uniforms make it easy to perceive them as creatures completely different from them?

Was there a flicker of doubt? For maybe a second? I’d like to believe there was. My opinion on humanity cannot imagine that people might exist who can carry out an act so brutal, so vicious, so unimaginably merciless.

But they do exist. And they roam among us. Untouched behind a shield of a mutated religion. Their decisions clouded behind a smoke-screen of self-righteousness. And that perhaps is scarier than anything else. Most serial killers and the criminally insane believe that there is something wrong with them. Eventually, they show remorse or, at the very least, are so damaged that you can look at them and understand they need to be helped.

How do you segregate the groups of people who supported this plan? Or who condoned it? It’s a fear I cannot describe. Because they are real.

As children, we were scared of monsters under our beds or outside our walls. Now, stories are being written of monsters on pulpits and in the garb of wise preachers, cultivating more like them. Each one of these monsters and demons preparing to be part of the next story that will be written in our children’s blood.

When I heard about what had happened at the APS, I regret to admit that I had dismissed it as more deaths coming out, as news blurbs from my country. It’s easy to be distracted when you aren’t living there. By evening, when the siege was over, the gravity of those numbers started to seep into my consciousness.

148 graves. 132 children.

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop” – The Red King to the White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland

Those are the basic tenants of effective writing – to have a beginning, middle and an end. I wish this had an end that I could write down. I would even settle for some miracle where December 16th was a beginning to something a little near tangible.

For now, I only have disjointed thoughts that go out to those disjointed families. To the children and their teachers and the people who tried to protect them. In their absence, a nation left in the middle of perpetual limbo, with a sorrow that is not close to quantifiable.


Fyez Ahmed

A Dubai based writer who tweets once a month @fyezeatscake (

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