Learning from the Peshawar attack, taking lessons from the children

Published: January 16, 2015
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A photograph posted by APS student, Talha Munir Paracha, on his Facebook page recreating a previous photo taken before the Peshawar attack. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

A photograph posted by APS student, Talha Munir Paracha, on his Facebook page recreating a previous photo taken before the Peshawar attack. PHOTO: FACEBOOK Children travel to school in a van in Peshawar on January 12, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Like every other day, the school bell rang and I sat in the school van, travelling home with a wide smile on my face. The reason was quite evident; the next day I was going to Peshawar to attend a family wedding!

I live in Karachi but I was going back home and I was excited.

As I entered the lounge in my house, I saw my mom weeping in front of the television. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why. Then I paid more attention to the news blaring in the background and for those few moments, I felt the ground beneath me disappear. I couldn’t breathe.

The news ticker was trying to cope with a number; that number was the amount of students who had been brutally murdered in an attack – an attack that took place at a school. A school in Peshawar. I had to jolt myself back to reality in order to digest the information my brain had just accepted but refused to understand. The people attacked were little kids. Children, teenagers who went to attend school, just like I had. That could have been my school. Those kids could have been me and my classmates. I couldn’t stop imagining myself in place of those children, I couldn’t stop visualising the inhumanity these kids must have witnessed; their teachers and friends were incinerated, beheaded and shot at in front of them. I couldn’t understand how anybody, no matter how barbaric, could have the heart to put little children through such trauma.

We started packing for our journey the next morning, only this time there was no excitement. There was a sinking feeling in my chest; a void inside screaming painfully, forcing me to think of the parents who lost their children, the children who lost their siblings, about those families that had been ruthlessly torn apart.

The next morning, we left for Peshawar. Upon arriving in the city, we drove to my grandmother’s house. Our route, however, was as colourless as a blank canvas; pale, expressionless faces and eyes filled with sorrow. If there was colour, it was in the eyes of the people of Peshawar, and if that colour were to be painted onto a canvas, the canvas itself would cry – such was the pain those eyes beheld. The wind mourned and each ray of sunshine posed the same grey question, why would anyone stoop to such an inhumane level?

Posters of smiling children, children who had been killed in the attack, covered the walls of the city. I asked my uncle to stop at the school. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I had to see for myself. It was around 5:30 in the evening and a large number of army men were standing around the school but I managed to make my way close to the main gate. The sound of nothingness filled the air. I was already grief-stricken but as I stood there, I felt an elevated rush of sorrow altogether. Pictures of the martyrs with bouquets and candles had been placed along the gate. It was then that I couldn’t control my tears. I couldn’t fathom just how hard it must have been for the parents to recognise, register and cope with their loss.

After two days, I met a lady who told us the story of her relative. She said her aunt’s son and daughter were studying at the Army Public School. She explained that on the day of the attack, when the son heard the firing, he ran towards the main gate and even made it there successfully, only to realise that his sister was still inside the school. He went back to rescue her. His sister made it out alive but she came without her brother. He had been shot in the head.

Death doesn’t carry a calendar and no one has been able to contemplate the gambling of fate. One of my Bhabi’s (sister-in-law) aunts also told us the tale of how her son escaped. When he heard the firing, he was on the third floor of the building. He somehow managed to climb down the balcony and escape from the back of the building. One of my aunt’s nephews witnessed the entire scene from the opening in the washroom’s ventilator; he is undergoing psychotherapy now.

During my two week stay in Peshawar, every day I heard of such incidents. Then a few days before coming back to Karachi, I asked my uncle to take me back to the school one last time. When I got there, I saw a woman standing by the main gate, staring at the building. Wondering how they gave her permission to get so close to the main gate, I inquired about her from a soldier. He replied saying,

“She is one of the mothers whose son died in the massacre and if we deny her of anything, she reacts violently.”

He told me that the lady would visit the school every day and ask,

Chutti shwi? Os ba zamaa bachey razi.

(Is the school time over? My son will come out now.)

That is why they had given her permission to go near the building for half an hour every day. After a little while, she would go back home herself, but she would come again the very next day, the very same time.

On the day we were travelling back to Karachi, I met one of my uncle’s colleagues at the airport. She told us how her relative, a small child, saw other kids being shot one by one and he had to hide under one of his friend’s bodies, pretending to be dead so he wouldn’t be killed. Unfortunately, he moved his leg from underneath the bodies and the attackers fired five bullets right at it. They wanted to make sure no one was live. While the child did manage to escape, he managed this with a broken heart, a scarred soul and a tattered leg.

On my way back to Karachi, I had realised that while I may have physically been present on the plane, I knew that my heart was not with me. My heart was no longer my own, my heart had gone out to every individual who had suffered a loss through this tragedy, my heart went out those who survived it and my heart went out to Peshawar, my home.

On January 12, 2015 the schools and colleges were to reopen. When I woke up and was getting ready for college, the APS attack was still on my mind. I kept thinking about those students who had escaped the atrocities and were probably getting dressed for school just the way I was. I tried to imagine what they must have been thinking…

If I were in their place, would I not cry, scream and question my parents about sending me back to the same place that was a real life nightmare? Would I cry and tremble with fear every time I would hear a loud noise? Would I be able to pass through the school corridors without noticing the pungent smell of death surrounding me; the smell of my teacher being burnt to death right before my eyes? Would I be able to hear the sound of the bell ringing without also hearing the sound of the children screaming and crying in pain and fear? Would I be able to concentrate on the words on our classroom blackboard without first visualising the faces of my friends being horrifically torn apart and hunted down by those barbarians? Would I be able to ignore the scent of new paint only to be reminded of the red blood that was splattered all over it? Would I be able to imagine this school as a school and not a graveyard?

I was still consumed in these thoughts when I reached the entrance of my college; Rangers stood on guard with huge weapons in their hands. The sound of death hanging in the air was palpable and exceedingly disturbing; this time when I entered college, that feeling of security and safety that I used to feel had disappeared. All I could think was what if, God forbid, attackers entered my college? What would I do? Would I run or just freeze? Would I get shot or would I survive? Would anyone come to save me?

While thoughts like these nagged at me the entire day, another thought I had was that of the children going to the Army Public School in Peshawar that same day. While I sat, far away pondering over the answers to so many of these questions, those brave souls attended the first day of school after the attack. They went in there with a renewed sense of hope. Yes, they must have been scared, they must have been petrified, but they were all there. They stood up to face that bright new day, with all its ambiguity and uncertainty. They stood up to face that risk, to challenge those attackers and to make our country proud. It is that kind of resilience that Pakistan needs. Not the kind that forgets that the attack took place. Not the kind of resilience which means ‘moving on’ from the attack. We need the kind of resilience that stands up in the face of adversity and challenges its very being. That is the kind of resilience we need. That is what Pakistan needs to learn from the Peshawar attack.

Kulsoom Masood

Kulsoom Masood

A student of Fsc who has keen interest in current affairs and politics and is intending to study Social Development and Policy as a bachelors program. She tweets @CuleZCharm (twitter.com/CuleZCharm)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abdul Majid Awan

    Touching.Recommend

  • Ali

    “chutti SHWA*…..”
    Recommend

  • Parvez

    I am proud and humbled by the courage shown by the parents and the children of this school, who are everyday Pakistanis…….and I am ashamed and disgusted by the behavior of our so called elected leaders.Recommend

  • QB

    I am out of words, feelings and expressions !!
    I feel haunted and traumatized while entering my college gate. The same insecure feeling haunts me the whole time, asking me several questions, that you have mentioned in your article.
    May Allah keep everyone of us safe, be it children, teachers, staff, EVERYONE. Ameen.Recommend

  • Queen

    Very nice blog. My heart aches for the mother who waits for her son everyday, May Allah give her patience and the ability to cope up with the tragedy.Recommend

  • Amb

    I had the same thoughts but you put them in such beautiful lines . I wouldn’t have the courage to go back . :( .The lives of these children have been changed forever.and the song dedicated to these children made me cry Recommend

  • Maria

    Heart wrenching article! We can never forget our flowers who had been plucked off before they could fully bloom. May Allah’s wreath be on those who plot ideas to kill the innocents and may Allah bestow his mercy and love over those who lost their jewels in this Peshawar attack and elsewhere, ameen.Recommend

  • Kulsoom Masood

    The sorrow couldn’t be expressed in words! Still I am happy being able to convey what I felt about the incident to the readers …thankyou very kuch for appreciation!
    May we all have a safe future ahead
    Recommend

  • Aneeqha

    Nicely written Recommend

  • Ahmed

    May Allah bless all those students and their famillies and give health to the injured Ameen.
    Dear u have covered the whole incident at your best and believe me i couldn’t stop my tears to come out while reading! But the matter of fact is we all including me have forgotten the values of humanity , brotherhood , unity , respect of humanity! We all are living in cruel and barbaric era! Nobody is bothering whatever is happening to any human being regardless of sect , religion! We are treating humans like machines! I wonder why always it requires such barbaric and inhuman tragedies to knock up our heads , why always we need such incidents as an eye opener , it has been only one month since the Peshawar Massacre and look at our selves , our politicians so called our leader whom are suppose to lead from front , everything has been forgotten , we are living normal life , everybody is busy with their routines, have we seen any solid action since then ? What are politicians doing ? The are simply clearing their tales! They are least concerned! If nothing can happen in the aftermath of Peshawar attack believe you me we cannot except any better if God forbid such incident happens again!
    However its my pray May Allah help us and give patience to the families of Peshawar attack! AmenRecommend

  • Anam

    May Allah give her patience…ameenRecommend

  • Aziz Awan

    May Allah bless the affected families and give patience to their parents to bear such loss Ameen!
    A very heart touching and sad blog but very nicely covered the whole incident though words can’t explain the depth of such dreadfull, mournful and saddest tragedy! I wish and pray that it could be the last eye opener for our leadership to leave their own luxuries and knock thier heads to start taking blunt and right decisions! May Allah bless this nation Ameen!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    A very mature and well written blog. I see that you are just in your Fsc atm. I hope we see more of your great writing soon. Kepp up the good work. Well doneRecommend

  • mel

    I also study Fsc in APS&C (Gujranwala Cantt’s branch)t.This blog exquisitely highlights the feelings of every student in Pakistan.
    Especially the feelings of those who wear the same uniform.Just two days after the attack we got this news that my school along with 12 other APS all over the country are under the Red List and are prone to another such attack.Schools across the country were closed immediately but for APS the threat still exists.
    I still shiver with fear when I wear the same green coat in which hundreds of innocents were martyred.I still shiver when I write in the same green notebook in which they wrote ‘THE END”.My cousins ask me if I am scared to go to school but I always conclude by saying that nothing,not even death,can stop me from getting education.
    This attack has left a huge scar on the heart of every student especially APSACIANS and now I believe that it’s up to us to change the situation of our country.We, the new generation of the country,are suffering the most and if we want to change our situation then instead of waiting for our futile government to do something we ourselves should take stand and should no longer expect anything from the government.Recommend

  • Ibrar Muhammad

    I have carefully read your narration on one of the the tragedy that again jolted the land of Pakhtoon.You have expressed your feelings,emotions and sympathies in beautiful innocent words,These tragedies are the gifts being given to us by the Punjabi establishment.It is good to convey you my historical feelings and history of tragedies on our mother land ,Your father know me and my father, his grand father.very well.A century ago he had joined Khudai Khimatgar and had waged a war against the British imperialism under the leadership of great Bacha Khan,Azad schools were established and a Pakhtoon magzine namely PAKHTOON was also issused in 1927.All these efforts were to educate illetrate Pakhtoons and get rid of MULAISM.But the rulers of this country branded our forefathers as GHADADR.The rulers of this country promoted religious fundamentalism and they intentionally kept Pakhtoons ignorant,They used Pakhtoons for their vested interest .they trained Mulas for Afghan JEHAD and resultantly our land is a battle field.you should paint your article with red history and also add the other tragedies of PAKHTOONS.I appreciate your efforts and hope you will be the future of Pakhtoon.Recommend

  • Nausheen Jalil

    Very well-written piece Kulsoom. You have penned down the fears of hundreds of children out there, spelt the bravery & resilience of thousands others and portrayed the grief of millions like us who feel as if our hearts have been wrenched out of our bodies leaving behind a bleeding mass of blood vessels. Yet, yet these children in their shahadat have taught us all a very important lesson…to be brave and to come out and save other children like them from a similar fate.Recommend

  • Erum Ali

    This lad has brilliant feelings , I have no words to describe my feelings about the little children who were brutally killed , and for their parents even . How can one forget these cataclysms ?
    O Allah ! protect our Religion , country and our beloved children , and grant patience to the parents of those who were martyred that unfortunate day . Amen .Recommend

  • Kiran

    Very well written. Recommend

  • Kulsoom Masood

    Thankyou very much! I intend to write more stuff in future inshaAllah Recommend

  • Kulsoom Masood

    Thankyou very much ma’am, I wanted people to fathom the feelings behind this article and i think I have succeeded to a great extentRecommend

  • Kulsoom Masood

    Thankyou for appreciating and sharing such an important piece of informational Ibrar Uncle :) Recommend

  • Muhammad shahzaib

    very touchy ,…also take a look towards the bravery and boldness of the students of APS . who go to school again after this incident . SALUTE TO BRAVERY

    May ALLAH keep us in HIS protection and blessed the Martyred and with patient to their parents.
    we can’t express this grief in words. … .
    just tears comes with hopeless heart,……………Recommend

  • Muhammad Imran

    It is very easy to blame others for your problems. Didn’t the same fundamentalism spread in other parts of Pakistan including Punjab? Should Punjabis start blaming Pukhtoons and Sindhis for that because Bhuttos and Khans(Ayub, Yahya) were also in control of the establishment for a long time?Recommend

  • Parwarsha

    Heart breaking… The whole world is proud of the bravery of every student who went back to APS. May the souls of those we lost rest in peace. AmeenRecommend

  • Parwarsha

    Heart breaking… The whole world is proud of the bravery of every student who went back to APS. May the souls of those we lost rest in peace. AmeenRecommend

  • midhat jafri

    extremely painful……Recommend

  • yasir

    Impressed with the writer’s prolific writing style!Recommend

  • abdulwahid

    thanXs good job may Allah almighty make our homeland terrorism free and hope so that great nation will won this battle of terrorism.Recommend

  • Sadaf Merchant. India

    Most inhuman act,it shocked everyone. The pain of the parents who lost their child in this gruesome act is unimaginable. Allah bas sabr dey.Recommend

  • Arshad Ansari

    Kulsoom, I am a proud father of 4 APSACIANS, the elder one studied in the same campus from 98-2000. my youngest one is in Prep class in Karachi, APS Saddar. I can feel the pain of the parents who lost their children….but probably not that much. i cried when i read ur article. my small child asked me baba what should I do if Talibaans came again, I told him to hide under a chair or a desk and he replied that they kill the children under the tables and desks…..do we have an answer to this….?? He wants to become a pilot and to kill these cowards. It takes a lot of effort to send our children, specially army persons, to send them to school. We are proud of our children and I am sure that we will over come these hurdles I am proud that even our 2nd and 3rd generations are sacrificing their lives for PakistanRecommend

  • Abdul Samad

    i try to convince myself that this unfortunate and ruthless killing can be averted but to whom one can blame,the Police,the army,the politicians,the bureaucracy or administration,one should come forward and say loudly ” I am responsible “. , no need for Duwa, no need for ” Ghaybana numaz” or Chelam for these innocents, because they are not died, actually we the so called society.Recommend

  • Maryam Syeda

    Daily,when I think about the attack I am suddenly in the same skool witnessing the same attack,imagining and feeling the bullets entering to my body,but just feeling and imagining,I wonder how the brave souls have felt the bullets the pain in the heart and how they’ve figured out that they are actually being killed,they are actually not going to be in this world no more and they thinking about their siblings their parents while being killed,so many thoughts in seconds,I can’t just imagine! Those terrorist were just not terrorists but brothers of Satan,but just can say cuz Allah is the one to justify not us,and we know he is gonna justify more than our thoughts! RIP to the shuhadas! But what if their body is not alive,their souls are! So…….to all Shaheeds WE REMEMBER YOU!!Recommend