When a city is plagued by turmoil, it loses the compass which provides a sense of direction to its people. December 16, 2014 will go down in history as the day Peshawar lost control of its political compass. Seven militants entered the Army Public School on Warsak Road and orchestrated a massacre of schoolchildren. Childhood dreams and hopes were momentarily shattered with the sound of a gunshot.
Many miles away, in Karachi, three tickers on a TV channel announced the news with disturbing precision. There was strange finality to the act which baffled me. My first reaction was to completely blot the incident out of my mind. I quickly changed the channel.
However, there was something in that ticker that instantly shattered my peace of mind. It continued to linger and eventually found residence in me — even after I had switched off the television. At the time, I brushed it off as a mixture of dread and anticipation over the stories I would edit that day as a subeditor for the Peshawar pages — stories filled with the reality of loss. But as the day went by, this explanation steadily began to lose ground.
During the course of the day, as the human story surrounding the blast began to unfold that feeling of discontent grew at a phenomenal rate. A mother mourned the loss of her children. Another woman’s children were nowhere to be found. A tear-stricken father, who had lost his son, poured his heart out on television. Every story was soaked in grief, fear and uncertainty and awakened a sense of insecurity within me.
I realised that the incident had not gone unnoticed. My friends on Facebook put up black screens as their profile pictures and wrote gut-wrenching statuses to condemn the massacre. For the first time in a long time, people had come out of their self-created shells to voice their anger and reservations over a tragedy.
It then occurred to me that I was also a victim of this sudden reality-check. For years, I had allowed myself to get accustomed to the scourge of militancy and the sounds of bombs and bullets. But now, it made little sense to remain silent. On the contrary, it was time to think, question, act and make a difference. How could they attack children? I finally asked myself. The audacity of the militants filled me with rage and resentment. When I returned home, I did the only thing that could help channelise these feelings in the right direction. I wrote about them.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2014.