I killed them!

I am ten years old.
I lived in a small house in a village not far from Lahore. My father worked as a school teacher. My mother worked at home. I had a brother and a sister. My brother wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. My sister wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. My father wanted all of us to study hard and be his pride. My mother wanted us to be healthy and to have a long life.

I did not like studies as much as my brother and sister did. My father had promised me that if I worked hard for the exams, we would be able to visit Lahore for a day. I had never seen Lahore.
My father had visited Lahore. He had said that in March, Lahore had spring and it was full of flowers and butterflies. I loved flowers.

So I studied hard. The exams were over on Friday. In the evening of Friday, I begged my father to take me to Lahore. My mother did not want to go to Lahore. She said it was waste of money but I cried and cried. So my father agreed to take all of us to Lahore on Sunday.
We went by bus. We got to Lahore by the afternoon. I was so happy to be in Lahore. It was full of people, cars, shops, flowers and fun.

Our father took us to a park. We had ice cream and candies. For hours we played in the park while my parents talked, laughed and enjoyed seeing us playing together.

Then it was time to leave. I was so sad leaving the park but we had to get back home. As we were walking out, I needed to go to the wash room. So my parents and my siblings decided to wait for me at the gate while I quickly went to the wash room not far from the gate. As I was in the wash room, I heard a noise louder than any noise I had ever heard. I ran out of the wash room. .

I saw people running here and there. What had happened? I did not know. All I could see were children and women and men, crying, screaming, and lying in blood. There were legs and arms around me.

I ran and ran to the gate and when I got there, there was no one waiting for me. I ran around and found my father with no arms and maybe no life. My mother was lying unconscious without legs. I could not find my brother. I found his head somewhere but not him. My sister was lying in blood and mourning. I shook her, urged her to get up but she did not respond.

The police and ambulances came and took them and me to the hospital. My brother had died. The rest were dying but I praying and prayed for them to live but they did not live, all of them died.

If only I had not insisted on going to Lahore, they would have been alive. I cannot forgive myself, nor can I forgive the man who came with a bomb and took away all that I had. Why did he do this? Did he have no children? Did he have no parents?

Maybe he had no one like me, but if he had them, why did he leave them alone.

But it was not him who killed them; my dream of seeing the city of lights Lahore darkened my world.

I killed them!

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‘Are you married?’

Kamran

‘Are you married?’

I am asked this question all the time; but never before had it been asked so simply by a boy called Kamran. I met him in Lahore in a school where children of those men and women study without whom the gardens of Lahore will not be green and the houses of Lahore will not be clean.

You

‘No I am not.’

‘Are beautiful people not married?’

‘No they are, but I am not beautiful.’

‘You are beautiful just like my mother. She is not married too.’

‘Oh!’

Our first reactions are outcomes of our upbringing. Our second reactions, the demonstration of our capacity to blend the values of our upbringing with the realities of our surroundings. I had thought he was an illegitimate child and exclaimed Oh!

After Oh came the thought that this may not be true and even if it was there could be many reasons.

‘My father died and no one wants to marry her.’

‘But that is fine.’

‘Do you have money to buy your food?’

‘Yes I do but why do you ask.’

‘My mother does not. She does for ten days of a month and not for twenty days of a month.’

‘Oh then what do you do.’

‘She works as a cleaning woman. Sometimes she gets food from the places she works at, but when she does not, we go to sleep without food.’

I did not want to continue my conversation with the seven year old boy Kamran. I knew I would hear a story of suffering enough to keep me awake for half the night.

I started to look for money in my handbag. A habit, I have developed to escape responsibility, accountability and reality.

‘You live in London.’

‘Yes I do.’

I continued to search for money.

‘Will you stop searching for money and look at me.’

‘Of course.’

‘Are people in London hungry.’

‘Maybe.’

‘No they are not. You are just saying it to make me feel better.’

‘Yes they are not but how do you know.’

‘My mother says I must study so that I can never be hungry. I think people in London will not be hungry. Why are they not hungry?’

‘Because they have education. When you get educated, you will also not be without food. Does your mother have education?’

‘No. That is why I want her to get married to an educated man. Then we will not be hungry.’

His innocence was tragic.

‘Yes but you must study hard so that neither you nor your mother is ever hungry.’

‘Yes I will work hard. I will become a doctor.’

‘Yes.’

‘I can come to London then.’

‘You can go to London or America or wherever you want to.’

‘I will have a car.’

‘Yes a big car.’

‘So I must study hard.’

‘Yes because if you do not then your children would be hungry too.’

‘But if I study hard then I will marry a pretty woman like you.’

‘Yes you will and then have a big house.’

‘In London.’

‘Of course in London.’

‘London must be a very big city.’

‘It is a huge city.’

‘Just like Lahore. Is London better than Lahore?’

‘Oh no Lahore is better.’

‘How can it be better, people like me have no food to eat. Men like my father have no doctors.’

‘Do you dream Kamran?’

‘All the time.’

‘So let us together dream of a Lahore like London.’

‘It will have food.’

‘Lahore has food.’

‘For people like you, not for people like me. In Lahore of my dreams no one goes to bed without food. Everyone has real food to eat.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Cooked food, not like me who only has bread and onions. Everyone has chicken, eggs, vegetables, deserts. In my Lahore everyone would have money every day, not on some of the days. In my Lahore everyone would have a doctor.’

My Lahore already had everything he was seeking. Did I and him live in different Lahore? We did not.

‘You know now why I want to go to London, did you go to London for food?’

‘Yes Kamran’

‘And you got food’

‘Yes loads of it and so will you.’

‘Alright then I will study hard.’

I had at last found some money to give him for food. He did not take the money. He wanted to earn the money some day soon to buy food.

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Salute the Martyrs!

As a child, my favorite stories in my Urdu text books were of martyrs of wars. I would sit in my room visualizing the scenes when martyrdom was embraced peacefully by the bravest soldiers of Pakistan.

I fail to remember my sadness at the passing away of soldiers for martyrdom for a soldier had to be the ultimate destination.

I feared war yet knew the dare devil soldiers of my country would keep my country and its people safe.

In my middle ages all around me are stories of martyrs.

Now we do not need to be soldiers to be martyred. We need not fight. We need not have guns. We will still be martyred.

Do we want to be martyred?

Did the students of Army Public School wanted to be martyred? Did the students of Charssada University aspire for martyrdom? Did the thousands who were martyred in bomb blasts wished to be martyred?

Did I want to be martyred when I was caught in the firing on Sri Lankan team in Lahore?

No I did not want to become a martyr. I wanted to live on, to make my dreams possible.

I can be called a coward but I saw no value in dying at the hands of terrorists. I could not fight them, so why should I die.

A soldier willingly participates in war. Bravery is expected. I saw no bravery in dying. I saw bravery in living on, in having a normal life. To me that was my war against terrorists.

Every time I think of the children of Army Public School, or of the thousands who have died unwillingly and unknowingly in the War on Terror, I feel guilty. I feel they should have been protected by the custodians of our security.

I try to feel proud at their sacrifice and I cannot. They were the hope of their mothers. They were the pride of their fathers. They were bread winners. They were the love of lives of many. They went away leaving their dear ones living dead for ever.

We must salute them for they are martyrs of a country whose people unwillingly have been thrown in a war. We are expected to be brave and to become martyrs fighting an enemy that is powerful even for our custodians of security.

I try to salute my martyrs, but may hand only rises in prayer for the safety and security of my country men and for lessening the pain of the dear ones of the civilian martyrs.

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Who am I!

I am definitely a Pakistani at an immigration counter. The green passport has to be scrutinised and questions asked. After the immigration clearance, however I can be anyone.

In Turkey I am thought to be a Turkish. In Russia I am at times mistaken as a Russian and in Brazil as a Brazilian. In Spain, everyone thinks I am Spanish. In London, I can be anyone!

I am however a Pakistani. I am constantly on a mission to live life by rules and values for how else would a Pakistani survive in this world. I carry the baggage of sins uncommitted and that makes me apologetic and confused at times.

However my travels to Russia, Brazil and Turkey have taught me lessons of national pride. I am learning to stand up logically to criticism and defend my people and their values, rather than apologies for them.

My years in Ireland taught me no matter how adverse the problem, the solution has to be found. You must laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes.

Few months in Sri Lanka helped me appreciate a nation that has overcome adversity with a hopeful smile. My very frequent visits to Bangladesh taught me self-confidence brings success.

Dubai and Singapore were lessons in shopping as part of entertainment culture. Nepal taught me resilience even when all you have is faith.

Couple of years in London have made me a bit of mind my own business person. I can feel my words are becoming measured. My emotions checked and yet at times the emotional curious helpful Pakistani returns.

So who am I? Do not think even I know who am I. There are many like me who would face the same predicament. They are from a country, the country where they were born, learnt to live a life. Yet when the time came to live a life, they had to find that life in another country.

All they want to do is to live a life. Yet for many that is becoming hard to do. Who are they has become more important that what they are.

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Ankara

It was only a few weeks back that I made my first trip to Ankara. I did not have time to see anything in Ankara except the hotel and the meeting places. It did seem a calmly peaceful city.

Today as I watch scenes of death and destruction in Ankara, my heart and my prayers are with the people of Turkey.

Bombs and blasts are unknown to them and may they remain safe and secure forever. May this be the last bomb blasts in their lives and history books.

I come from a country where there was a time, bomb blasts were weekly events. If a week went by without a bomb blast, many among us feared something more catastrophic was in offering.

I remember a time being in the office. There was a huge bang. Everyone thought it was a bomb blast. I thought it was just some noise. Everyone was right. I was wrong, but I was always wrong.

When the Sri Lanka cricket team was attacked. I was warned not to go to work. I thought the firing shots were of a wedding party. I was wrong.

I am one of those who believe with incredible belief that all is well even when all is not well.

I have often wondered at my idealism. I grew up in a different Pakistan. My biggest fear was a thief breaking into my house and taking away my things. I also feared a war with India, for I thought that it was only war time when people could be killed.

I do not remember how I reacted to a Pakistan, where without war, many were killed. I think I has no option but to accept it, yet every time a bomb blast happened, I convinced myself this would be the last.

I do not know how those who become suicide bombers convince themselves about killing innocent people. Are these people not sons, brothers, fathers or uncles? Whose fault is it that they become desperate enough to kill themselves and many others with them? Have we failed those who died and those who killed them? Could we have prevented it?

As I watch the scenes of bomb blasts in Ankara. The fear on the faces of survivors is known to me. The tears of the loved ones of the victims is known to me. The chaos after the bomb blast is known to me. I had seen all this before. I had thought that the blasts did not impact me till I started writing a novel. On each and every page is a mention of that fear, of that helplessness, of that frustration.

People who die in blasts go to a better world. Those left behind, continue to live in a deteriorating world with a guilt that does not let them have a life.

I often wonder, those who incite the suicide bombers, to commit the act, do they live with a guilt too or are they convinced they are the rightful people.

I do not know but what I do know is that today many in Ankara would be grieving for their loved ones. Life will never be the same for them. With them are my prayers for that is all I can do.

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Death to Death

I wanted life. A better life, if possible, but a life would have been sufficient too.

I once had a home. I once had healthy children. I once had laughter in my courtyard. My handsome husband had lands. He had cows and castles. We had a life in which everything was sufficient.

Then it all changed. There were bombs. There were blasts. There was blood. Everyone was fighting with one another.

I do not know how and why my country became a hell but it did. It was never a heaven but it was a home. It no longer was a home.

I heard women of the village say after all the bloodshed; we would have a better country. We must have hope in the free world to free us.

I hoped for improvement every day till one day they left my dead husband on the door. Who were they? I had no enemy but after his death I had to get a life for my three sons.

I had lands, I had jewellery but there were not many people to buy all that I had. So I gave them all to the man who promised me a life for my boys. He took everything I had except my sons.

He brought us to a lorry. It was a big one and it was white. He said in few hours we would be in the land of white people who would respect us. There would be no death in that peaceful world.

I believed him. My sons cried leaving their friends but I told them they will have better friends, better books, better food and a life in their new home.

My old parents begged me not to leave them but a mother has to do the best for her children only. I could not let my sons die like my husband.

I left it all. Maybe I should not have done it.

I trusted the free world for free life but I should not have done it. If my country could not give us life, why should any other country do?

We are people without any respect. Our lives have no value, neither for our people nor for anyone else.

If they did, my sons would not have died begging for water and air. We banged the walls and doors of the lorry but no one heard us.

Who would hear the voice of homeless people like us?

They died. I drove them to death, while all I was doing was to save them from death. Was it a sin? Was it a crime? Should I have left them die in their own home but maybe they would not have died there.

Now I must die too for I have nothing to live.

It has been a long journey from a death anticipated to a death achieved.

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Living Dead

It was another sad day yesterday.

A brave Minister lost his life to the terror he was dedicated to eradicating. A young police officer became a victim of the evil he professionally was determined to defeat. Along with them many more were martyred by the impure people, who have killed thousands in the Land of Pure.

This happened just two days after the Land of Pure had celebrated its most Pure Peaceful Independence Day in many years. The dark night of terror seemed to be giving way to a Dawn of Peace. It all now seems a wishful thinking.

The bullets of terror and despair take the lives of their targets. The targets go to a peaceful world.

Yet they leave behind many grieving and mourning for them forever.

My heart today goes to the mothers, wives, fathers, children, sisters and brothers of the martyrs. They must have the satisfaction that their loved ones perished while fighting a noble battle for their country and their people.

Yet in moments of extreme loneliness, will the widows of the martyrs not crave for a warm hand to hold, for shoulder to cry on and for someone to talk to. As the children or grandchildren celebrate milestones, will she not long for her life partner to share those joys with her?

A mother gives birth to a son and her greatest wish is that her son buries her. He takes care of her in her old age. Who will take care of the mothers of the martyrs? Who will bury them? Will she not miss her son as she grows old?

I think of the children of the martyrs. Children of any age need a father to be their protector, counselor and friend. No matter how old children become, they miss their fathers, if they are not around. Children of the martyrs would miss their parents at each and every milestone of their lives.

Think of an old father who has to bury his son, his anchor of support. Think of a sister, whose brother had to arrange a dowry for her. Think of a brother, whose brother had to educate him.

How do these people live? How does a plant live without water? It withers away. Do they whither? Do they live?
Do we care about them? Maybe we bury them also along with the dead. For I do not know of any effort made to reach out to these people who have lost their treasures in the hunt for terror.

For us they are living dead….but should they be living dead?

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I am a Father!

It was a cold December night. Darkness had spread everywhere. I had waited for nine hours sitting on the wooden chair and walking to and fro in the corridors of the hospital in Peshawar.

Many times I had asked the nurses if all was fine and they had replied that I must wait. I had prayed constantly. Then at around mid-night time, a smiling nurse had come to tell me that I had become a father to a son. Few minutes later, my son was in my arms. He was healthy, full of life and to me the most handsome boy in the world.

Many years later, in the same hospital, my son left me alone in the world. He lived for only 15 years. In those 15 years, he gave me 15 million smiles and many million hopes and dreams.

One day he would grow up to be a doctor or an engineer or maybe a lawyer. I would be an old man. He would look after me and his mother. We would not have much money as all our money would be spent on his education but he would be a well to do man. So we would not have to worry about our expenses.

He would have a caring wife and loving children. I would spend my old age being taken care of and being loved by all of them. Then one day I would die and he would carry me to the graveyard and pray for me.

All my dreams died on 16 December 2014. I had dropped him at the school. He had promised to walk back to home directly from the school as there were exams to be prepared for. He loved cricket and at times would stop to play cricket with the boys but today he had to return home early. He had hugged me and I had wished him for the exams.

On way to my office I had prayed hard for his success in exams. Little did I know that by mid-day I would be praying for his life. I prayed hard but Allah knows the best.

I had to carry him to the graveyard. I laid him to rest in the grave. He was a bit too young to need eternal rest.

As the grave closed, I wanted the grave to open and be buried with him. I wanted to weep but I had to be the pillar of strength for my wife and my daughters.

They had lost a son and a brother. They needed compassion and support. They could cry but I had to be strong yet in the evenings and nights, I go for a walk to the graveyard. I sit next to his grave crying for hours. He was my best friend.

As I cry at the grave, I think of the men who took away the treasure of my life from me. Did they not have children? Did they not have fathers?

But I have no answers to my questions. I wipe my tears and walk back home, strong and steady for I am a father.

Perceptions and biases!

As I got on to the train for Moscow at St. Petersburg station, my mother sent me an SMS that read as follows:
So you are on the train, must be full of suspicious people. I am so worried!

Mothers do worry. As I looked around, the train did not have a single suspicious person. They were people like me. Most
of them busy with their electronic gadgets. Some already asleep, some getting ready to sleep.

The train crew did not understand what I was saying but was willing to do anything to make me comfortable. I had the
most memorable journey.

Mothers worry. If they did not, they would not be mothers.

It is not only my mother. I have discovered that my fondness for Russia has invoked quite a few questions from my
friends too. Most of them have been unable to comprehend my fascination with Russia.

When I went to Russia the first time, I had expected men and women in dark fur coats who did not smile. I had expected
frowning and screaming people. I had expected immigration people who would not look at me, but would deport me.

I had expected the hotels to be dark and without much food. I had thought a walk in the town was unthinkable. I also
imagined that the shops would not have anything. Taxis were not to be trusted but then no one was to be trusted in
Russia.

Politics were not to be discussed. American and European channels were banned. Everything would be black or red!
I was proved wrong. You can walk in the middle of the night in Kremlin and no one will say anything. You can discuss
politics in cafes and you are not arrested. You can find any type of shops in Russia. It has every colour building. It
is like a fairy tale and not a ghost story.

Its people just like many other people want to get on with lives, want a future for themselves and their children.
Does it sound familiar? Does it sound like a story of Pakistan or any country in war with perceptions?

I could feel an empathy with the people of Russia. Just like us, Pakistanis, they need a visa for every place in the
world almost. Just like us, they are misunderstood. Just like us they are interrogated at the immigrations around the
world. Just like us, their whole country is considered dangerous. Just like us, they are fighting a battle against
biases and perceptions.

And yet I went to Russia with my perceptions and biases.

So may years of living in a country that has battled perception and biases, I should have challenged perceptions and
biases. Wonder why did I not?

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Sabeen; the dream!

I did not know Sabeen Mahmud, just like I did not know the school children of Peshawar or the thousands killed in target
killings and Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts in Pakistan.

What I do know that they all were senseless killings!

All done by men who would not be able to live in peace with their conscience and if they are able to live, then there is
a Divine Justice.

Ever since the massacre of school children massacre in Peshawar, I have spent hours trying to rationalise how could
someone, who could be a father, a son, a brother, kill innocent children. There is no rationalisation. They are mad
people.

Sabeen’s killing last week shocked me, even when it should not have shocked me. By now I should accept, in Pakistan no
one should dare to speak the truth, no one should dare to dream, no one should dare to challenge the status quo, no one
should dare to have a difference of opinion. No one should dare to think of a better enlightened Pakistan!

In fact, in Pakistan of today, thinking should be banned! For if you think, then you may not live!

Sad, unfortunate, devastating but that is the truth!

And yet why do I not accept the truth. Why inside me somewhere, there is always a voice urging me to think positive. To
dream of an enlightened Pakistan that will emerge out of discourse, discussion and diversity.

To work for it and that voice at times rebukes me for being thousands of miles away from Pakistan, for being a deserter!
Pakistan for me is my pride. It is my identity. I have returned to Pakistan every time with a dream of doing something
for my country.

Has it become a crime to dream in Pakistan? I think it has but it is a crime worth committing.

I wish Pakistan was all gloom and doom but it is not. It is a country, for which people like Sabeen have given their
lives. If they were alive today, would they have given up on Pakistan! I do not think so.

Just because some senseless men killed their dreams, should we stop caring for Pakistan and living a life that would not
be a tribute to their legacy.

If Peshawar was devastating, Sabeen’s killing was wrecking, if this is how I feel, what would be the loved one of those
dear departed be feeling. If not for those gone, but for those living, we still need to dream and care for a Patient
Pakistan!

Hard but Achievable!

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