Cricket was not held up. Humanity was. In fact, humanity was pushed back by a few centuries, perhaps millennia, at Peshawar — a city that was synonymous to Arbab Niaz Stadium to me. Till yesterday.
I was determined. I would not read news. I would not check the trending hash-tags on Twitter. I would not see the pictures. I knew what had happened.
I read funny things. I cracked jokes. I read funny one-liners. I watched cricket. I checked obscure cricket statistics. Sitting in the newsroom, I would prepare myself for The Gabba.
I was scared. Not because of what may happen to me, but because we were now devoid of hope. They would not spare children. Remember those cute commercials that say all children are created equal, and it is only when we grow up that the chasms are created?
These children were denied a chance to grow up. Those bastards denied them the chance in the name of religion, or whatever it is that teaches them that murdering children is a way to make this planet a better place to live.
I still decided to stay away from this. Not like an ostrich, but perhaps because the 37-year old father in me did not have it to take this anymore. Then two things happened today.
The Test at The Gabba had got over. The one at Centurion had started. All eyes, however, were on the one at Abu Dhabi, where Pakistan was supposed to take on New Zealand. The two-minute silence was expected, as were the black bands.
Shehzad, Pakistan’s wonder-kid, broke down when the stadium rose to a silence. Waqar, Moin, Mushtaq, Younis Khan were visibly traumatised. Irfan, all of 7’1”, looked as small as any of us as he prayed under his breath.
Even that did not break me. I pretended everything was normal.
What broke me was a solemn, sombre, gloomy Afridi.
It was then that it hit me. Afridi was the man who was not supposed to grow up. Afridi was the man who was not supposed to change. The short speech was so unbearable that I almost wanted to mute the television, but could not.
Be professional, I told myself. I could not. I had to make excuses to leave for the restroom. I am a parent. My daughter goes to school. I felt claustrophobic.
Afridi broke me today.
I kept myself hooked to the other match, at Centurion. Enough was happening there. I calmed down as the day progressed. Then I checked social media, and saw this headline.
What if I was the only one, left in an entire class, across sections? What if I turned up at school to see I was the only one? What if walked inside an empty school to know that I was the only survivor because the alarm did not go off in the morning and my friends were all lined up and massacred to death by (probably, I hope not) the smiling guy who sold sweets outside the school?
My Class IX memories involved trying to woo a girl, watching cricket and Chitrahaar, listening to Vividh Bharti, and a routine that shuffled between tuitions-school-home and home-school-tuitions (sometimes tuitions-school-tuitions home as well). I am happy with my childhood.
This boy’s Class XI memories would involve his alarm clock not working on the most dreadful morning of all.
Go ahead, Pakistan. Do not rest till you dish out the worst to these creatures. Capital punishments will not suffice. It is too soft a punishment for people who can take up arms against children. Do something beyond my limited imagination.
Remember the images. A group of children, being asked to queue up, with full knowledge of what was about to follow. Imagine their horror. Imagine the horror of the parents crying in panic as they looked up the list of the dead.
Dish out something to them — the kind of which the world is yet to see. Take something away irretrievable from them. Something. Something. Something.