Whenever I’ve looked back at my childhood in Karachi, I’ve tended to disregard and filter out the fact that it was riddled with conflict and violence. In fact, I’d be defending it against my Lahori cousins, telling them that the news just exaggerates things. That was back when I was around 10-12. When I was 12, my family moved to Saudi Arabia. I packed up all the things I didn’t want to throw away into a little ‘memory box’, which traveled with me all the way to Riyadh, and then to Lahore when we eventually moved back. A couple days ago, I came across my memory box- a shoe box stuffed with diaries, tickets and cards- and read some of my old diary entries out of curiosity.
Skimming through the pages, I was shocked to see the way that conflict and violence were so casually mentioned in my entries. Perhaps the fact that I lived in a safer neighborhood contributed to the way that I downplayed it, or perhaps I had become desensitized to it.
The first instance of conflict I found was in my very first diary, when I was merely nine, about the death of Benazir Bhutto.
Needless to say, nine year old me was living in her own world, only concerned with the fact that school was off tomorrow, as a result of the conflict I could not then understand.
However, as I kept on reading, I saw more subtle hints of attacks and protests, peaking in 2014, around the time Altaf Hussain got arrested. Then, I found a diary entry from when I was 12:
This entry was concerning the attack on Karachi’s airport, and (as I know now), had nothing to do with Altaf Hussain’s arrest. Yet, for 12-year-old-me, it was one instance of violence after another and so I figured they were related. This diary entry was absolutely heart-wrenching to read. It brought to the surface the numerous acts of terrorism and conflict that I had been hearing of for years. While it initially complained of birthday parties cancelled and outings delayed, it moved on to more serious things: a classmate whose father was murdered, robberies on gun-point, the time my father barely escaped a bullet when his phone got snatched. All mingled with the fear that, as I was writing, people were getting shot at and planes were being set on fire. I was most concerned about the fact that schools had just ended, and many of the people I knew were going on vacations, and could possibly be there at the airport.
In retrospect, I realize that I had become desensitized to the violence, conflict and threats- I grew up with them. From the school walls lined with sandbags and closed off with barbed wires, to the security guards with rifles on the roofs; from the practice drills where we hid under our desks, to the safe rooms we were rushed into when a bomb threat was given: violence and fear seemed routine.