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Living in fear

My first memory of violence goes back to when Benzair Bhutto was assassinated in 2007. I could not comprehend why a group of angry men would try to set my school on fire if someone they loved had passed away - shouldn't they be mourning, I wondered. I was strictly instructed by my parents to stay indoors and engage with something at home. Out of boredom, I started to paint what I saw on TV all day long. My maternal uncle once asked me to show him what I had been busy with. It was a picture of men running with torches in their hands, with all the buildings in the background set on fire.

My second encounter goes back to class 4. As acts of terror increased in the country, all schools were asked to prepare. In my school, the first drill went unannounced. In the middle of the day, a spine chilling alarm left us all frightened. I still remember seeing my class fellows cry as our teachers instructed us to rush towards the playground. After a while, all of this became the new normal. The alarm did not frighten us anymore.

The third experience goes back to when the APS attack happened. I was residing in a boarding school then. When we first came across the news, it was extremely difficult to process, but more fear-inducing. This rush of emotions was unique. My heart was longing to hear my parents speak, to hear them comfort me. We were asked to gather at the auditorium after the dinner. I saw my housemaster trying his best to explain the events that took place earlier in the day. The next morning, we offered ghaibana namaz-e-janaza for the kids. I could not stop picturing myself in the scenario. I was angry at the world for the first time. After a while, conversations around 'what would you do if our school gets attacked' became normal.

Why was an 8-year-old kid not painting flowers and swings, why were we not frightened by the sound a heart-wrenching alarm, why was picturing yourself locked in a classroom while your school was under attack becoming the new normal? I have grown up in fear all these years. I am sure all of us have. Our reflexes are a product of these experiences. Would we have lived a different life if violence was not so mundane, if our schools were just schools?

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