He was a quiet child. He neither cared about personal hygiene nor was he interested in studies. He wanted to do something big in life but was unaware of his destination. Becoming a doctor was his childhood dream, but it seemed rather impossible given his embarrassingly weak memory, poor handwriting and an utter disregard for hygiene.
As time passed he tried to take studies seriously, but maybe due to mental shortcomings all of his efforts went in vain. A sudden change occurred in his life. He stopped talking to his peers at school. During break time he was found sitting alone in a corner with a book in his hands. He carried a similar routine in the village as well — no talking, no sports and no other activity. He would sit at the base of a mountain near the village and parrot the books in his hands. Perhaps, everyday insults and humiliation forced him to work hard so as to gain the respect of others. However, all of his efforts remained futile.
I do not remember a day teachers struck his hands with a cane less than twenty times. His beating lasted from dawn to dusk. He was a frequent latecomer, hence caned at least four times on his hands in the early morning. Soon after he entered the class, the teacher further punished him either for untidy uniform, messy hair, for not doing homework or for failing a class test. In short, he would bear the brunt of his fate in every class, every day.
It was a winter morning when the teacher took some students to the school veranda, and as a punishment made them assume the position resembling that of a rooster because they had failed their English Grammar test. The teacher was notorious for his harsh punishments. We knew that he would spank us innumerable times in that position and we would reel under its agony for the rest of the day. Meanwhile he whispered to me that one should rather die than undergo such humiliation every day. The teacher, indifferent to our physical agony exacerbated by the harsh winter only cared about his intimidating reputation in the school and to be known as a symbol of fear — someone who does not forgive. We simply hated him.
He grew up in a middle-class family. Since his father was a contractor for the government’s construction projects, the family was financially well-off. Though the eldest among his siblings he received not even an ounce of respect from the family. People would taunt his father and share the instances of his punishment either due to failure in examination or untidy uniform. After facing such abuse, the father would return home and not only hurl abuses at him in front of everybody but also severely beat him. He would come to the school the next day and show us the marks of torture inflicted by his father.
He was not angry at his father for insulting him within the confines of the house but felt disgraced when his father abused him in front of everyone, because his cousins would later laugh at him and he would spend sleepless night out of embarrassment.
Even his class fellows kept a certain distance from him in the classroom and looked at him with disdain. I was also not so good in studies, just that I would manage to pass due to better memory. We would sit together in the class, because we had something in common: late arrival and untidy uniform. We loved our slumber and untidy clothes. Perhaps, these two habits brought us closer. Teachers in the class completely disregarded his presence since a student like him could never be a favourite of any teacher — one who is neither good in studies nor in personal hygiene. The doors of affection and kindness were shut for him forever so much so that it created a rift between him and his desire to live.
It was recess time. I sat in a remote corner of the school as my body shivered with pain and fever, because the teacher had struck my hands four times each in the winter morning for wearing untidy uniform. He waved at me from a distance and came toward me holding a samosa wrapped in a paper. He tore the samosa into two pieces, kept one half for himself and offered me the other one. He said: “You know, my father has lot of money, yet he does not give me a penny as he hates me. However, my mother put five rupees in my pocket today and told me to buy something to eat in the school.”
He added: “My friend, you have only two issues: unpunctuality and untidy uniform. If you mend these two things, you can easily gain respect because you are already good in studies. It is my darned brain that cannot retain a word.” We both burst into laughter.
Our studies continued and we reached 6th grade. Pakistani tribal areas saw the rise of Taliban in the aftermath of the 9/11 incident. But before the advent of the Taliban, local youths frequented the camps of Harkatul Mujahideen and Hizbul Mujahideen to watch videos of Kashmiri jihadists. Many young people had already received basic training. However, it was only after the 9/11 incident that the sensational wave of jihad overwhelmed the lives of children, youth and old alike. Pro-jihad anthems blared in different bazaars throughout the day. Those days, jihadists would generate crowdfunding in the bazaars of our village for the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, protests would take place against then-US President Bush, where people would burn his effigies. I still remember the days when we used to rent LCD TVs from the market for 100 rupees per day charges to enthusiastically watch videos of mujahideen in Kashmir and Afghanistan. We had lost all interest in cricket and other sports. Soon as our mosque loudspeakers announced martyrdom of a youth in Afghanistan, people would gather from far-off areas to attend the funeral. It was a spectacle to behold.
Prior to commencement of the funeral, a local commander would narrate the instances of the martyred youth’s bravery, followed by loud chants of Allah-o-Akbar in response. Then we would squeeze into the massive crowd in attempts to see the martyr’s face. Garlands were placed on the chest of all such martyrs and their eyes were left open. We would return home wondering if we would ever achieve martyrdom or lie dead in the grave till the day of resurrection, as whenever local cleric or Taliban commander narrated such heroic instances, they always held that a martyr remains alive until the Judgement Day, invoking in our hearts the desire for an immortal life (perhaps, we were not destined for one).
We used to visit jihadi camp every day after school to listen to pro-jihad poetry and see photographs of martyrs. Meanwhile, hundreds of people would donate their belongings in crowdfunding campaigns and pray for the victory of the mujahideen.
It became a routine to visit the camp. On one such fateful day as we headed toward the camp, my friends taunted me saying that I don’t have a penny, what would I donate. I told them to wait and watch. As we reached the camp, I donated the watch that my brother had sent us from Dubai after much insistence on my part. Meanwhile, a wave of regret made its way in my heart thinking that it is the very least I can do, if not participate in jihad to safeguard the honour of our Afghan sisters. My friends looked at me, astonished, saying won’t my father reprimand me for this. I told them that sacrifice demands one to go through such adversities and that I would patiently endure any kind of punishment he dishes out.
The next day, he also brought Rs. 50 from his mother. We headed straight to the camp after school and he inserted the note into the donation box. He remained hungry that whole day. As I returned home from the bazaar and my mother inquired about the watch I simply replied that I donated it. She grabbed my hair, gave a good thrashing and instructed me to bring back the watch next day.
I rushed to the camp early morning and pleaded before the local commander to return the watch, but he plainly refused saying that the watch was on its way to the jihadist brothers. I bore the brunt of my mother’s wrath for many days. Indeed, I missed that watch dearly for several months, because I loved it.
One day it was announced that those willing to join jihad in Pakistan or Afghanistan may register their names for three-day martial training. Those who cleared the first training session were dispatched for advanced training. Our hearts longed for the training but our families not only strongly declined but also imposed a strict watch on our activities. Many notable Taliban leaders would glorify jihad in Friday sermons and in bazaars which influenced youth in huge numbers to head toward training camps.
I believe those were our last days in school. He now became super conscious about personal hygiene, prayed five times a day and regularly applied kohl in his eyes. I think he said this on his last day in the school: “I have no respect no matter if it is my family, school or society for I am good for nothing. But I can earn recognition in the hearts of people if I carry out a suicide attack on infidels. People would remember my martyrdom forever.” He was never seen in the school, again. His father and family members made all possible efforts to know his whereabouts but to no avail. After a few days his fellow trainees returned to the village and informed that he had passed the training amicably and been dispatched to the frontline mission.
After a few months a local commander returned from jihad and handed the boy’s clothes and other belongings to his family in a community gathering in our village. The commander said this is what the martyr left behind as he embraced a glorious martyrdom by carrying out a suicide attack that sent six infidels to Hell. The entire village rejoiced in the occasion but that day still haunts me.
His aged father kissed his son’s clothes and burst into tears. His mother lost all her senses. She would tell random people that her flower-like son could not possibly die and that the mujahideen must have hidden him from public sight so we may not be able to find him.
The next day teachers and students glorified his martyrdom and said that he was destined for highest ranks of martyrdom which is why he was not good in studies, and he must have reached heaven already.
His innocent face still lingers in my memory. He was a kind-hearted person and could have become a doctor as he wished for only if he were good in studies. Unfortunately, the social dejection, derogatory attitudes of teachers and students and domestic violence deprived him of his life.