BAGH: It was Saturday and little Abdullah was not keen on going to school. It was unlikely of him because he was always eager and happy to go. But, the four and a half years old, was asked by his mother not to miss school that day. He retaliated; he complained; he cried, still he went — never to return.
It was the dreadful day of October 8, 2005 when a massive earthquake shook the valleys of Azad Kashmir and NWFP. The worst of its kind to have occurred in this country. The one, which killed many people, especially children, including Abdullah Tanoli, the resident of Officers Colony situated in the beautiful city of Bagh.
“Mama I have pain in my legs, can I skip the school today? No, I said and dressed him up despite his complaints,” said Abdullah’s mother as sobs shaking her head in regret and disbelief. “Perhaps he knew,” she said crying loudly.
Born on January 28, 2001, Abdullah was the youngest child of Mohammad Amin Khan Tanoli and a brilliant prep student of Spring Field, a reputed private school in Bagh. He was also a favorite child of the neighborhood.
At 8:55 am, after the first jolt of earthquake, Abdullah’s mother and his sister jumped out of the balcony and ran towards Spring Field, but the entire school building had collapsed. “I saw many parents frantically looking for their children. Trying to remove the heavy debris by their bare hands. Others waited for their children to come out. I too waited for my son to come out or cry for help, so I would know where to dig”, she said. “It was complete chaos. No one knew what to do.”
“For seven days I sat by the rubble hoping that my son would call me”, she said with a deep sigh.
“I used to be scared of graveyards but I wasn’t any more. My child was here under the dark and suffocating wreckage. How could I leave him there alone”, she sobbed.
Screams of children echoed for two days in the neighborhood but helpless residents could not do anything except to wait desperately for the help. “It was horrifying. We couldn’t sleep. But we didn’t know what to do. The stones were too heavy for us to remove,” informed the mother.
“There were bodies everywhere. We had lost homes and everything else, except the hope that our children were probably still alive under the rubble,” said an elderly lady, narrating the horrors of the quake.
On the third day a team of volunteers from
The mother, however, had the hopes. Finally on the seventh day, she was able to persuade two volunteers from Kotli to remove stones and bricks from the place, where Abdullah used to sit in his class. “A mother’s heart knows where her son is buried. I knew the spot. I knew he was still there,” she said. And there he was, but not alive. “This is where he used to sit and ultimately died,” she pointed at the rubble, which was once a beautiful school for 500 students.
Sitting upright on his chair with a compass clutched in one hand, while holding tightly the chair with his other tiny hand, a copy lying in his lap, Abdullah’s body was finally recovered on the seventh day after the earthquake. He had received head injury. His face had partly decomposed but his body had no bruises. His uniform was intact and so was the innocence on his face, the mother recalled.
The position in which he was recovered showed that he was not running to get out of the school, which also proved that he was an obedient student to remain on his chair because he was asked to do so by his teacher.
“My sister who is also the survivor of
For many days several bodies of students recovered from under the rubble lay outside on ground because nobody came to claim them. Perhaps their families had died too, informed Amin Khan, Abdullah’s father who looked disillusioned.
He, however, insisted that the authorities should punish the owners of the school for poor construction because the school building completely collapsed. Not even a single room remained intact. “These people had been charging heavy fees from us, at least they could have made better buildings for the young lives,” he said.
Finally many unclaimed bodies of young students were buried with Abdullah — in the same grave. “He is buried in one of those graves,” Bilal pointed towards a small graveyard with muddy water ponds created by rain a day after Abdullah was laid to rest. Each grave in that small yard had seven to eight students interred. In one of the grave, a teacher along with her seven pupils is also buried.
The story of Abdullah is just one of many stories of the earthquake, but this one has left the residents of Officers Colony in grief. Everyone seemed to have the wonderful memories of this small prince. People gathered around this scribe to tell their own tale but couldn’t control their tears when Abdullah’s name was mentioned. The whole city was talking about this handsome prince. He was the life of the neighborhood. “He was naughty, very talkative and an active child for his age,” said one of the women in the crowd. The survivors of Spring Field School are very few. Around 50 were pulled out alive but severely injured and more than 300 bodies have been recovered so far. Many still buried there. “There are still many dead children under this rubble. Perhaps some are buried under here,” said the late prince’s mother looking down at the pile of wreckage we were standing on. I jumped off the rubble, fearing there might be a child still alive inside screaming for help.
Stopping at Abdullah’s grave on my way back, I saw a wooden nameplate on his grave- made by the only few surviving children of this once lively city. The ones who are either lucky to have survived the deadly quake or unlucky to have lost everything — home, family, school, future and especially, their youth.
Abdullah’s story will be a constant reminder, to the people of Bagh, for many years to come, of their irrecoverable loss. Youth.
His innocent words will echo in the valley of Bagh for generations to come. “He was my prince. He was Prince Abdullah Mohammad Amin Khan Tanoli,” said the aggrieved mother.
Source: The News