Pierced by a mother’s grief
By Faisal Mahmood
It was my day off, but for some reason I’d woken up early. As I was about to have breakfast with my wife and children the phone rang. It was my picture editor. A school bus had caught fire in Gujrat, 100 miles from Islamabad. Seventeen children were dead.
As I gathered my cameras, I could not stop thinking about how the parents must have sent their children to school after sharing the same kind of breakfast we’d just been having at home. I was dreading what I would find.
It took three hours to reach Gujrat. A large crowd had gathered near the charred remains of the bus. I saw three lunch boxes discarded on the ground. I couldn’t help but think about my own children’s lunch boxes, which I sometimes prepare before dropping them off at school.
Not far from the scene I found a house belonging to a teacher, whose three nephews had been killed in the tragedy. The teacher herself had suffered serious burns while rescuing children from the burning bus. Inside, I found a woman sitting between the coffins of two of her children, her hands placed on top of the small boxes, wailing. Her grief seemed to cut through my soul.
I stayed in the house for an hour, and found myself covered with sweat. In spite of losing three children in the fire, the mother noticed my discomfort, and called out to a relative to give me water. In a nearby house, I found a similar scene. Women had gathered around the coffin of a thirteen-year-old boy — decorated with the kind of garland usually reserved for a groom during weddings.
Though I have covered the aftermath of many bomb blasts and other terrible incidents in Pakistan, there was something about the mothers’ grief that pierced me in a way I had never experienced before. With my pictures filed, I was profoundly grateful to return home to my family. And I will never forget what I saw in Gujrat.