Three decades back, the closest a child got to Terror was when he was caught doing mischief by an elder or stuck in a dark cinema hall watching a film where the villain seemed all powerful. The way out of the crisis was to say a silent prayer, and it usually worked.
Children back then hadn't heard of Terror like their children have in these terrible times.
Schools were a safe haven which no one thought of attacking. Going to school was dreaded only when a pending assignment or lack of preparation for a test troubled the mind. The guard at the gate was a sleepy, bored fellow meant to keep pesky kids from straying out. Punishment for a job not done or even for no fault was acceptable. Stigma didn't stick like it does today.
It seemed to be the age of innocence compared to the present times. Those were the days when children could perch themselves on the bicycle and ride through the town without a care in the world. They could follow their heart up the tamarind and mango trees on summer afternoons; they could steal pickles from jars in the neighbour's terrace and yet be given the benefit of doubt; they could play football well into the night without a reprimand; they could gang up at a friend's house to watch the Sunday movie on TV and return home unscathed after a hearty dinner. In short, they could be children, unlike their children today.
Nowadays, children live in a bigger and faster but more complex world. They don't have the time for swings and trees; they miss out on meals with the parents and the fun of playing with friends; they record movies on TV but seldom get the time to watch them in peace either because of their hectic tuition schedules or sports routines or their new life companion, the smartphone. And when they do get to watch a movie, it's about violence and more violence.
Sitting on a shorter fuse than their parents, today's kids revel in the cocooned existence of the virtual world but they are exposed to the raw reality of Terror much closer. It's worse than imagined.
With communication becoming one-sided and mechanical, they are quick to react but slower to respond. So when Terror struck in the Peshawar school the other day, the first thing teenagers in India did was to update their Whatsapp status and ironically 'like' posts and pictures of the horror unleashed on Facebook as the news broke through the day on TV.
A day later on this side of the border, thousands of candles were lit, a two-minute silence was observed, appeals for peace were made and schools with some security put their guards on alert
before everyone dispersed for their classes.
Somehow, prayers don't seem to work like they did anymore. Childhood has lost its magic a little more for they say Terror is here to stay even though we wish it away.