26 Jun 2010
I was out with some friends/colleagues a night or two ago, planning TEDxLahore, Pakistan’s first and largest TED talk (yes I’m shamelessly advertising our work; please do apply to attend or watch the livefeed). Besides seeing a glimpse of Ayeshah Alam, I also managed to hear rumors of how the Jaidi Paan Shop guy (the concept of a Pan shop is hard to explain when my point is something else, but will come to it soon) had been rewarded/bribed with a Prado by Coca-Cola for not keeping Pepsi products in his store. I should quit blogging and take up a paanwala position. This all happens while I think of excuses to avoid overpriced coffee at this highly western coffee shop with freezing air conditioners. Seriously, freezing.
Anyway, digression. While we talked, I took the liberty of telling one of my staple stories. I’m quite sure I’ve written about it before (actually no, I have no idea) but it’s good enough to be written about again. I have a Lithuanian coworker at the University, and as we muse to take our minds off washing dishes we talk about a lot. Seeing as his academic interests revolved around the politics of Islam, and I was well, from Pakistan, we had common ground. So while he researched the Grand Siege of Mecca of 1979 he read of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) issue in Islamabad so we had a briefing of sorts. As I customarily made fun of politics, terrorism, terror, politics (again), ignorance and stupidity he told me a story related by one of his Professors (who is not related in any way to aforementioned terms). Apparently he landed in Lahore and missed a suicide blast by ten minutes as he drove off, but reminisced by saying “but Lahore is beautiful”. My friend laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement, I laughed at my difficulty at explaining something I felt and understood myself.
The stories got more tragic however.
Our curator related his story of a blast near Mall Road targeting an ISI office from summer last year. I remembered the blast as I felt a wave of pressure hit the center where we were taking our A Level exams. I also remembered mistaking it for someone bumping into the glass doors rather loudly at the time. This was much farther down the Mall, my friend was in his house about 300 yards away.
As he stammered to get some money from his father before he left the house (he can never forget the moment, he says), the door to his verandah bursts open and neither he nor his father can hear the other. He hides behind a desk, his brother who was asleep, wakes up and walks out the door only to be greeted by the sound of firing. My friend thought for a second a war had broken out.
The story of our other colleague was worse, unfortunately. This still stops me, every time I think of it.
A few months ago twin blasts ripped through busy Moon Market in Lahore, in Allama Iqbal Town, a dense residential area not far from Punjab University. The blasts killed dozens and injured many more.
Two friends were in the market when the first device went off. They stood together, but ran in opposite directions. One survived, the other ran into the second blast of the night. The survivor saw life, but not peace. He saw a woman with no arm begging to just be put onto an ambulance, he came home and cried.