When I went to Seattle, USA the first time, several years ago, I was struck by the peace in USA. It was so beautiful. Like a dream world. How could an American feel the fears that we feel on a daily basis? It is so easy to blame a person who is in a bad situation, for what he or she is suffering. Pakistan is blamed for ‘feeding’ the terrorists. Now, Europe is finding how it feels. No one wants to threaten their peace. No one wants their country to become a war zone. It is some terrible reality that we all are having to live with. How could anyone condone the killing of innocent human beings? We are also human. We all do not want to be a part of such a horrific reality with which we are living on a daily basis. We Pakistanis have had at least three decades of it.
In 1989 when my husband was posted to Karachi, we drove there from Quetta, (in those days, Quetta was very peaceful) and we arrived full of excitement of starting a new life in Karachi. We knew the situation there was bad, but realized how bad when we saw a ‘curfew update bulletin’ after the news every night on television. It felt really weird to have a daily news bulletin about curfew timings in different parts of the city. We lived a little outside, and we hardly knew the names of the different areas named. Ignorance is bliss. But …. We knew this is serious. I was a computer teacher in the school nearby. In the staff room I heard my colleagues mentioning different horror stories in the city from where they came.
“I look stupid standing on the road waiting for the bus at 6.30 am, when so much firing had taken place the evening before!”
“The terrorists just walked into our house, pushed us all into one room, then used our rooftop to do firing in the area. I was dying to go up and see what they were up to. My family made sure I didn’t go up to see what was going on!”
“I saw a man pick up a gun and try to shoot someone.”
“Why do you lock our house? We may not come back!” Once, my little Nadiya (aged six) remarked as we were going to Karachi’s downtown area. The girls had their instructions to stay down if there was shooting. Not to keep window down. And to rush away from the car the moment we park.
In 2006 when we went to Karachi again, I had shifted my EMBA classes to their Karachi branch. My class fellows told me how to survive in Karachi during such times, when a terrorist attack can take place anywhere, anytime and hell breaks loose. Well, “listen to the news before leaving your home.” (In those days, phones were not connected to internet.) This means keep a check on the news. Note the areas where the trouble is. Avoid that part of the city. “
When trouble hits in front. Go into the side streets and get out from another route. But you have to have knowledge of the area. You might be walking into more trouble if you get into a ‘trouble zone’ area!
One night in 2008, my husband and I were driving back home from dropping Saadullah Bhai, in Mayamar Heights near KDA, Karachi. We agreed to go back to Malir, from the ‘shorter’ route through Gulshan-e-Iqbal which was known to be an unsafe area. But we thought we’ll take a chance. The road was empty. It was past 12.00 am. Suddenly we saw tyres burning in the middle of the road ahead. Three men were waving long rods in their hands. Their faces covered except for their eyes with white cloth turbans. They looked very threatening. Our two daughters were sleeping in the back seat. My husband and I felt our hearts pounding as we had to come to a stop as there was no way of escape. As we came close, we realized, they were waving their rods, and pointing to a dirt road on the side. One man came close and told us, “There is going to be a lot of trouble here soon, go out from that way quickly!” Yes, the ‘hooligans’, were actually helping us get away! Alhamdolillah. (yes, God helps one through sources one couldn’t imagine! )
We dashed off, heaving a sigh of relief.
“Do not park your car next to an old vehicle.” My husband would warn me. He felt that if a person was going to blow a car up, they would choose one which was old and dilapidated. Ok. Also, avoid parking near garbage cans. (many times they place a bomb in one of these.)
“When you stop to park your car near a shop, do it quickly, and walk away from your car as soon as possible.” So that if someone wants to snatch your car, they do not realize the car is yours. Do, the same on return. Get in and drive off quickly.” My husband would warn me.
“Keep the car windows up at all times.” Yes, there were threats of people throwing acid on your face.
“Lock the doors the moment you get into your car, so that no one gets inside from the back.”
“Najib, I want to have dahi bhallas of Bohri bazaar.” I said to my husband,
“People are dying and you want to eat dahi bhallas!“ he was furious.
“Hey, I want to keep a pistol in the car!” I said to my husband another time, when we went to Karachi, as I was used to having a pistol in my home as a kid. “I’m against violence, why should I keep a pistol?” my husband replied. So, we kept no weapons – even for self-defense!
One night we were out shopping in the city. – Only us girls. I mean my three daughters and myself. By the time we finished our shopping it was near midnight.The shop keeper was afraid for us, so he sent a man with us to take our shopping to the car, which was parked across the road in the dark. On the way back, Nataliya who had just come from Seattle said, “I’m dying to have some ‘desi’ barbecued chicken with naans and seekh kebabs!” I said “why not?” so we drove off to the nearby shops where the smoke from barbecued chicken was so tantalizing. The eunuchs would come draping their doputtas (head scarves) over the front windscreens. Several of them chanting prayers for us “Baji, teri jori salamat rahay. Allah tujh ko Haj karaye!” (May God keep you and your spouse safe. May you do Haj. )The bright lipstick, the bangles and bright clothes, all showing a taste in fashion. Smiles and humor. (I admire their brave attitude towards life, in spite of the hardships they face.) We gave them some charity, as we waited for the food to come. We noticed, we were the only ‘girls only’ car. There were many people around us, making us feel safe. No one was bothered about us. Somehow, life goes on. Eating and feasting is not to be curbed by terrorism in the city.
Letting my daughter go to school in the bus, and praying for her safety all the way there and back, has been a daily routine. Most of the time, I’ve been driving off to pick or drop my girls.
Life goes on. It has to. One day, we will see a world free of terrorism. But till that day comes, we have to carry on our lives as normal as possible. We have to show the terrorists that they cannot crush our spirit by these tactics. If they have a problem, it has to be solved in a peaceful way.
The most important thing is: We all need to find ways to not allow innocent people to get into the hands of the terrorists, to be used for suicide bombing. We have to take care of people around us. Especially, the underprivileged ones, so that they do not fall into the cold blooded hands of terrorists, only to be used as weapons by planners of suicide bombings around the world today.
Today, as I write. In Lahore, over 70 people have died from one 25 year old man blasting himself off in a suicide blast in Iqbal Town park. There are people owning up to doing these heinous crimes. Remember, every person who dies, is a human being who has died. He is neither Christian, Muslim or Jew. A human life has ended. Many maimed for life. Similarly, there is no religion of a killer. He is a killer. What do you say about a killer who is killing himself too? But there is someone alive who is behind the killing of the killer and those killed. These are the people we have to get to. Similarly, there is need to stop the senseless killing by the West of innocents among the criminals in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That’s the need of the hour. We all have to learn from what is happening around us.
How long will this insanity continue? I live to hope for a better world.
Meanwhile. Lets pray for the departed souls and the injured victims of terrorism. Stay safe, stay blessed, my dear reader. 🙁