Published: January 10th 2008January 10th 2008
The morning starts quietly enough. Silvery fog spreads like a gossamer veil over Lahore, giving the leafy trees in front of my hotel a mysterious edge. I have breakfast, go back to my room, call Nafiz and arrange to meet him a little later as planned to watch the qawwali (islamic devotional) singing at the Shrine of Data Ganj Baksh Hajveri. At about 12.30, I am just about to leave my room, when my mobile rings. 'Tiziana, where are you?', a manic Nafiz shouts into the telephone. 'In my hotel, why?' 'Stay where you are, there's been a bomb blast at the CPO!' he says. I am nonchalant at first, but Sky News soon confirm that the situation is rather serious - and about a mile down the road from my hotel, also on Mall Road. There's been a suicide bomb attack at the High Court during an important lawyer's meeting, and so far, over twenty casualties and many injuries have been reported. As I watch the pictures of devastation unfold on the TV screen, I remember that I passed the High Court two days ago and wondered at the many road blocks and the huge sign in front of them, proclaiming, 'This is for your own security'. A crying policeman walking across the scene jerks me back to reality: it's easy to get blase' about the political situation here, but I am, after all, in Pakistan. I thank the Gods that I am, once again, safe, and think of those that weren't so lucky. It just confirms the feeling I've carried around with me ever since recent events in Rawalpindi: you never know what's around the corner. One minute you go to work, the next minute your whole world can come crashing down.
The TV reports start flooding in. There's chaos everywhere. People run around, abandoned helmets and trunkets litter the dusty road together with an abandoned shoe. Who is the owner of this shoe? What happened to him? Is he still alive? Suddenly, I hear faint singing coming from the Mosque opposite the hotel. This time, I appreciate it. I look up and see a large number of town eagles dancing across the sky. What will happen now?, I wonder as I admire the beautiful birds.
My attention switches back to the TV screen. Pictures of shattered windscreens, broken motorcycles, turned-over rickshaws. A man screams at the camera, repeatedly beating his right hand towards his heart. Piled-up bodies. A policeman limps along the road, aided by a colleague, with blood staining his beige trousers. Gosh, this is just around the corner, I think.
I go down to the lobby to ask whether it's safe to go out. Inwardly, I already know the answer - plus, I'm not sure how much I will enjoy the qawwali singing now, today, when the city is in shock and mourning. The concierge tells me that Mall Road is cordoned off and that for the time being, I can't go anywhere. In a couple of hours, maybe this evening, things should improve, he says - plus, there's also the risk of civil unrest breaking out, so it's best to stay put for a while. I go out of the front door and speak to some of the guards. They say the same. I express my sadness about the event. One of the guards shakes his head and says, 'Ma'm, this is Pakistan. Problem for us, always'. 'I know', I say. 'I've witnessed it.' In the Business Centre, the manager tells me sadly while we watch the TV news, 'This is Lahore. I thought Lahore was safe.' We watch in silence as the newsflash proclaims 'Killer's head found'.