Around three and a half years ago, we moved out of a densely populated apartment building near a road that was rapidly becoming a major thoroughfare, into a building with far fewer apartments and in an area which (at the time we were house-hunting) seemed relatively far more peaceful. There was a park with a decent walking track close by, and more wonderfully, a cricket stadium bang in front that afforded not just a verdant view, but also a feeling of expansiveness in a city fast losing its open spaces.
The only jarring element in an otherwise tolerable landscape was the presence of the Mazaar on the other side of the stadium, the final resting place of Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the scene of much frenetic activity. Considering that it is a landmark of our city-by-the-sea, a foreign visitor might be surprised that it isn’t…well…prettier. Let’s just face it, shall we? A squarish building atop a small hill, covered in geometrically placed blue and white tiles, topped by a pistachio green dome and a fibreglass-awning covered flight of steps leading up to it, isn’t what you’d call aesthetically pleasing. Especially when compared to the more magnificent Mughal-era monuments gracing old Lahore. Would a discreet face-lift hurt anyone?
The first night we spent after moving in unfortunately coincided with the Urs of Abdullah Shah, and we found ourselves unable to sleep till around four a.m due to the raucuousness of devotional songs blaring out over the loudspeakers and the beating of clamorous dhols all night long, and we couldn’t help wondering what we had let ourselves in for. The area didn’t seem all that peaceful after all.
But the next day was much quieter, and we gradually got used to the Thursday and Friday night crowds and noise and the visitors from far-off rural areas camping out on the sidewalks around the park with their portable stoves and babies, giving us a glimpse of the masses who came to pray fervently at the shrine in their hordes, within the precincts of posh Karachi.
Every day I work in my kitchen (the balcony of which overlooks the Mazaar) to the lively sounds emanating from there. Until we install sound-proof windows, we might as well live with this background music in our lives, occasionally drowning it out with some of our own playlists of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Norah Jones, Dire Straits or Chris Rea.
Over the course of the last few years, when homegrown terrorism has swallowed up people and regurgitated suicide bombers, we have as a nation witnessed innumerable terrorist attacks, whether it was girls schools being blown up, religious processions, military or police infrastructure, political rallies, and most astoundingly (in an Islamic Republic) mosques and shrines. The Data Darbar incident was shocking and appalling, but ultimately not very surprising if we stop to think about the growing intolerance within the ranks of the more fundamentalist amongst us (and I do mean the T-word).
However, these were events unfolding in the newspapers and the tv screen, remote events, happening in some other part of the country, some other part of the city. So when the first blast reverberated with a frightening loudness on that fateful 7th October Thursday evening, I jumped out of my skin thinking maybe the building roof just caved in. We stumbled out of various rooms, Huz, Amu and I, bewildered, and more than a little scared. We headed for the balcony door, dragged it open and looked out for clues to what might have transpired outside. Nothing was immediately visible, except a bit of smoke near the Mazaar and the loudspeaker noise seemed to be replaced by muffled sounds of wailing and fear. Within a couple of minutes, as we stared at the area in front of the shrine, there was a strange flash of light followed by a tremendous second explosion, that shook us to the core and made Fuzzy dash for cover under the bed. That was when we realised this was definitely not a transformer explosion or an unusually loud truck tyre bursting.
Miraculously, the doors and windows survived the bombs. No such luck, unfortunately, for the swarm of people gathered at the Mazaar to pray to the saint who preached love and peace and tolerance fourteen hundred years ago in Raja Dahir’s Sind.
Ironically, though merely yards away from the scene of the crime, we relied on television and the news networks to show us what was happening just outside. At the same time, concerned messages were pouring in on our cell phones (and our Facebook walls) and friends and family tried frantically to get through to see if we were okay and safe. We often use the Mazaar-route to come home, and I had been planning a grocery trip in the evening that would have required me to drive by that road. Later we learned that at least eight people had lost their lives and many others had been injured.
Soon enough, the immediate shock wore itself out, the dead and injured were carted away, the entire area was cordoned off, traffic was diverted, and all fell eerily silent around the Mazaar. No drums, and no more devotional music tonight. It had never been this quiet in all the years that we have lived here and it felt surreal to be standing in my kitchen, chopping onions to cook something for dinner, when just a few turns of the clock earlier there had been decapitated bodies and limbs strewn over the streets…so very close to home.
But that, my friend, is how life moves on in our violent city, where the next day the maid turns up to inform us that two children from the eight people that were killed in the suicide attack, were in fact, her next door neighbours in Neelum Colony, a ghetto of Seraiki-speakers, a large number of whom can count on a free meal that is a regular feature of the nearby shrine.
Another good one from Munira the Great. I was totally absorbed in what i was reading and that is saying something as i lose interest fast in the written word when i’m impatient to start painting before lights off in about half an hour 🙂 Finally I got an account of how you guys felt at the time of the blast and the aftermath of it. This piece is mostly for us karachiites who can truly understand and feel it knowing so well the dynamics of this area and getting exactly what you’re talking about. A very good article once again Mun and know that I’m a die hard fan …:)
How heart wrenching. I pray peace for our world and safety for you and your family.
What a description… you know I hear about it in news programs and read about it on the news,but a first hand account like yours is so much more disturbing. I could feel your home shaking as you described it.
Hope you get some peace and rest… How do you get used to the stress?
I don’t know how we get on with it….but we do…..
This post was somehow gorgeous in its sadness and humor. I’m glad I read it; you caused me to reflect–and then subscribe.
i think it’s great that you saw the humor too, as well as the sadness. thank you for your lovely comment, you really made my day…!
It’s sad, even the way you finished it. Next time i have onions I’m going to have to brood even more on this.
Ironical isn’t it? How in your country and in mine, fundamentalists and terrorists destroy religious places in the name of religion? I’m glad you and you’re family were physically unhurt Munira. But more and more these days I wonder about what all of this violence is doing to us internally, to our attitudes, our thoughts, our intellect? What effect will this have on our children and future generations? How will they reconcile lessons in peace and co-existence taught at home with the brutal reality that Life can throw up so unexpectedly? About how quickly and easily, in both our countries, we slip back into a normal routine after tragedies of monumental horror.
Because these questions scare me out of my wits, I live in fake denial and concern myself only with the safety of those I love. But the bigger picture…frightens me to death.
Thanks Harsha for your thoughtful comment. What you say resonates with me, and I think everyone who chooses to stay here rather than move to far-flung places where personal safety and peace is a given, or at least, not as unimaginable as it is over here.
What’s sad is that my generation grew up without terrorism of this sort, whereas the generation that we spawned finds itself mired in this vicious cycle of violence and senseless destruction.
I think living in denial is one of the ways we pacifists must cope. It’s the only place we can find our equilibrium.
I searched a bit for some older posts on your blog and noticed the “Sufism” tag and then found this story. How horrible it must have been for you. Especially, when you thought you moved to a quieter area.
It could have been horribler I suppose. I often imagine being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so many innocent people become victims of terror in the unlikeliest places. I wrote this in 2010. It is 2015, and the incidents have only piled up. The mazaar is getting a face lift though and the topography of our once familiar roads is changing drastically. I do miss my old Karachi.
Thank you for looking up old posts! 🙂 I’m glad it caught your attention.
We, Aunty Uta and I, we always worry when the news from Karachi are bad,
It was the “Sufism ” tag that caught my attention. I think it is a great philosophy. I like reading about Rumi and his writings.