28 Dec, 2007

2:00 pm, Friday

28 Dec, 2007

Around 4:30 pm yesterday Minal and I clamber in our car to drop Nusrat to her father’s house. Afterwards, we stopped off at Guddu and Salma’s for tea, where Minal joins in to play with their daughter Summer and her friends. “Let’s take the kids to Arena,” says Guddu. “It’s a great play area. Minal will have a fun time and the older kids can ice-skate. It’s all the way in KDA but they’ll have fun.”

As Guddu eats a late lunch (or an early dinner), we brainstorm on what food we can take for the kids.

“Maybe get some paratha,” Guddu says.“Or maybe we’ll just stop off somewhere on our way there and feed them something. It’s on the other side of town and they’re going to get hungry, “The food at the Arena’s terrible.”

Right around 6:30 pm as we’re getting ready to leave, Guddu emerges from his bedroom, keys in hand. His son Rafae is playing PS3.

“Turn it off,” Guddu commands. “Go to BBC.”

And that’s when we hear the news: Unconfirmed stories that Benazir Bhutto is dead after a bomb blast set off by a suicide bomber. It is 6:00 pm, and fixated to the TV screen, we watch as the news unfolds. Her death remains an unconfirmed rumour for the next 20 minutes but slowly, it becomes clear, that Benazir Bhutto is no more.

And then, there’s a debate on how she died. Was it through the bomb blast that killed at least 15 other people or were there bullet wounds? The story slowly crystallizes. Benazir Bhutto was shot dead in her neck and temple when she emerged from her bullet-proof vehicle to wave at the public. The suicide bomb happened seconds later and more lives were lost. As the story unravels, and as grief hits the country, chaos ensues.

Here, when there is grief, people burn buildings, cars, trucks, buses, petrol stations. Anything and everything. We watch in shock. This is a scenario that no one planned for. And the country continues to burn. In the short stretch of street between our house and Salma-Guddu’s, there’s a strip of street shops, Gizri, a known Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) neighborhood. Here, there is fire. And we sit and wait at our friend’s house. Only at 5:00am, in the sliver of time when the country is quiet, right before morning prayer, we get a ride home. I carry Minal out of her temporary bed and rush her to the car. And then Salma’s driver whisks us down Zamzama. On the quiet streets, we see abandoned cars, trucks and buses. Some are burned. There are no people moving and no cars—a vacancy, an emptiness that is unnatural to this city that never sleeps. Today, the silence continues.

On Khayeban-e-Jami, the main street closest to our house that’s an artery between the port and the industrial sector, the steady roar of traffic has been silenced. The turbulent life of a powerful woman has been snuffed. Another day of grief for a country already struggling to survive. For an analysis of Benazir’s passing, read my sister’s story filed with IPS last night.