9:30 pm to 5:00 am, 27th and 28th December ‘07
It was dinner time. The television was open: the news channels cloaked in lurid red headlines confirming the horrid news that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. There was a strange silence prevalent in the room – nobody wanted to talk. It still seemed so unreal, even though more than two hours had passed since the news had broke.
We were having dinner in silence, when the telephone rang.
Baba went to pick up the phone. He talked for more than half an hour.
Grim news had been delivered to him by an Uncle of ours. My school had been set on fire. All the restaurants – KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds were smoldering in flames. State Life Corporation building had been torched, the blaze scorching the contents of the massive building. Hundreds of automobiles were crushed into smithereens and set ablaze. Scores of banks were looted and the ATM machines ruined to extricate money from them. Dozens of shops were razed. People were being killed for no reason whatsoever. Carnage had swept into streets and Hyderabad burnt like a hell-hole.
Reality descended on us and fell heavy on our shoulders. Everything from hotels to automobiles to shops to schools had been scorched. Schools like City School and Beaconhouse School System [mine] had been raided, computers were stolen and records were charred by fire.
Time stretched into hours and everyone waited. As far as I remember, it was a wait for more dreadful news. A wait that was tortuous, that brought with it a sharp tingling agony.
And then it came.
My would-be brother-in-law was trapped in Liaquat University Hospital, Jamshoro. Jamshoro or famously known as University Town is home to three of Sind’s best universities – Sind University, Mehran University of Engineering and Technology [MUET] and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences [LUMHS]. My brother-in-law was on duty in the LUH, when the news of Benazir Bhutto’s death reached there.
He couldn’t come back to Hyderabad, which was at half-an-hour’s distance from Jamshoro, because groups of anguished men clustered on the main roads, in wait to devastate more vehicles. He had tried once, but the attempt had failed as men with guns had started to pursue him, firing intermittently. And so he was trapped in LUH, with no prospect of returning home in near future.
This incarceration in LUH caused much anxiety in our house. Unbridled fear now wafted in the atmosphere of the rooms. How can you not fear when your loved ones were out there in the bloodbath that poured in the streets? How can you not worry when you know your loved ones are not closeted in the safety of their homes? Fear was imminent in the circumstances that had unfolded so terrifyingly.
My parents were calling our relatives in Karachi and Hyderabad to ascertain their safety. My Chacha could not return home and had to stay at the house of his Boss. Thankfully, other relatives were safe at their places or had found refuge elsewhere in homes of their friends and colleagues.
More calls were made.
It was found out that clusters of cars had flocked outside the main gate of DMCHS [Diplai Memon Cooperative Society] and basked in the safety of its location as DMCHS is located far from the main road and has fool-proof security. Most of the cars were of the employees of Rajputana Hospital which is built beside the main road. Although the cars were not allowed inside the colony, yet food was provided to the stranded people as there had been in a wedding in the Lawn of DMCHS and since nobody had come to the wedding due to the anarchic state of the city and the food had been prepared – hence, it was distributed among the people. What a fateful coincidence!
I got online and got to know the astonishing details of how my school had been set on flames from some of my friends who lived near the school.
A lorry – mark my words, a lorry – loaded with a huge iron column rammed the gate of the school open. The riotous crowd entered the school and after plundering the offices at the ground floor, proceeded to torch the school bus. I must mention here, that the school bus was somewhat of a relic and had been in service of the school since its inception some thirty years back. It is said that it burned spectacularly and died the death of a martyr. The security cameras in the school were also smashed – and something that still amazes me that the people were so desperate to pillage the school that they even climbed the back wall of the school, ripped apart the tarpaulin roof that shaded the back side and then got busy in ransacking the entire place.
However, the school was saved from further damage, by the timely arrival of the fire-brigade and the Commissioner of Police.
But much was not saved and the livelihood of thousands of people crumbled into ashes.
The night waned and the purple light of dawn imbued into the sky, the orange shades scaring the blackness of the night away.
Curfew had been imposed in Hyderabad.
But would it be enough to curb the riots?