Lest anyone reading this post thinks I have embellished the event described in the first few paragraphs, let me assure you that I haven’t. It occurred exactly as I have recounted it.
An Indian diplomat had invited some journalists over to his home for a night of good music and food. The music courtesy an up-and-coming singer from Lahore.
It was March 2008 and the winter was yet to relax its grip on Islamabad. Most of the journalists had helped themselves to the diplomat’s well-stocked bar and settled in the comfortable sofas as the ‘tabalchi’ tuned his drums.
The singer, after being introduced to the guests, went to his harmonium, cleared his voice with a flourish and put a finger on the keyboard. What followed next was not the melodious strains of the harmonium but a loud blast that reverberated around the room.
All thoughts of music and food were forgotten as we gathered round a television to find out where exactly the terrorists had struck. The red tickers crawling across the screen said the bombing had occurred at the Luna Caprese restaurant in the bustling Super Market, once a popular hangout for westerners and journalists.
We had then been in Islamabad for about six months, and as more time passed suicide attacks and bombings became almost a routine. Initially the terror attacks were in the country’s northwest, but they slowly crept closer to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The day a suicide car bomber blew himself up outside the Danish embassy, located a stone’s throw from the Indian High Commissioner’s residence, in June 2008, my wife rushed into my room and said: “There was thunder but it’s strange as I can’t see any clouds in the sky.”
Having heard my share of bomb blasts and explosions over the years, I assured her that what she had heard was most definitely not thunder.
As the months passed, we became almost blasé about the bombings and suicide attacks since they occurred so frequently. That was till the day a suicide bomber drove up to the gate of Islamabad’s wildly popular Marriott Hotel in September 2008 and blew himself up along with some 600 kg of explosives.
We live about three kilometres from the Marriott and yet the blast was so powerful that it blew out all the windows in the home of one of our neighbours. I remember standing at the rim of the 60-foot wide crater caused by the blast and thinking I will probably never see a sight like this.
And as the attacks increased, it was hard not to come across people who had in some way or the other been affected by the terrorist attacks. A week before the bombing of the Marriott, my wife spent almost the whole of a dinner hosted by a diplomat chatting with the soft-spoken Czech Ambassador Ivo Zdarek.
Zdarek told my wife of his love for Indian food and sought tips on buying ‘dupattas’. At the end of the end of the dinner, he came up to me and said: “I spent the evening talking to your wife. The next time I want to talk to you.”
We made plans to meet but it was not to be – Zdarek was one of the nearly 60 people who died in the bombing of the Marriott.