8 pm. I'd just finished writing up a report on Zardari's speech to parliament that afternoon, called my office, told them I'd sent it, and was preparing to shut down my computer in anticipation of a quiet weekend. That's the exact moment I heard it. A huge huge sound that shook my entire house in the f-8/3 sector of Islamabad. It was the loudest explosion I'd ever heard, like thunder magnified a thousand times.
(The crater caused by the blast. Dimensions: 25'ft deep and 59' across)
But my first irrational reaction in that second was --God, please let this be an earthquake. Or maybe not so irrational, because a natural disaster is not the same as a terrorist act. I mean earthquakes, tsunamis, floods happen, and they are preventable too to a certain extent, and the damage they cause can be controlled. But the are not a demonstration of the depths to which humans can sink to make a point of their hatred of other humans, governments or a system or anything else. Earthquakes are not someone's act of revenge against someone else. Well, I guess you can argue that it's earth's revenge against humans for all the stuff we do it. But still, I know you've got the point.But of course, it was not an earthquake. It was just the biggest bomb to hit the country. I made a call to a reporter friend who told me it was at the Marriott -- it's two sectors away from where I live, which means four kms, but the explosion was so loud I was sure it had happened in the F-8 market just down the road. With a feeling of dread about the casualties, the blood and the gore, I took myself off to the spot with a friend who also wanted to go. Even from 300 mts away, the hotel still hidden from view behind a corner, we could tell this was no ordinary blast as we parked the car and walked towards it. Branches of trees were strewn all over the side road, there was building rubble, bricks and bits of glass long before we reached the main road in front of the Marriott.
There, an unforgettable sight: One end of the five-storeyed building on fire, the road itself in darkness, street lamps lying twisted on the road, some standing with only the trunks, the tops having got blown off, an entire row of cars on the opposite side of the road from the Marriott, completely wrecked and smashed and crumpled beyond recognitopon. On the road itself, a massive crater. I told my friend the last such crater I'd seen was from the LTTE's central bank bombing in Colombo, 1996. Actually, the whole scene reminded me of that incident, except the Colombo building was seven floors high, and this was one was flatter but spread out longer across.
( The fully ablaze hotel and the remains of its facade and car park)
(The day after -- Anees Jillani)
(The day after: Anees Jillani)