Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lost lives...insecure lives.

Kabul, Afghanistan - Friday February 26,2010

Six heavily armed men casually walk towards the entrance of Park Residence Hotel and as casually, pump several bullets into the heavy set middle aged guard sleepily guarding the entrance on this calm and sedate Friday holiday. They quickly overpower and kill 2 other guards just inside the iron enforced gates and then run into the open compound of the hotel and set off a number of explosions so powerful, the entire facade of the building comes crashing down. The assailants proceed to gun down anybody that moves; but there are not many guests out and about, sleeping in perhaps on this Muslim Sabbath. The obvious leader of these assassins, a tall, powerful, fully bearded man with shoulder length hair, kicks in the reception door and in Urdu, demands to know what rooms Indians occupy. The night clerk, terrified out of his wits, trembles violently, unable to speak; he gets shot dead. Frustrated, the leader commands his team to explode more bombs.

After the Afghanistan Defence Forces finally kill the attackers and mop up this latest onslaught on Kabul, 18 innocents lay dead, 9 Indians, mostly doctors working in the Indian Medical Mission serving Afghans desperately in need of medical attention.

Kabul, Afghanistan – 2005, 2006, 2007

After spending my first trip ever to Kabul at the (un)Insaaf Hotel in 2005, freezing because of no heat in the rooms and either boiling water or ice water options in the bathrooms, Park Residency Hotel was an oasis of relative comfort, not too far away. The rooms were fairly large, well cleaned and food, catering to many Indians who preferred staying here, fairly palatable. Security, with heavy armed guards manning massive iron doors and frisking everybody coming in was seemingly (apparently not) adequate and assuring. Sayyedna Mussawi, Gulambhai Virjee, Aliakberbhai Ratansi, Mohammed Somji, Mohammed Dewji – all of us will remember this hotel very well.

Kabul, Afghanistan, March 12 - 15, 2010

I am in Kabul, this my 14th trip here on behalf of Comfort Aid International to inspect and complete final formalities for opening of Imam Hussein (A) High School at Daste Barchi, a sprawling Hazare slum on the outskirts of Kabul. I am staying as a guest at the home of our engineer Wasi Mohammed, who is insisting this; he feels his modest home the most secure for me, considering what happened to Park Residence Hotel just 3 weeks ago. I am reluctant to impose on Wasi’s modest means, especially after he makes a whole room, nice and warm, available for me, but he is right, it is a “right” neighbourhood and I will be safe, insha’Allah.

These are long days for us; the entire team work throughout the day and late into the night to make sure everything is covered for the grand opening on June 3rd, birthday of Lady of Light, Sayyeda Fatemah (S). There are several issues to be resolved (this being Afghanistan, not surprising), but looks like we will overcome them, insha’Allah. The school building itself is turning out very beautiful maasha’Allah; I can find very little, if anything, to fault with the construction of the building; this is unusual, for I tend to be exacting, a perfectionist, a pain.

It is while we are returning from dinner that we chance drive by the now shell of Park Residency Hotel. I request Wasi to stop; he hesitates, unsure, uneasy. The area is shrouded in darkness and looks eerie; Wasi stops and I get out, viewing the destruction that is so apparent. The building is covered up to hide the blackened shell, there is nobody around and I can make out the collapsed front fa├žade. How must it have felt for the guests that were slain that Friday? The guard whom I knew well, the demure receptionist, the bellboys…? How many Fridays have I and those that accompany me sometimes slept in that very same spot…?

I say a prayer for those that perished, some faces so fresh in my mind, I can see their expressions vividly. I know Wasi is getting anxious, nervous, so I hurry back to the relative safety of Wasi’s neighbourhood.

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