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Karachi

February 20, 2017

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They have been hurt badly but their fearless devotion is undying

They have been hurt badly but their fearless devotion is undying

Winding up the Soyem ceremony of his brother, Ashiq Ali Chandio was running from one shop to another in search of change for a 500-rupee note for the flowers he had just bought to pay his respects to Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at his shrine in Sehwan.

But he didn’t turn around to hand over the pink roses to some of his family members standing a few feet away; it was the loud explosion and thick clouds of smoke emanating from the shrine that made him whirl round and witness the mayhem in absolute horror.

On the fateful Thursday evening this past week a bomb ripped through the revered shrine, leaving more than seven dozen people dead, including four of Chandio’s family, and many more wounded. He anxiously waits at the Civil Hospital Karachi’s trauma centre to hear of his eight-year-old niece Komal, who was injured in the blast.

“Half of my family was inside the shrine, as we were observing the Soyem of my brother, who wished to be buried there,” recounts Chandio. “I don’t know if it was my luck that none of the shops had any change, which delayed my return.”

But when the bomb exploded, he rushed to the entrance and spotted his wife, who told him that two of their daughters were still inside. As he neared the entry his brother emerged holding one of the daughters covered in blood. She survived, but her four-year-old sister Aaliya didn’t.

“I feel she could also have survived had she been treated immediately. She was breathing for over an hour and was in constant pain after her wounds were stitched up and she was administered anti-biotic injections.”

When her pain got intolerable, Chandio couldn’t bear it any more and thundered at the paramedics, who said they were helpless and the little girl would have to be taken to Hyderabad.

Along with four other patients, Aaliya and her father were transported to a Nawabshah hospital in an ambulance, but on reaching the facility she was pronounced dead on arrival.

“I wish I could’ve mourned my child right away, but I was told that Komal had gone missing: she was neither at the shrine nor was she at any of the medical units.”

Later, however, he was able to identify her through her clothes and asked a man to take her to Karachi so he could bury Aaliya. “He refused so we swapped duties: he took my daughter’s body and I arrived in the city so Komal could be put on a ventilator.”

Besides Aaliya, Chandio lost his sister Nazeera, a niece and four-year-old nephew Ghaffar Ali, the son of the brother buried at the shrine earlier. “My brother had two sons; Ghaffar was the younger one. He also happened to be physically and mentally fit, unlike his elder brother who is mentally disabled.”

 

Waiting for a miracle

“My 16-year-old nephew Muhammad Bakhsh was a volunteer at the shrine,” said Ali Hasan, who lives in Pir Wasan, not very far from Sehwan. “Bakhsh and his cousin were paying their respects when the bomb went off.”

The cousin grabbed a hold of Bakhsh but his own foot got burnt, loosening his grip and resulting in Bakhsh hitting the back of his head. “My nephew also lost his mobile phone. The constant ringing kept us on our toes until we found both the boys.”

On hearing the news, Hasan reached Nawabshah only to move to Karachi soon after because of Bakhsh’s critical condition. “The doctors said his brain is no longer working and he’s on life support, but I think if we all pray together a miracle would revive him.”

He said he wasn’t the only one to come to the city. “His parents are here too, except they have gone to [Sufi saint] Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine to pray for their son.”

An agonising thought

Twenty-two-year-old Zain Ali could empathise with Ali Hasan because he too had planned to visit Sehwan on Thursday. “I went to Sehwan last month and did not only experience a sense of tranquillity in the Dhamaal but also moved around the area to familiarise myself.”

He was supposed to extend his trip, but he had to cut it short and vowed to return soon. He and his friends recently planned to go to Sehwan on Thursday, but his work commitments delayed the programme to the next day.

The news of the blast dumbfounded Zain because he had planned to be there alongside all the devotees. “I couldn’t believe my ears; it seemed so surreal. The Dhamaal, which was the main target, is an ideal place to be for attaining peace. To substitute it with the horrific act seems too vile.”

He could visualise all the shrine’s corners right away and the mayhem that followed because the shrine is packed with people at that hour. “Perhaps what horrified me more were the narrow lanes, and the simple people who, unlike us, aren’t prepared to handle such disasters. It was agonising to think that I was safe and sound while all the devotees awaited help.”

No ordinary saint

Ashiq Ali Chandio and Ali Hasan stared emptily at their mobile screens flashing incoming calls, but Muhammad Jafar seemed full of hope as he spoke about his 35-year-old cousin and brother-in-law Deedar Ali, who was also among the injured.

“My Dulha bhai [brother-in-law] is responsible for the chadors at the shrine. I’ve spoken to the people there and we’re praying for him. We’re sure he’ll be walking on his feet soon,” he said beaming.

But soon enough he was fuming as he spoke about the bomber.

“All those who are involved in this barbarism should remember that they will regret it. Our saint is not ordinary.”

Narrating an incident from his childhood, Jafar said a group of men had once kidnapped a few people, but those who were abducted returned to their homes without a scratch and the kidnappers vowed never to cause trouble ever again.

“If anyone thinks they can shut us in our homes, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise because our devotion won’t die. We shall flock to the shrine whenever we can because our belief in our saint is far greater than the fear they are insistent on instilling into us. The Dhamaal will go on!”

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