Terror visits Lahore
The night Moon Market turned into hell
By Saadia Salahuddin
The blasts in Moon Market on Monday night took at least 120 lives, say the shopkeepers who have been moving the bodies and injured out of the market. There were two blasts on two ends of the market at 8:40 pm within 13-15 seconds where there would be huge crowd always. Maximum rush in this market would be between 8-11 pm. Majority of the dead and injured included shoppers and men and boys running stalls outside the shops.
"A lean young man with a big tummy quickly walked in from the back of the market, from the Muslim Commercial Bank end. Some people shouted, 'stop him, stop him'. The next moment there was a blast." The girl who is an eye-witness, lives in P-Block, Wahdat Colony quarters next to Pilot School. She had gone there with her mother to shop for her sister's wedding which was due in February. Her reflexes were sharp so she managed to escape the tragedy, though her hair was badly burnt. Her mother could not. The raging fire wrapped her up.
The fire that spread fast, entered two of the narrow lanes in the market, made narrower with stalls on both sides throughout. Then, the stalls were wooden which added fuel to the fire that engulfed everyone and everything that came in its way. The six to seven feet wide link lanes in the market had stalls on both ends outside the shops which made the escape of people extremely difficult.
The fire brigade came after 45 minutes, the Wapda team after two hours, a number of people in the market said, disappointed in the services. Edhi ambulances were the first to reach.
"We counted 85 bodies on the first night the fire broke. At least 25 bodies were recovered from the upper storeys of the plazas in the market on the second day. And a charred body was recovered on the third day while men in the market were cleaning the debris," the traders say. "We saw limbs going up high in the air. Go see the second floor of MCB, there are blood stains all around," a boy there says.
"The blackened bazaar is witness to betrayal of humanity." People come in hordes everyday to see what the market looks like after the tragedy. "We are spectators. That is our common national characteristic," says one of the shopkeepers who cleaned the lane next to Hanif Gift Centre on the front themselves on the third day of the blasts.
There was no block in Allama Iqbal Town where tents weren't seen. At the same time roads were blocked with tents in Pakki Thatti, Ittehad Colony and quarters on Wahdat Road. "A woman and her three daughters, who lived in Kashmir Block, were burnt to death. The family had come after a long time from Saudi Arabia to live in their own country. Another woman and her daughter from Nargis Block were burnt to death. Her daughter, who has survived, has lost her mental balance. She saw her sister's eye coming out. These women were my relatives and neighbours," says Pervez Khan alias Sher Khan, one of the two unions' president here whose shop miraculously survived the fire while the shop just next to his, Hanif Gift Centre, turned to ashes.
A man was seen looking for a body in the debris all day long. He was looking for his wife who had come here on that fateful night and had not returned home. People saw their loved ones being engulfed in fire before their very own eyes. "I held a stall owner tightly who wanted to run into the fire to look for his brother and was crying loud for him. When the fire was finally controlled after three hours, his brother could be recognised only by a finger ring he was wearing," says Waqar Khan who assists his father in their shop at the market. The young man and his brother were among those who took the injured and the bodies out of the debris. Then two brides, who were coming out of Mishi Beauty Parlour after getting ready, caught fire.
"The parlour is still making brides. Imagine how people call to seek appointment for bridal make-up here. There is so much insensitivity in this society," says a colleague who frequently goes to this market and in whose neighbourhood there is a wedding in near future.
"Save this country, please. Terror reigns in the hearts of people. This Eid in Peshawar, people went from house to house for condolences. There was no Eid there. Now the same thing is happening in Lahore," says Pervez Khan.
People who came to the market and some shopkeepers went so far as to say: "The rulers' bank accounts are getting fatter by the day with the money pouring into the country in the name of war on terror and people are dying in such blasts. Better give the country to the USA. That may do some good to the people. When people are oppressed for so long in a country, this is what happens. The blasts are a consequence of the unjust system and practices of successive governments in Pakistan."
A security guard says, "Two hundred men are engaged to guard one high official in the government while the poor man has no security. When we leave home for work we don't know if we will return in the evening. We don't trust the government one percent. People, rise to your help yourselves," he said loudly to a crowd of people in the Moon Market.
Moon Market will have one entrance and one exit. Vehicles will enter the market from Bundu Khan side and will leave from the other end. A boundary wall will be erected around the whole market. Those on foot will enter from National Bank end and leave from Muslim Commercial Bank end. "This was decided in a meeting of the market union with the Punjab chief minister last Thursday," said Chaudhry Mehmood Ahmad, president of the union.
The compensation that the government has announced is five lakh per jeweller, nine lakh to 10x20 feet shops of silk cloth, seven lakh each to gift centres, one lakh to stall holders who had quoted loss of more than Rs 50,000 and Rs 50,000 to those who had quoted less than that, The News on Sunday (TNS) learnt from Mehmood Ahmad.
"Will the market ever be able to do business like before?" Do people still go to Meena bazaar in Peshawar?" are questions many people ask.
In the wake of the high alert signals given by the Interior Ministry, all market committees are conscious of their security arrangements. The report that 15 suicide bombers have entered Lahore, has reached everyone. All tharas were removed in Ichhra main bazaar on Monday morning, the night the blasts took place. The market union has deployed guards at all entries and exits of the market. They are putting chains in front of all link lanes. Only residents and shopkeepers of the area would be allowed to bring in their vehicles. All shopkeepers will be given ID cards. There will be checking at all entrances. Anarkali looks much organised than before with guards at the two ends of the bazaar. Other markets will soon devise plans to protect themselves. May God protect us all.
There is no preparedness to fight fire in markets and nobody is there to check that either
By Aoun Sahi
The recent tragic incident of twin suicide bombings at Moon Market in Lahore has once again exposed the incompetence of Civil Defence and fire fighting departments. According to preliminary investigation of police, most of the damage to lives and property was not caused by the bombing, but the fire that followed the blasts. "Around 70 percent deaths and 90 percent damage to property at Moon Market was done by the fire," Lahore police chief Pervaiz Rathore tells TNS. Rescue 1122 sources also support the police findings. "Not even a single shopkeeper in the whole market has a fire extinguisher. If they had these equipment or fire brigade had reached in time the situation could have been totally different," a rescue 1122 worker, who does not want to be named, tells TNS. According to him, the fire took 10-15 minutes to spread and become an uncontrollable menace. "It was very much manageable at the initial stage," he thinks.
There is a hydrant meant to be used in such emergencies at Moon Market, but nobody knows how to operate it, not even the Fire Brigade or the Rescue 1122. Asked who has the key to such a facility, XEN Samanabad Niazi said, "It can be opened with any spanner. Such facilities are there in other markets as well," said the XEN. The shopkeepers need to know how to use these water points in emergencies.
Dr Muhammad Mansoor, general manager MGH Engineering, a company that deals in fire extinguisher equipment and fire alarm system, tells TNS that traders are least interested in buying fire extinguishers for their shops. "I have been in the business for five years and have seldom seen a shopkeeper coming to me for my services. They consider it wastage of money. Our building bylaws clearly state that every shopping plaza should have a fire alarm and fire fighting system, but who cares for rules and regulations. Fire points are integral part of markets throughout the world," he says. "Emergency exits should also be a must in every market, otherwise we cannot stop tragedies like the Moon Market or Ghakhar Plaza," Dr Mansoor said.
Traders of Moon Market admit they have got nothing to fight the fire. "None of the shopkeepers in the market has a fire alarm system or fire extinguishers. The situation is same in almost all the markets of Lahore," Chaudhry Mehmood Ahmad, chairman Moon Market Traders Union tells TNS. According to him, traders have never been given training by Civil Defence or any other government department to fight and control fire. "The fire started at only three shops, but it spread fast as fire brigade took one hour to reach there," he says.
Mazhar Ahmed, a Civil Defence officer in Lahore, tells TNS that under the new provincial trade policy introduced in 2005, his department is not allowed to go to markets and industrial areas to check their preparedness to fight fire. "Before that, under rule 9 of Civil Defence Act 1951, it was the responsibility of the department to check and ensure the arrangements of fire fighting at all such places. The rules say that every shopkeeper should have different fire extinguishers at his/her shop and every market should have fire points, hydrant and overhead water reservoir for the sole purpose to fight fire. But, at present none of the department can go and see whether these rules and regulations are being observed or not," he maintained.
By I. A. Sheikh
'Daddy, kub khatam honge ye bomb blasts?' asks my six-year-old daughter, who was quite frustrated after spending three weeks of school days confined to home owing to security threats. My mind struggled coming up with an answer as I pretended not to have heard her, and I tried to change the subject of discussion to something more 'her level'.
In evading the question and putting it off till I come up with a suitable answer, I thought of people who might have an answer to her precocious query. From the winners of Nobel Peace Prize in the distant land of promise to very near, very 'informed' politicians of this country, to our military commanders - everyone came to my mind.
For anyone living in Pakistan in these turbulent times, it is not an easy question to answer. Conspiracy theories of all sorts abound; media is relentlessly shaping and reshaping and de-shaping the public opinion; analysts and pundits are relishing the situation; and the so-called vested interests are no less active (as always) to make the most of this mess.
'Who is who' and 'what is what' in this free-for-all are tough questions to answer. Who are Taliban and who are the Taliban? Do we have good and bad types of them? Whose war is it? Who is behind the current spate of bloodshed targeting mosques and market places and courts and security checkpoints? Is it about peace or oil or nukes? Is terrorism our biggest problem or is it Kerry Lugar bill? Is it NRO or is it the 17th Amendment? Is it dictatorship or is it democracy? Is it energy or is it sugar? Is it Blackwater or is it clean water?
I find myself totally clueless. What's happening and what will happen is anybody's guess. But one thing is for sure-'all is not well with the state of Denmark'. And therefore, my final take on this situation, as an ordinary, unarmed citizen of 'our Denmark' is to pretend being unafraid and to display the courage of despair.
So here goes: I'll take life as it comes; I'll go out and do things that I must; I'll send my kids to school; I'll reckon every drive my final, every embrace my last and be prepared for whatever luck has in store for me.
And while I brood and brood and brood, we get news that schools are ready to resume. The lovesome daily chore of driving our two kids to school with my wife riding the front seat resumes on cue.
One morning, on the course of this drive, I switch on the radio and a newscaster greets us with 36-dead-in-Lahore's-Moon-Market-blast news. I quickly lower the volume, only to hear my daughter mimicking the newscaster: chhabbees (26) banday marey gaye, chattees (36) log marey gaye'.
'Bad luck my children,' I scream angrily as we get stuck in a traffic mess, with confusion and chaos increasing by the moment.
And after having dropped my children at the school in a not very green zone of the city, I come back with an indomitable sense of insecurity, trying to tell myself 'nothing will happen'.
Nothing, indeed, will happen till we find answers to the questions of our children.
* Group Show
of 9 Master Artists at Revivers Galleria at 84-B-1,Ghalib Road,Gulberg 3 till Dec 19. The gallery remains open from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.
* Minorities International Conference on Sat & Sun, Dec 12-13 at Loyola Hall, 28 Waris Road.
* Jazz Night every Saturday at
Peeru's Cafe at 9:00 pm featuring live performance by Jazz Moods.
* Exhibition of Saeed Akhtar's paintings at Ejaz Art Gallery
till Sat, Dec 26.
* Opening of Vogue Art Gallery II, 1-Mawaz Lane, Defence Road, Opp Allama Iqbal International Airport on Wed, Dec 16 from 3-8 pm.
* Monthly Classical Music Concert at Lahore Chitrkar on Sat, Dec 12 at 7:30 pm.
* Minorities International Conference at Loyola Hall, 28 Waris Road. Today is the second and the last day.
* Sufi Night every Thursday at Peerus Cafe at 9:00 pm featuring live qawali performances.
* Ghazal Night every Friday at Peerus Cafe at 9:00 pm.
* Qawwali Night every Friday at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall at 7:00 pm.
The once loved Ruh Khitch camera has become irrelevant with the advent of more sophisticated technologies. Here is a profile of one such photogragher, Muhammad Amin
By Ali Sultan
It's a good disappearing act. Not brought on, however, by the notion of simply moving on or starting over but because of the slippery, sometimes incomprehensible thing we call technology.
Meeting Muhammad Amin is part of this predicament. He sits on a wooden bench, near a white Wasa building, now dirty with age and covered in graffiti, near Bhaati gate. Behind him, gypsies live in a colourful array of green, blue and red tents, full of hustle and bustle.
Amin, however, sits very still. His hair is unkempt and his slippers and white shalwar kameez look as if they have seen better days. His eyes, lifeless, stare at nothing in particular, and are somehow uncomfortable to look at. The only thing cheerful about this arrangement is the bright green prayer rug that is placed on his right on the bench. Muhammad Amin till a year ago was a Ruh Khitch photographer.
According to photographer Malcolm Hutcheson, "Traditional Ruh Khitch is a way in which black and white photographs can be taken, printed and sold to a client without a studio or darkroom. It was practised throughout the twentieth century by photographers who worked on the pavement near government offices where passport size portraits were needed and at tourist attractions. Ruh Khitch, translated from Punjabi as 'Spirit Pulling', refers to the way the photographer puts his hand inside the camera and pulls out the photograph."
"I started back in 1983," says Muhammad Amin. "My father was also a photographer and his father before him," says Amin with a little smile and with some pride in his voice. "There was a lot of business then, everyone used to come and get their pictures taken, and it didn't matter if someone was rich or poor," he adds.
The Ruh Khitch camera -- notoriously hard to operate -- is just large enough to contain a focusing screen and two trays of photographic chemicals; a developer and fixer. This mini darkroom/camera combo allows an image to be shot, on photographic paper, and processed within two minutes. Being able to judge the exposure by examining the negative is an important feature in a camera that has no shutter. The lenses usually came from an old enlarger and the exposure times are between 1 and 4 seconds. This means all photographs are taken with the cooperation of the subject who has to remain as still as possible during the exposure.
For Muhammad Amin, however, using the camera came easy. "I was fascinated by it from a young age and my father taught me with a lot of patience and love. He taught me that the most important thing was that portraits are more about the photographer than they are about the people being photographed." For Amin, it was all about the face. "It's a very humbling experience," he says, "to look at someone else's face and in turn finding your own humanity."
Most interestingly, Amin says that the process of taking a photograph was somehow very near to the experience of death -- all photographs with the Ruh Khitch are taken with the cooperation of the subject who has to remain as still as possible during the exposure. "So it was a kind of a dance, arranging the sitter, going back to the camera, adjusting something, going back and readjusting the sitter, but when it came to take the photograph, for those few seconds, the photographer and the object would be simply still, like death."
Life was bearable for Amin and his family, "Photographs were cheap. I would charge Rs 20 for three photographs and later because of inflation had to raise it to Rs 35 for three photographs, and I was raising my family."
Now, however, Muhammad Amin is jobless. "With the advent of all this technology, everyone and anyone is a photographer and nobody wants to get their pictures taken. I packed up my camera about a year ago. I do odd jobs here and there but this was the only thing that I knew how to do and now it's gone."
He sits on the same bench everyday, his eyes staring into open space. Perfectly still.
A marked increase in the prices of 'religious offerings' means less business this year
By Shahnawaz Khan
Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar which commemorates the martyrdom of the third Imam Hazrat Hussain Ibne Ali (RA), is a period of mourning for Muslims, especially for Shia Muslims. Many special arrangements are carried out by the Shia Muslims for the processions and majalis to recount the tragedy of Karbala.
With Muharram nearing, imambargahs are being white-washed and renovated, ready for organising majalis and processions. However, the specific symbols that are held and used in these processions accentuate the significance of the mourning, as these are associated with the martyrs of Karbala.
Like alam of Ghazi Abbas (RA), the cradle of Ali Asghar (RA) and Shahzada Qasim's (RA) mehndi are used as symbols to represent the sentiments and attachment of the devotees with these great personalities and Ahl-e-Baet of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
History reveals that every symbol has its own importance. Alam, an important part of the Ashura procession, is associated with Al Abbas Ibn Ali (RA). Also remembered as Ghazi Abbas (RA), he was given the flag of Imam Hussain's (RA) brief batallion of 72 people in the battle of Karbala. He was the half brother of Hussain (RA) and son of Hazrat Ali (RA), the fourth caliph of Muslims. Ghazi (RA) held the Alam (flag) intact until he was martyred.
Similarly, Shia Muslims wear a wrist-ring (Kara) to remember the misery of Imam Zainul Abedeen (RA), son of Imam Hussain (RA), who was taken to Syria handcuffed after the tragedy of Karbala. Some Shia Muslims tie themselves up with chains and walk barefoot in the memory of Imam Hussain (RA)."
The cradle of Ali Asghar (RA) is also carried in the processions. Asghar (RA) was the youngest member of Hussain's (RA) troop. An infant of six months, Ashghar (RA) was martyred when his father, Hussain (RA) asked for some water for him.
Similarly, Qasim Ibne Hassan (RA) was about to get married but gave his life in the way of Allah. "His mehndi is taken out in processions to remember that no job is greater than to sacrifice your life for Islam".
With Muharram approaching, business of about one hundred shops at Flemming Road, Gowalmandi, Bibi Pak Daman, Karbala Gamay Shah and Islampura/ Krishnagar in Lahore, dealing in the trade of these very symbols, is on again but it is not the same as it used to be in the past. People not only from Lahore but also from other cities including Faisalabad, Jehlum, Kharian, Pind Dadan Khan, Ali Pur Chatha and Sheikhupura would come to Lahore for manufacturing and repairing of their symbols.
Although the people of Pakistan have come to accept inflation as a part of their routine lives, a marked increase in the prices of 'religious offerings' and articles of religious significance is quite visible this Muharram.
Muhammad Yaqoob owner of Bab-e-Ghos Metal Craft who is in the business of manufacturing and repairing symbols since more than five decades, talking on the importance of symbols during different eras said, "Day by day it is getting costly due to inflation, as this year more people are preferring to go for repairing and polishing of old symbols than purchasing new ones".
He said a ziarat of Zuljinnah was being prepared between Rs 50,000 to Rs 150,000, depending on the kind of metals and accessories used. Last year, he said, a ziarat of Zuljannah could be prepared for Rs 40,000. Similarly, a zarih that costs anywhere between Rs 200,000 to Rs 4 million this year, could be made at a minimum cost of Rs 175,000 last year and the current price of a jhoola is between Rs 100,000 to Rs 1 million. Prices have gone up by 25 percent this year.
A panja put on top of the alam, could be obtained for Rs 3,500 to Rs 5,000 last year, but this year it costs between Rs 7,000 to Rs 12,000. The high prices are having a huge impact on sales. The sale may go down by 60 percent this year, he said. While another important thing of mourning i.e. zanjeers of different sizes can be bought for Rs 200 to Rs 1,200 and sharpened for Rs 100 to Rs 250 this year which is 20% higher than the previous year.