I believe the time of death is appointed. I came to that belief at the age of 22, the summer of 1995. Karachi had just been listed the most violent city of the world. More than Kashmir or the Middle East, I noted. This was the year when University of Karachi had witnessed its lowest enrolment since parents were reluctant to send students, especially daughters, to the university, despite army rangers crawling the campus to keep things in control. In the last few months, I had been stoned by a mob of angry students, witnessed a sniper shoot a round of Ak-47 while I waited in traffic, had a bomb blast in the men’s washroom next to my own office in the building of Dawn newspapers, seen children barely six-years old playing catch-me-if-you-can around a dead body on a street, witnessed a prominent doctor being kidnapped in front of my house along with colleagues being picked up at the government’s will. But above all, I witnessed my city’s people refuse to give up their zest for life, as they closed offices, or store shutters, only to open up again as soon as the debris of the bombs were cleared or the various snipers had gone their way. Life never stopped. Not for one hour did people stay at home; they always came out determined to not let the violence win.
Now, as then, I often wonder about my parents who had the courage to not once ask me to give up my profession or education in order to be safe. This knowing they never knew if they would see me again or not. I once asked my parents weren’t they afraid? And they said no to be so would mean that the people perpetrating such violence have won. I would tell them, “Well, just remember I want sunflowers planted on my grave.” I would ask my friends, passionate political activists, of why they continue when the country seems to be sliding deeper into a quagmire and their fight doesn’t seem to change anything and they would answer then as they do today, “one fights not because things can change but because one must. To do otherwise and look away is not possible.”
That particular day, I had just come out of Karachi Gymkhana after my daily run. The time was 7.30 a.m. Then, the term “terrorist” was not in vogue. And the dirty bombs lacked the precision of today. I was told afterwards that the bomb was supposed to have gone off much later during rush hour claiming many lives. Instead, had my small second-hand car not stalled precisely when it did, I would have been the lone victim. As I waited for my legs and hands to stop trembling, staring at the gaping hole 50 yards in front of me, my only thought was I believe it is not my time yet.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.