It was quarter to 11 on Sunday night and our flight back from Lahore had just landed at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. While we were making our way inside the terminal, to the conveyer belt for our luggage, we heard the first loud ‘boom’.
Our luggage never came.
What did come, over the course of our over seven-hour ordeal, was the terrifying sound of gunfire, hand grenades (as I learned later) and two extremely loud blasts that made my blood run cold.
All this a mere 1.5 kilometres away from where my friend and I sat huddled with 60 other passengers in the domestic terminal.
Through the course of the night my emotions kept switching between devastation and resilience. It felt like each shot that we heard was closer than the last, people started to run around, in a disorganised fashion trying to make it to safety – wherever that was at this point.
Security personnel began to seal the airport, locking us in while my husband and friends, who came to pick us up, were cordoned off in the parking lot.
Through the course of the night most of the ‘reports’ that we received from outside were unfounded and in contradiction to what I was witnessing.
For security purposes, I won't get into the details of those events, but it must be said that our media needs to be more careful when reporting incidents where innocent lives face a direct impact of their statements on-air.
I didn’t even realise when the first tear rolled down my face, and the flood that involuntarily followed did little to calm me down.
There was another couple with two young children was also stranded on the same flight as us. The family had gone to Lahore for four days and had left their car parked at the airport.
Right as we landed, her husband had already made his way out to get the car while his wife and kids were in line to grab the luggage and meet him at the pick-up point. That’s when the airport got sealed trapping her in with two young children.
A teenage boy tried to pass the time by taking pictures and videos with his smart phone but security personnel immediately stopped him. Slowly, all our phone batteries began to die out. It was the first time I noticed the lack of sockets at the terminal and thus our inability to recharge our phone batteries.
Some decided to get entrepreneurial and started charging Rs100 for letting other passengers use their laptops to charge cell phones.
Eventually, mobile networks were jammed and electricity was switched off.
There was terror, and then there was relief as the undoubtedly loud ‘broom broom’ of cavalry’s tanks reassured me in those moments like nothing else could.
As the hours clocked in, the terminal began to resemble a picnic at the park. Some made a bed for themselves on the conveyer belts while others sat down and were busy munching on snacks. Some were in a corner praying, while a few just sat absolutely still.
I, for one, was only focused on getting out of there. It was now almost five hours since I found myself in undoubtedly one of my life’s most traumatic situations.
I was one of the lucky ones. A Corp commander who had just come into the terminal to check on the situation turned out to be a friend of my father-in-law. He made arrangements for all of us to get out of the terminal and head to the parking lot. But just as we were making our way out, we heard two very loud blasts.
My first instinct was to freeze but I just grabbed my friend’s hand and along with two ‘jawans’ I ran towards parking lot where I found my husband.
Unfortunately, not all of us made it out. Due to the blast some of the others stayed behind in the terminal.
I spoke to my father, who had been in a state of constant worry the whole night. We had made a conscious decision not to wake up my mother; the stress would have been too much for her. She did, however, wake up on her own just five minutes before I made it to the parking lot. She was obviously horrified and would have made her way to the airport to extract me herself had I not made it out of the terminal when I did.
But our nightmare was hardly over.
We were now stuck in the parking lot unable to leave the premises till higher authorities gave clearance that the situation was under control.
That took another two odd hours for us to get out of the parking lot and into a massive traffic jam.
I finally made it home to no electricity because our area’s underground electricity copper wires had been stolen.
Just another day living in Karachi...