We were visiting Lahore from Karachi. On one beautiful morning, with a drop in temperature and a gentle breeze blowing, we decided to visit the Lahore Zoo.
When we entered the zoo, we saw the most beautiful peacocks, Subhan’Allah! They reminded us of the power of Allah’s (swt) creation. Moving on, we saw the deer, hippos and other animals. The elephant Suzi came near us and we stroked its trunk. Crossing the playful chimps, we came close to the lion’s cage. After we had seen the magnificent lions and tigers, it was coming close to 10:15 am. We decided to move back towards our car. We asked directions from a man watering the plants, and he guided us towards the main gate. My daughter spotted some beautiful pelicans and strolled off to snap photographs, while the three of us (my mother, the nurse Azra and myself) waited for her near a Dhaba (cafeteria) near the Mall Road entrance.
Suddenly, to our left, I heard gunshots. I ignored them but heard more gunshots. I looked at the people sitting and eating. There was denial on their faces. I looked at the nurse and started to search for my daughter, who had been walking towards us. Gun shots continued. It was deafening as now the blasts started – small ones and then a big one.
The blast shook the ground and everything around us. The birds shot through the sky, and there was black smoke visible at a distance. I knew now that there had been an attack. They were the sounds and scenes we had endlessly watched on television, but never taken in with the intensity, with which they were happening before my very eyes.
Then, I saw a scene, which seemed to be from the day the trumpet shall be blown; the people got up and started to run disregarding anything and anyone around them. They left everything as it was. The firing continued. We stayed where we were, sitting near the pots and pans of the zoo cafeteria. My mother was in the wheelchair, so we could not run. All praise to Allah (swt) that He (swt) granted us presence of mind to read the Kalima. I made my daughter read it as well, which gave us both the courage to remain calm and composed during this act of absolute terror.
We were all alone, crouched down near the food stall, when the same zoo official, whom we had asked for directions earlier approached us. He assured us we will be okay – his confidence and calming voice was a great source of comfort. He said we needed to move from this place and started to guide us, helping my mother too. I tried calling the driver but the service repeatedly said that the phone was switched off.
Another zoo official came, and both of them consulted and guided us towards the zoo canteen, pulling up chairs for us amidst the shattered glass from the impact of the blast. I called my cousin, who came with the driver at the Lawrence Road gate. All this while, the first zoo official stayed close with us, ensuring that we reached our car safely by Allah’s (swt) command. We were worried about our driver and were relieved to see him at home. He had returned to get his spare battery, since his phone had died earlier.
The concern and sympathetic attitude of this man, our hero, is etched in my mind. I pray for the best for him in this world and the Hereafter. Mohammad Latif, the gardener at the Lahore zoo – we salute you and all such people, who make Pakistan a Muslim state.
I also hold the Lahore zoo in esteem for having such a staff, which has a caring attitude towards the people and animals, valuing the lives of helpless people at a time, when most others only run for their own safety.