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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Blast at Marriott

The Hindu/22nd Sept, 2008
A beloved landmark
Nirupama Subramanian
ISLAMABAD: Anyone who has visited Pakistan’s capital even briefly could not have missed the Marriott.
Architecturally unattractive, the hotel was still the most beloved of this small city’s landmarks, and for its wealthy, one of the few centres of its limited social life.
“It is the face of Islamabad, it is the house of Islamabad,” said Sadruddin Hashwani, owner of the Marriott, after the hotel’s destruction.
He was not exaggerating. The hotel was an integral part of everyone’s memories. Most people living and working in the capital, rich or poor, had to go past the building at least once every day because of its location en route to everywhere.
The moneyed got married in its banquet rooms, threw lunches and dinners and socialised in its restaurants. One of only two big hotels in the city, it was a popular venue for diplomatic receptions. NGOs held seminars and workshops in the hotel.
Its health club was a huge draw with foreigners and locals alike.
After nightfall, the illuminated building was a magnet in a city where establishments shut down early.
Visiting delegations from abroad chose the 290-room hotel for its proximity to government offices. Several India-Pakistan talks have been held in the hotel, and visiting Indian officials always stayed there. And its lobby was always swarming with men from the Pakistani intelligence keeping tabs on who was meeting who.
On Sunday, the day after the blast outside the hotel that killed 60 people and left 266 wounded, hundreds of people poured out of their homes, coming from faraway neighbourhoods, to see for themselves what remains of one of the most familiar buildings in Islamabad.Gutted building
The Pakistan Army had cordoned off the area and did not let anyone without authorisation to get through. But still, people milled around, taking in the sight of the gutted building from which plumes of black smoke were rising even on Sunday afternoon.
The fire-fighters were able to bring the flames under control only on Sunday morning, 13 hours after the explosion on Saturday.
Rehman Malik, who functions as Interior Minister, said the city administration was not equipped to fight a fire like the one that destroyed the hotel.
Mr. Hashwani told journalists he hoped to reopen the hotel in four months.
Islamabad’s residents would like to share his optimism, as without the hotel, the city does seem truly incomplete.

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