3 Toronto women share fond memories of Gulshan-e-Iqbal park ripped apart in Lahore attacks

Three Toronto women share memories of Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore, Pakistan before it became the target of a bombing.

'It's heart-breaking to know small kids died there,' a Toronto woman living in Lahore says

Mahnoor Shahid looks over some childhood photos with her mother in Toronto. The park that she often visited as a child was the target of a bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. (CBC News)

As Mahnoor Shahid sits on her couch in her Toronto apartment and looks over photos from her childhood in Lahore, Pakistan, one place pops up over and over again. 

Gulshan-e-Iqbal park fills her girlhood memories.

But now it has been ripped apart by bomb attacks that tore through central Lahore, killing 70 people and injuring hundreds — including young children and entire families.

Mahnoor Shahid as a young child in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore, Pakistan. (Mahnoor Shahid)

A breakaway Pakistani faction of the militant Taliban group claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombing.

The explosion took place near the children's rides area in the park, which was crowded with families, including Christians celebrating Easter.

It's difficult for Shahid to come to terms with the attack and to look at photos of a place she has always associated with fond childhood memories blood-stained and filled with people mourning lost loved ones.

"I remember going for picnics there all the time. We would pack food and go to the park on a nice summer's day," she said.

"It's a very crowded and urban area — lots of hustle and bustle with people and families out and about."

Shahid grew up very close to where the attacks took place. She says the people in her hometown are still reeling from the shock.

Mahnoor Shahid and her mother on a ride at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore in the 1990s. This particular area of the park was the target of bombings in lahore on March 27, 2016. (Mahnoor Shahid)

"You hear about things that happen elsewhere and forget about it in a few days. It's different knowing you have family and a house there."

"I have tons of memories there. My grandfather would go for walks there and my parents would take me there all the time," she said.

'Lives lost are lives lost'

Shahid says the people of Lahore are resilient but it's difficult to see the rest of the world react differently to the attacks in Lahore compared to cities like Paris or Brussels.

"When we express feelings towards loss, it should be the same for one part of the world that it is in another.  Lives lost are lives lost at the end of the day."

Farah Mawani lived in Lahore in 1998 for her work in maternal and child health as part of a fellowship based in Pakistan. She first heard of the attacks through the Facebook Security Check feature.

She described the park as "a large, lush, peaceful oasis, with beautiful gardens to walk through." 
Farah Mawani lived in Lahore in the 1990s and describes Gulshan-e-Iqbal park as a "peaceful oasis." (Twitter/ Farah Mawani)

She says the gravity of the situation hit her as she was eating lunch in Withrow Park in Toronto over the weekend. 

"It hit me that I was in the midst of a scene very much like what Gulshan-e-Iqbal park would have been like at the time of the attack," she said. "I was surrounded by families and kids playing, and people walking."

Mawani said she was taken to the park by the Christian Pakistani family she lived with and enjoyed building connections with their community.  

"They introduced me to the park and took me on walks there with them regularly," she said. "I felt like I could breathe deeply and relax there."

"I was in shock for a while, then started to feel increasingly sad about the horror and tragedy of it, as I was surrounded by children playing in Withrow Park," Mawani said. "I can't think of words strong enough to describe my feelings about children being targeted while playing in a park." 

'Strongest people I know'

The fear of such an attack is what kept Iqra Effendi from visiting Lahore for years. She finally moved there for a few months to prepare for medical school.

She says she heard the explosions while she was studying in her room, only a few kilometres away from the chaos. 
Iqra Effendi is currently in Lahore and compared Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore to the CNE. (Facebook/Iqra Effendi)

"We go to that area often," she said. "That's where we get our grocery, that's where our gym is. It's heart-breaking to know small kids died there."

Effendi, 23, says the park is busy and reminded her of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto with a Ferris wheel and rides for kids. 

"People come there on the weekends and bring their families and their kids," she said. "It's usually young children and babies."

She was glad to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemn the attacks. She says it's important for Canadians and Torontonians to show support for victims where she now lives, especially considering the large Pakistani community living in the GTA.

"I always respected people here for the way they went on with their lives despite the dangers, but now I can actually empathize," Effendi said. "The people living here are some of the strongest people I know."

"It's a bomb blast that lasts one second that can take away so many lives," she said.

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