KARACHI: At around 2 pm on Wednesday, a man dressed in a crisp white shirt and black trousers, parked his motorcycle outside the gate of Karachi Press Club. He had some papers with him which he distributed to the newsmen who were present there.
The paper read: “Aslam and Razzak are responsible for my death. They have threatened to kill me and take over my house.”
A little while later, the man, 40-year-old Khalid Mehmood, poured kerosene and set himself on fire. Mehmood owed money to the men he referred to in his note. Mehmood, wasn’t poor, but belonged to a middle-income family and had recently moved back to Karachi from Dubai. He had borrowed money from Aslam and Razzak and was supposed to pay them back in installments with an interest of over a million rupees. However, the failure to pay off the hefty amount led the desperate man to set himself on fire.
Sakina Bibi, who has been living on the streets outside the press club for three years, told The Express Tribune what happened. “I saw him running wildly from one corner to another,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He kept on screaming ‘help me, help me!” The cameraman of a private news channel had come out the club for a smoke, was too stunned to do anything after seeing Mehmood. “For a minute I did not know what to do. Then found a bottle and started throwing water at him.”
Another journalist jumped in to help. They managed to find a cooler full of water and poured the water over him. Meanwhile, Sakina came running with her two patchwork quilts (rillis) and threw them over the human torch.
After about five minutes, the rescuers were able to put out the fire. Mehmood sat by the pavement, shards of his starched clothes hanging around his neck, his dark skin peeling off and showing the fair flesh underneath, as he winced in pain. An ambulance came after about 10 minutes and whisked him away to hospital.
Mehmood suffered 97 per cent burns and there was a slim chance of his survival, said Dr Ahmer of the burns centre of Civil hospital. “He has been burnt from head to toe,” he said.
“Even his moustache was burnt. His condition is very severe.”
Mehmood’s wife, while talking to The Express Tribune, said that her husband had called her up in the afternoon and asked her to forgive him. “He told me he had a lot of debts to pay and requested me to take care of the children. I was confused as to why he said that… I had no idea he was going to burn himself.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.