It is a rude reminder that the war in Iraq was launched from Kuwait. Kuwait, with its palm-fronted villas, shimmering shopping malls and modern mosques; Kuwait, where I have been living with family since 1985.
Saturday is the beginning of the working week here. In the dead of night, an Iraqi missile ploughed into one of Kuwait’s most prestigious landmarks, the Souq Sharq.
The radars failed to detect the missile.
Last week, all the schools had closed. Only the CBSE schools remained open to hold the last mathematics examination on March 22. The oil companies asked their staff to take leave for a month.
But on Wednesday, they asked the employees to join from today. The schools were also planning to reopen. The missile has changed the situation again.
We are worried about our security. The sirens failed. Last week, we were alerted by two different sirens — one indicating danger and the other indicating all clear. But yesterday, there were no sirens.
We, the common people of Kuwait, till yesterday had faith in the government and relied on the capability of the US Patriot missiles. We all felt that if there was a missile attack on Kuwait, the Patriots would protect us. But if the missile is undetected by radar, how can the Patriot intercept it'
We are worried about Iraq’s chemical missiles. If Iraq attacks with its chemical missiles, how will the American Patriot help us' We are not sure.
But still I don’t feel it’s time to pack my bags and get my tickets booked for India. I have realised that these days there are no safe countries.
The Souq Sharq is a post-invasion construction. Before the Iraqi invasion (August 1990), the area had the fish market for significance. The old fish market was very local in its character. But as part of the Souq Sharq, the fish market, along with its vegetable and fruit markets, has received a face-lift. Everything is so neat and clean. Adjacent to the markets is the shopping mall. This was the target of the Iraqi retaliation.
Whenever I have visited the place, I have found it flooded with well-dressed young ladies and young men in designer suits with their hair brushed with gel. The women wear dresses with sleek cuts and remind one of the latest exhibits in the fashion capitals.
The whole place smelt so beautiful. The air was saturated with the aroma of Chanel, Chloe, Armani, Jaipur.
As soon as you entered the Souq, you noticed the attractive and artistic hoarding of the Debenhams department store — a spacious outlet; the lighting very soft, but appropriate. It is on the left-hand side of the driveway.
The shops are done up by interior designers just so — not flashy, but attracting customers with their subtle charms. The world-renowned BHS chain occupies a central display. Other international chains like Next and Mango are around.
Also vying for the attention of the oil-rich are plenty of Italian and French boutiques.
Quite a number of cosmetic shops and perfume boutiques are scattered in and around the mall. The Body Shop, too, has an outlet here and is very popular with the Kuwaitis.
Another favourite destination is the Sultan Center. A chain dealing in consumer goods with outlets throughout the country, it is hot with the local population. It has a friendly atmosphere and people feel the quality of the products available here is excellent and the pricing reasonable. They stock food items as well as electronic goods, crockery, stationary items, clothing, shoes, toiletries, all under one roof.
But the main attraction of Souq Sharq is the Food Court on the first floor. Most of the American food chains have outlets here: The Chicken Tikka, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardees, The Burger King, Pizza Hut, the list goes on.
A popular haunt of both locals and expatriates is Starbucks, the US coffee-shop chain. During weekends, it is difficult to get a seat on the terrace of the Food Court, which affords a glorious view of the city twinkling with lights at night. During the day, lulled by the cool sea wind the blows in from the Persian Gulf, one can watch the local fishermen’s battery-powered boats rocking at a jetty.
Surrounded by the sea and connected to land by a small concrete bridge, Souq Sharq is located close to the Kuwait Parliamentary House, the Amiri Palace and the most significant landmark of Kuwait — the Kuwait Towers. The government makes an extra effort to maintain the greenery around the upscale locality. From January to April, the numerous flowerbeds are a riot of colour with different shades of petunias.
No less colourful is the sea of expensive cars parked around the mall. Whenever I visited the Souq, I had to wait in a queue to gain entry to the parking lot that was always crowded with Rolls Royces, Ferraris and Mustangs.
Clearly, it is a place meant for the Kuwaiti elite. I always felt that we, citizens of Third World countries, do not belong there. The place with its glitz and glamour makes us feel poor compared to the oil-rich Kuwaitis.
But our movies play regularly alongside Arabic and English blockbusters in the two Dolby-powered cinema halls — Sarqia I and Sarqia II. Last night, the roof of the Sarqia was hit by the unidentified missile. I still remember the curve of the roof.