By Evangeline Majawat
SUBANG JAYA, MALAYSIA: A Malaysian who survived the horrific blast that ripped through a luxury hotel in Pakistan last Saturday will have to live through the nightmare of losing three friends in that incident.
He took a nap which saved his life. But then, he also lost three friends in that blast.
Asoka Livera Tennakoon was just minutes away from suffering the same fate as his friends, but he decided to take a nap which probably saved his life.
Speaking to the New Straits Times from his bed at the Sunway Medical Centre here where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds, the 31-year-old was in tears recalling the events of the blast which claimed more than 50 lives.
His three friends were employees of the Marriott hotel who had struck a close bond with Tennakoon as the latter had been a regular at the hotel in the past four years.
Tennakoon is a programme manager with a multinational IT company and Islamabad in Pakistan has been his regular posting.
On all his visits, he would stay at the Marriott and it was during that time that he struck a close relationship with the three Pakistani hotel staff.
Asoka Livera Tennakoon with his wife, Sumitha De Silva, and daughters at the Sunway Medical Centre.
"They had invited me to break fast with them, but I decided to join them later as I was tired and wanted to take a nap," said Tennakoon, who is a Buddhist.
Tennakoon was in his fifth floor suite when there was a knock on the door.
He refused to answer and this was followed by a phone call from a hotel staff who wanted to send his laundry.
"I told him to come back later and just then I noticed the two-seat sofa, curtains and glass pieces from the window literally flying towards me.
"I instinctively shielded my face. This was followed by a very loud explosion."
It was reported later that a suicide bomber had rammed a truck packed with more than half a tonne of explosives into the outer security gates of the hotel.
"The whole building shook. At first, I thought it was an earthquake until I heard the boom."
Shocked, Tennakoon sprinted barefoot across the room strewn with broken glass to grab his bag which contained his passport.
He then ran towards the door only to realise that it had been blown apart.
But in front of that gaping hole, stood the young Pakistani hotel staff bleeding profusely but still clutching the bag of laundry he was supposed to deliver.
"All he said was 'Your laundry, sir'. I told him to run for his life while I quickly put on some clothes."
But the corridor was a maze of collapsed ceiling and debris.
"I dug through the rubble looking for the fire exit when my company driver rang me on my mobile phone. I told him to pick me up."
At that moment, all Tennakoon could think about were his three daughters, between the ages of 10 months and six years.
Confused and scared, he dug his way out of the hotel where he saw limbs and bodies everywhere.
"I saw a man crying over his badly injured daughter. That image is still so clear in my mind."
He could not recognise the place. The front of the hotel was completely changed.
Where huge trees and beautiful scenery stood, was now a huge hole in the ground "as if a meteorite had hit".
At some point, Tennakoon was bundled into an ambulance, but he decided to get off to give way for those more seriously injured.
The company driver eventually found him and took him to the hospital, but he was only given painkillers and a tetanus jab before he was discharged.
"The doctors said I was good to go.
"My injuries were not serious compared to the others.
"The accident and emergency department was busy with the victims, some of whom were dying."
Less than 10 hours after the blast, Tennakoon flew back home to the relief of his family.
"Those two minutes of getting through the arrival gate to the lounge was the longest I felt.
"It hurt to walk but I wanted to run when I saw my family on the other side.
"I am so happy to be alive, to be with my family," Tennakoon said, surrounded by his beaming wife, Sumitha De Silva, 31, children and other relatives.
Tennakoon is unsure if he would be able to travel anymore.
He now hates being alone and has trouble sleeping.
"I'm still puzzled how someone could do this, to take so many lives.
"The victims were fellow Pakistanis too."