The first thing that struck me was the smell.

I found myself alone in a mud-walled room with straw and animal faeces scattered across the dirt floor. My hands and feet were bound with metal cuffs. It was dark; what little light there was slipped in through a small hole in the ceiling where a pipe passed. The stifling heat left me feeling faint. Randomly placed in the corner was a red bucket, which was to serve as my toilet. There was no mattress. The floor would be my bed. The pungent odour was the first thing that hit me as I regained consciousness. It was unbearable and turned my stomach. It wasn’t just the room that smelled; I did too.

My immediate thoughts: Where am I? Will I ever see my family again?

Just a few days earlier, I had been at home, in Lahore, Pakistan. It was a normal day like any other. My routine was to wake up, get dressed, and take a ten- minute drive to my workplace. To my complete shock and horror, I was ambushed on my way to work, beaten, and drugged. Waking up to unfamiliar surroundings. Shackled.

This was now my world.

How can your whole life change in an instant? How can everything you know and trust and depend on, every person you love, every comfort you’ve come to enjoy and embrace, disappear in a moment and be replaced by pain, loneliness, and despair? When that happens, how does one go on? Would I survive?

These were questions that, it turned out, I would have four and a half years to contemplate.

As I sat, clueless and groggy, on my very first day in that sweltering, filthy room, I had more pressing considerations. My natural survival instincts were triggered and I began to make a mental checklist. Figuring out who had taken me, and why, and what they wanted, and whether I could give it to them and get home safely. As I struggled to get my bearings, two immediate thoughts crossed my mind.

I must be in Afghanistan. And I’m going to be beheaded.

I was familiar with stories about kidnappings in Pakistan and knew of people who’d been abducted. In most cases their captors would demand a ransom; however, on occasion it was just to make a gruesome, violent statement, leaving a brutal video for the world as proof of their seriousness and their insanity.

As I’d learn much later, my captors had done both. I discovered that, less than an hour prior to my arrival, the room I was being held in had been used as a holding pen for sheep to be sacrificed for a Ramzan feast. This, in part, explained the smell. In the punishing late- summer heat, the room stank like a barnyard, or a slaughterhouse. And I didn’t smell any better.

It had taken my captors three days to transport me here – wherever “here” was. I assumed I had been ferried to Afghanistan, but it could have been Pakistan. It was hot and dirty, buzzing with mosquitoes. Beyond that, I knew nothing. Clearly, my location didn’t matter; I wasn’t leaving anytime soon. I was restrained by chains, completely immobilised, similar to a death row criminal. I’d been stripped and dressed in a woman’s soiled shalwar kameez, now also covered in caked blood and vomit, which I assumed were my own. My jaw was swollen and throbbing, and I had an open wound over one eye. The chains that bound me were fastened to a metal loop in the floor, the kind you’d use to restrain an animal – for example, a sheep – waiting to be killed.

The three days I’d spent traveling to this place were lost to me in a fog. After I was snatched from my car on a busy street in an upscale neighborhood, I’d been blindfolded, beaten, and injected with ketamine, a horse tranquilizer, to keep me unconscious. My captors stuffed me into the back of a car, wedged down on the floor, and kept me out of sight. Whenever I stirred, I was kicked into silence.

On the first day they took me, we eventually arrived. . .somewhere. Having been abducted on a Friday morning, dragged into an empty house blindfolded, I woke up on what I assumed was the following day. One of the captors recklessly pulled the pin from a grenade and placed it in the palm of my hand. He moved within an inch of my face and hissed in my ear in Urdu, “Have you ever held one of these before?” Later, he shoved a gun into my mouth and psychotically asked, “Have you ever seen one before?” I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to say. I babbled something about money, about obedience. About how I’d give them what they wanted if they released me.

“You’re a valuable treasure,” he shouted. “The whole country is looking for you.” He yelled so as to frighten me. It definitely worked.

When this man wasn’t terrorising me, he’d reassure me in calming whispers, which was even more unnerving. “Don’t worry. You’ll be home soon.” He explained that he would collect the ransom and release me, and this would all be wrapped up in a day. Maybe two.

His mocking laughter was followed by blows to my head, and a syringe full of ketamine.

Everything about the days right after my kidnapping was obscured in that ketamine haze – a half- remembered barrage of beatings and druggings and barked commands and darkness and barely recollected images. I recall waking up in the back of a car, begging them to stop so I could step outside and urinate. Someone in the car handed me a bottle. They all wore masks. I felt like a ghost, traveling to hell. I started pleading with them to let me step outside by the road to relieve myself.

“You’ve beaten me, you’ve cuffed me, you’ve kept me on the floor,” I yelled. I kept jabbering. I was petrified.

“I don’t need this!” the driver shouted finally. “Put him out!”

More ketamine.

My next lucid moments were at an army check post on the outskirts of Lahore. I could barely see. I was in a burka. My captors had disguised me as a woman and sat me up between two of the men in the backseat. As one of the men held a knife to my side, its point perilously close to cutting into me, he whispered, “If I hear a sound, I’ll gut you!”

I was unaware that the whole country was looking for me; my kidnapping had become national news. The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had found the safe house where I’d been held the day before. They’d found my broken sunglasses, and a syringe, used to inject me with ketamine, with samples of my blood in it.

I tried to get a sense of what was happening through the netting of the burka’s eyeholes, but the headpiece had twisted to the side. I was drenched from head to toe in perspiration from the searing heat and the ketamine coursing through my body. The heavy black material of the burka clung to me, as stifling as a death shroud. When I’d first regained consciousness, I thought I was in a grave. In a way, I was.

Excerpted with permission from Lost to the World: A Memoir of Faith, Family and Five Years in Terrorist Captivity, Shahbaz Taseer, Penguin Viking.