Remembering Karachi’s Wild Child Sabeen Mahmud on her Birthday
Murdered on the streets of Karachi: Remembering my friend who dared to believe in free speech.
On a day when I would have been wishing her the best of health and success, I am instead writing on her birth anniversary. It can’t feel anymore unreal than this….
When Sabeen was shot down on 24th April, 2015, it was the rudest shock. How could an eventful life with so much purpose be silenced so brutally and abruptly?
And ironically, it is only after she passed away, the global outpour of emotion made me realize how she managed to touch peoples’ lives. In my mind, she was a friend doing some interesting work in Karachi through her café called T2F (The 2nd Floor) which came to be known as a platform for the intelligentsia, artists, singers, stand-up comedians and anyone else with something to say through their respective talents over cups of coffee.
Sabeen, the Friend
Since childhood, my trips to Karachi have been about meeting family and friends. In more recent years, speaking at T2F about my work was something I always looked forward to. Irrespective of how busy her place was, Sabeen made sure that I got an evening with her visitors, however last minute my request.
She was a silent presence in my life. A friend who stepped in when required. I had once written for a newspaper in Pakistan on special request. When they put out the article in print, my byline was miss-spelt. I was infuriated. But Sabeen, without even me asking, had sent me a message saying that she had called up their head office to correct my name in the online version. This certainly is a very small example of how she looked out for her friends and never expected a favour in return.
Memorials Across the Globe
The shock on her murder was followed by memorials for her across the world. This included London, New York, Tunis, Singapore, Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Hyderabad (Sindh), San Francisco, Bay Area, Toronto, Massachussetts and Mumbai. I, along with a few common friends, organized one in Delhi.
My friends who had never met Sabeen or never known about her were writing to me shocked and distressed. Her story has now become a story of steely courage and inspiration.
Dilli – Dil Se
For her Delhi memorial, I made sure to have a mix of speakers who knew her and those who became familiar with only posthumously.
Activist Shehzad Poonawalla dedicated Sabeen’s memory to the meaning of her name.
Sabeen in Arabic means ‘the follower of the other religion’. So all Muslims were initially called sabeen, Prophet Mohammad was the first to be called that, the original radical individual. Sabeen Mahmud represented the ethos of Islam well.
– Shehzad Poonawalla, Activist
For artist Seema Kohli, it was the loss of a peaceful soul.
When I saw her picture, it was a face full of joy and honesty. I wondered who would want to shoot her! I realized that her purpose was to connect people and share the idea of freedom and dialogue. – Seema Kohli, Artist
Journalist Tarun Tejpal too remembered her fondly.
She had a relentless need to decode life, but she wasn’t in any state puzzled about it. She knew exactly what she had to do.
– Tarun Tejpal
Advocate Saif Mahmood dedicate a Sahir Ludhianvi couplet to Sabeen.
Aao ke koi khwab bunen kal ke vaaste (let’s build a few dreams for the sake of tomorrow before it’s too late).
– Saif Mahmood, Advocate
The evening ended with stand-up artist Sanjay Rajoura dedicating a song to Indo-Pak friendship. It was overwhelming to see that even in death, Sabeen managed to bring people together to dialogue, celebrate and reminisce about the amazing ways she had touched them. Now THAT is a remarkable legacy.
(Sahar Zaman is an independent arts journalist, newscaster and curator. She has founded Asia’s first web channel on the arts, Hunar TV)
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