Jawwad Farid wrote these lovely pieces
The first was written following Sab's assassination
Karachi is an insane city. A true Karachiite can never live
anywhere else. A visitor can never understand why that is so.
The fascination is irrational and does not
compute. Some think it is an asylum gone wild, others feel that the patients
have taken over the administration.
Sabeen Mahmud was the head of our administration, the chair
person of our union, the flag bearer of our mental asylum. In a crazy city
designed for crazy people, Sabeen was our wildest flame. If she captured you in
her orbit, it wouldn't be long before you would be wearing that crazy gleam in
When the city went mad in 2007, Sabeen and Zaheer Kidvai
came up with The Second Floor (T2F). When you had more than your daily dose of
work, family, neighbors, KESC, traffic and Karachi, you could escape to T2F to
listen to Tee-M sing Suji Ka Halwa or play Jazz, expose your musical ear to
some exotic qawali or equally exotic drinks. T2F was the only drinking hole in
town where you could hear Muhammad
Hanif read a case of exploding mangoes
, in a cozy, intimate, friends only
evening. It was a space for Karachi's citizens. An oasis of sanity in a city filled
with angry men and women, bearded, mustached and otherwise.
I had heard of Sabeen, we had met a few times but it was
only when I saw T2F in 2007, that I realized that Sabeen was just as crazy as
the rest of us. Only a certifiably insane person would try and feed a dose of
culture to these wild Karachiites or put up a reading library next to a kitchen.
Boy, did we lap it up. T2F became the place you would go to
when you had some time to kill, when you were thirsty for a green apple chiller
or a corned beef sandwich, when you wanted to feel normal; the normal one can
only feel when surrounded by like minded fools and fruit cakes. And because of
Sabeen and T2F's magic, because of her orbit, because of the mad gleam in the
eyes, there was never any shortage of fruit cakes.
T2F was my space, our space, Sabeen's space.
A corner where you went for a bit of quiet and
a dose of hope.
But T2F and feeding Karachi culture was the sanest of
Sabeen's idea. She had quite a few that were really out there.
From taking back the city and the country
from angry bearded men who favor burqahs on fashionable occasions and photo
to giving voice to those
who would never be heard otherwise. Her most remarkable contribution was
testing the thesis that a politician can only be born and associated with a
political party and a lineage going all the way back to the British, the CIA,
our feudal lords or the Army.
She joined hands with a young lawyer from Karachi who became
a test case for proving the established political thesis wrong.
He lost the local elections in May 2013 but
gave us hope that a quite young man can change our city; one day perhaps even
Mohammad Jibran Nasir was certainly a big step for
Karachiites but the real payoff for Sabeen's many friends were her Facebook
conversations. To say that Sabeen was
politically active is an understatement.
She was self professed anarchist and
experience junkie and she really believed in spreading and sharing that
message. Her recent experiences side by side with Jibran made for entertaining,
sometimes scary reading.
From taking on
the Lal Masjid gang in Islamabad to getting arrested in Karachi; from organizing
events, protesting at rallies and dharnas, attending jalsas and commentating on
both organizational abilities and content of parties irrespective of their
ideology. Boldly going with Amma, to places, locations and events where I
wouldn't dare to go without four double cabins. From death threats that were not funny to distasteful verbal abuse that was
shrugged off and turned into Facebook posts and jokes; most memorably her running
commentary on one exceedingly handsome heartbroken police javaan, off do-talwar;
and of things that could have been, but will never be.
I didn't consider myself a friend of Sabeen, because I
didn't do anything to earn that title. I loved her work, her intellect, her
curiosity and her stance. I admired her wicked sense of humor and her desire to
question overzealous authority and self righteousness. We had great
conversations on political king makers in the city.
To me she was a symbol of what this city
could be if my fellow fruit cakes took it over.
In a town where everyone talks in double speak, where empty grand
expressions use cheap lyrics from Bollywood songs, where we invoke the depth of
oceans and the height of mountains at every opportunity we get, Sabeen spoke
plainly and simply.
6 years ago, post a conference that we both spoke at, Sabeen
said, "You made me cry two days in a row Jawwad Farid."
Right back at you, Sabeen Mahmud.
Ps. Don't give Steve a
hard time about Cook's follies.
The second was written after Sab's funeral
I think she had the most fun today, she had had in a
Sabeen Mahmud, a fluent speaker of colloquial French in many
languages, would have had a field day with words today.
Starting off with "the bastards never
showed up in such large numbers when I was alive".
The second floor was an amazing sight this afternoon. As
soon as Zaheer Kidvai posted that Sabeen would come one last time to T2F to say
farewell at half past three, a crowd started gathering outside.
There was no way to describe the mix at 5th
Sunset Lane this afternoon. In attendance were beards and wild hair, lefties
and righties, two little girls with small handmade placards, three babies
carried by their dads, young men and women; guests from Lahore; clean shaved
teenagers, sons and daughters; silver grandmothers dressed in white; grayed
grandfathers with their walking sticks; founding members of the original men
and women student congress that ran the first civil resistance campaign in our
history in the fifties and the sixties.
Sabeen bound all of us together.
That was her magic. We were her lost cause.
Also flowers, tears and silence.
We parked without getting in each other's way; we left in a
procession of cars aligned in a single file.
When she finally came to Sunset
Lane on her way to the Masjid, we walked with her to T2F and back one last time.
Sabeen was buried in a tree line graveyard by her family and
her friends, this evening. We stood still, row upon rows of men and women, underneath
neem trees with our silent goodbyes.
Shahjahan said it, "I am not crying for her."
I brought my son with me. Told him I want you to remember
this day, this crowd standing around, alive yet still; I want you to remember
the grief, your father crying in the open in front of a thousand men.
Don't you forget that silence has a price that
we have already paid.
"Ulloo ke pathon
kee tarha itnay saal se hum sarkon par nikaltay rahay haen. For every
marginalized, oppressed group. And for years, people have mocked us and laughed
at us for our small numbers. You doubted our motives. You questioned our
agendas. You bastards. If you had joined us, we wouldn't have been so pitiable.
We would have had a movement by now. We would have had strength in numbers. But
no, you sat behind the comfort of your monitors and made fun of us on Twitter
and Facebook and in your newsrooms. You said, give us something new. Give us
something different. Theater karnay thoree nikaltay haen hum aap logon ko khush
karnay ke liye. Maana ke Press Club ke baahar kharay honay se kucch naheen
badalta laykin jo aek se aek aqlmand haen aap log, jo tanqeed karnay mayn itnay
tez haen, yaar aap log kahaan they? Sind Club se fursat ho tau kabhee aa jaen
aap log bhee, koee innovative soch le kar jo shaed aap ke Harvard aur Columbia
ke professors ne sikhaee ho aap ko. Ya kiya aap ke mummy daddy aap ko nikalnay
naheen dayn ge?"
Sabeen Mahmud, March 2014.
— a Translation —
For years, like idiots
we have been protesting on the streets. For every marginalized, oppressed group. And
for years, people have mocked us and laughed at us for our small numbers. You
doubted our motives. You questioned our agendas. You bastards. If you had
joined us, we wouldn't have been so pitiable. We would have had a movement by
now. We would have had strength in numbers. But no, you sat behind the comfort
of your monitors and made fun of us on Twitter and Facebook and in your
newsrooms. You said, give us something new. Give us something different. We are
not in it to put on a show for your benefit or pleasure. Understood that
protesting outside Press Club in Karachi is not going to change anything but
where were you when we needed you; the intelligent ones, the so quick to
criticize crowd. If you could find some time from your busy schedule at Sind
Club, please join us, with your innovative ideas, ideas that your Harvard and
Columbia professors may have taught you. Or is that your mummy daddy won't let
you come outside and play.