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RIP Sabeen Mahmud

By Omar R Quraishi

Sabeen was four years my junior at school — we were in the same house in school and she was a top athlete and sportswoman even then. In fact, she was so good that she would be captaining most of the girls’ teams for her house.

My relationship with her through this prism of being the captain of her school house and interacting with her for most of the sports related competitions for girls from classes seven to nine. Sabeen seemed a born leader and the rest of the people in the team would instinctively take to following her.

I left school and the next I read about her was that she had become this very successful hacktivist and entrepreneur. In fact, she had founded what in due course of time came to symbolize an oasis in the increasing intellectual desert of Pakistan, a place where people came together, shared ideas, and debated and discussed them. Eventually, The Second Floor — or T2F as it became known — blossomed into a well known hangout place for Karachi’s young cultural elite, and would hold all kinds of programmes, from music recitals, to seminars on rights, to hosting foreign academics, film-makers and so on. The Second Floor is run mostly on donations and those who attended its events were asked to make nominal donations so that the place could be sustainable.

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Sabeen, detained by the police, after one of her many protests

 

While I never attended any of its events, T2F attracted a very loyal following, so much so that when Sabeen had to change the location because her landlord had asked her to move out, she managed to raise donations to partly fund that move, and most of it came from the people who would gather at its premises to engage in intellectual and cerebral duels, or perhaps just for a cup of coffee.

Though Sabeen attended some of Pakistan’s most elite educational institutions, the things she fought for and campaigned were anything but. As Pakistani writer, editor and novelist resident in London, Kamila Shamsie, tweeted soon after her death (she was killed on April 24 on her way to her home after attending an event at T2F on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan), when told to be careful of the consequences, Sabeen replied “Someone has to fight”.

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Mourners outside The Second Floor in Karachi on April 25.

 

Now with her gone, who will carry on this fight.

RIP Sabeen.

The writer tweets @omar_quraishi

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