June 20 is the day many artists, and those aggrieved yet silenced, are grateful for as it marks the birthday of Sabeen Mahmud: harbinger of courage and freedom of speech in a society as complex and as “regressive” as Karachi’s.
National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) organized an evening in the honor of late Sabeen Mahmud, who lost her life to extremism when it couldn’t beat her resilience otherwise.
The evening comprised a variety of performances by artists from many an art domain.
The pièce de résistance of this evening, one would think, is a tie between a street theatre Jalsa –an adaptation of a Bengali playwright’s masterpiece Michal, and translates to procession, hence jalsa in Urdu– and the high-voltage jamming session that followed later.
However, Jalsa play put together in one all the elements that Sabeen thought needed radical and imminent reforms, for instance, muzzling of voice, state-sponsored terrorism, misogyny, dearth of free spaces, lack of communication and a host of other social injustices.
“Let’s just converse,” is how Raana, one play artist, recalled Sabeen frequently saying to even those who vehemently opposed her ideas and tried to demonize her.
In a society so diverse, to think we can all agree on one point is just not possible and you have to make room for individuality and difference of opinion, Raana shared with ARY News after her performance.
“Sabeen Mahmud stood up for many things, and what she was killed for was just one of the things she believed the society needs presently and essentially,” said Mahenaz Mahmud, Sabeen’s mother as she graced this tribute.
“That essential thing is freedom of speech.”
She added that Sabeen didn’t only believe in standing up for bigger causes, but she also understood the importance of little gestures such as simply listening to people.
“After her demise, I was reached out by so many people who told me how Sabeen saved their lives,” she said explaining that Sabeen simply listened to them at their lowest and talked them out of suicidal ideations.
Only few months later, in the year 2016, when she was killed, she had planned to go for counseling training. “Sabeen had discovered how this worked wonders,” Mahenaz told ARY News.
Peerzada Salman, Karachi journalist, actor and playwright, said what Sabeen wanted to have at her conceived and concreted progressive cafe-cum-community space The Second Floor (aka T2F), this evening is a token representation of that.
“We all know how T2f allowed and afforded peoples their voices and a safe space to express themselves freely.
“This is perhaps what’s behind this evening and it’s the right way to honor her,” Salman added.
NAPA CEO Junaid Zuberi, who along with other Sabeen’s friends helped plan this evening, told ARY News that for a character such as Sabeen’s the tribute should be commensurate.
“We can be sad and gloomy on her passing, or we can rather take up her work and allow artists more free space and more platforms, like she had done, to honor everything she stood and fought relentlessly for.”
The free-access and walk-in evening concluded with a classical dance performance and made it a comprehensive commemoration. One that Zuberi said will now happen every year and each year better than the last, where the artists’ repertoire will never exhaust.
Sabeen was assassinated on April 24, 2015, on her way back from a panel discussion on missing Baloch persons that she had organized at T2f.