Out of my head
Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere
Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai
Tera sutwan jism hai tera
Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai
Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day the darkness that surrounds us gets blacker still, closer still. It assaults us directly. It creeps up on us insidiously. It wants to overwhelm us. It wants to drown us. It besieges us.
But there are those who fight back and bring light into our lives. They fight for us so that the darkness can be beaten back. Beaten back – at first momentarily and then, hopefully, permanently.
Sabeen Mahmud was at the forefront of this battle. She brought the sun into our lives because she believed in the freedom of expression, the importance of debate and dialogue, the need to engage with all philosophies and all peoples. Her beloved brainchild, The Second Floor (T2F), was the haven amidst the chaos surrounding us providing the space for this necessary engagement. It was also a sanctuary for writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, storytellers, and musicians.
The Al-Jazeera website quoted an anonymous friend of Sabeen’s as saying “She's been silenced to instil fear in the heart of the upper-middle class, the English-speaking folk who have become politically vocal for rights and equality.”
Sabeen would have been disappointed to read that. Her life and work were not for just the upper-middle class or the English-speaking. Freedom of thought, political awareness, and appreciation of art, music and literature are not the exclusive domain of a small minority. In fact, a recent survey showed that most T2F devotees make less than 40,000 rupees a month and they come from all over the city of Karachi (and beyond).
Sabeen fought for us – all of us – but did it all with such gentleness and good humour and an ever ready smile that it disarmed all in front of her. Sabeen’s light shone so bright that it made those around her shine brighter, made them all braver, made them all want to be better.
The darkness cannot abide the light. So Sabeen received repeated death threats. But she refused to back down because she was courage personified. She spoke because her lips were free, her tongue was hers, her body was hers, her life and soul were hers. By example she showed us that our lips, tongues, bodies and souls were also free.
So we speak. And we will continue to speak, to use our voices, to raise our voices, to express, to communicate, to exchange ideas, to exchange information, to debate, to discuss, to open our minds and not close them, to open our hearts and not harden them, to include and not to exclude, to have courage and to have no fear. We will not be cowed down and we will not be beaten down.
We will not be beaten down because we feel that freedom is worth fighting for, freedom of expression is worth fighting for, justice is worth fighting for, ideas are worth fighting for, knowledge is worth fighting for, innovation is worth fighting for, information is worth fighting for.
We will not be cowed down because music is worth fighting for, art is worth fighting for, culture is worth fighting for, words are worth fighting for. This society is worth fighting for, this country is worth fighting for, our people – all of our people and especially our young people – are worth fighting for.
Sabeen’s death has left us breathless, bereft. But her light has not been extinguished. It cannot be extinguished. She ignited a fire within all of us and that fire burns brighter than ever. We will not be silenced. We will fight. We will fight but not with bullets or guns.
Our ammunition will be our thoughts. Our bullets will be our words. Put one of us down and two will rise. Put two down and four will stand up. We are legion. We are Sabeen.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
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