Wednesday July 06, 2022

The demise of an art activist

Sabeen Mahmud Dead. My keyboard doesn’t have capslock enough to say it loud enough.Are they killing Sabeen now?After all the bombs and murders and killings and bizarre massacres, has it come down to killing Sabeen now?Sabeen, the woman who ran this really cool place in Karachi where anybody could come

April 26, 2015
Sabeen Mahmud Dead. My keyboard doesn’t have capslock enough to say it loud enough.
Are they killing Sabeen now?
After all the bombs and murders and killings and bizarre massacres, has it come down to killing Sabeen now?
Sabeen, the woman who ran this really cool place in Karachi where anybody could come and have a chat about ‘stuff’.
Among many other things, she was the director of T2F or The Second Floor. A place that literally started as the second floor of a building, and everybody was invited to come.
There was no class difference, no age bar and, most importantly, no intellectual snobbery. People could come, show their work, chat, hang out, read some books, paint some art, eat something and leave wanting to come back again.
And they killed her.
This, my dear friends, is what it has come down to.
I don’t know why they killed her. She was just going home after a day of work. It wasn’t as if her T2F was harming anyone, or if she had kidnapped somebody’s child, or embezzled money, or had dens of ammunition stacked away, or had stolen from tax payers, or cheated, or spread hate.
She didn’t even have a gun to protect herself, or any state-provided security. All she had was a great sense of humor and lot of crazy ideas.
And now they have killed her. I don’t know what will happen to T2F now or most importantly what will happen to the idea that T2F stood for in an environment of hate and intolerance.
They have probably killed it too. After all it was Sabeen’s dream and she knew how to follow it. Sabeen who, when asked about it, would say “Bus Bismillah karain jee. Ziada say ziada kya ho jaaye ga.”
Let’s just begin in the name of Allah. What’s the worst that can happen?
And they made it happen to her. By killing her, and taking her life away. A life that was so full of guts, and passion and love and laughter. A life that was so full of the spirit of life itself.
They took it away and they

killed her. If Sabeen were here reading these lines, I can bet she would say:
"How can you not talk about my cricket and my Mac? And hey how about this 'fasla na rakhain pyar ho jaaney dain' poster?"
And then she would laugh and say, “Now that you insist on overdosing on Mush, why not come full circle and write, “Oh they can kill Sabeen’s life but they can never kill Sabeen”.
I miss you Sabeen. I miss your mad spirit, and the contagious halo of warmth over your head. I miss bonding with you over Hugh Laurie, and I miss your guts that I wish I had.
I refuse to use exclamation marks and double question marks and bold letter fonts to express the extent of my grief.
I refuse to change my profile picture on Facebook to one of Sabeen wearing a “freedom for all” t-shirt. I refuse to trend a hashtag on twitter that says #RIPSabeen we will #Neverforget.
I refuse to light a candle to make myself feel better. To create a semblance of ‘doing something’ and sleeping easy because at least I raised my voice. To trick my mind into feeling that I have done something to honor my dear Sabeen’s memory.
(Good God. It has just hit me. Sabeen is a memory now).
Because the truth is that I have done nothing. I am capable of nothing and I can do nothing. At best, I am just going to sit here and watch and try to get over a senseless murder that people are already referring to as a ‘demise’.
Yea, demise of an art activist. Trying to encapsulate this larger than life spirit in one sentence. As if there is a list of umbrella phrases for all the work she did, and one has to pick one that fits it all. Because we have a word limit and there are limited characters allowed on a micro blog.
So we are going to call her an art activist because in the list of titles, there is nothing else that is less controversial. And since we are not sure of the motive behind her murder and we can’t embroil ourselves in a dangerous debate implicit in this investigation, so we are going to call her murder a demise.
Because you see, technically, according to the Oxford Dictionary, a person’s death is called a demise. So what if a demise happens at point blank range with a gun, and five bullets are used to enact this demise?
A demise is a demise is a demise. Period.
So here. Post written; deadline met; word limit achieved; and some very safe, no- nonsense, non-controversial reporting done.
Till we meet again over another demise. Of another art activist.
In the meanwhile, let’s try to be very cautious and let’s try not to move too much in an open space.
Open spaces have too much ideal talk and they are not fit for women, children and the non-political.
Sabeen, my Dear Friend. I am so sorry. So sorry this happened to you. So sorry that I have done nothing to help.
So sorry that you were born here to live your dreams and not anywhere else in the world.
I am so sorry that those who claim to liberate your beloved city from the shackles of fear have said nothing meaningful to find justice for you.
I am so sorry that most of these freedom-idealists don’t even know who you were and what you stood for.
Dear Sabeen, I am so sorry you had to die among the ungrateful and the spineless.
Please don’t ever forgive us. We have done nothing for you. And probably never will.
Rest in Peace.
The writer is an MSc candidate at the University of Oxford.