This is an incredibly sad day. Sabeen Mahmud, the director of an incredibly amazing place of culture and science, T2F, was shot dead today. I know that Sabeen Mahmud was behind all sorts of cultural activities in Karachi. I would just add that she was a phenomenal supporter of science as well. I first met her in the early 1992, when she helped us in organizing International Space Year Activities. She was still a teenager at the time. But more recently, our urdu astronomy series Science ka Adda came out of conversations with her and Zakir Thaver (her organisation PeaceNiche is listed as one of the sponsors of the videos). She was an astronomy enthusiast and got tremendous pleasure in knowing about the enormous scale of the universe. I'm sure the universe misses her enthusiasm and her lively indomitable spirit. I'm still gathering my thoughts - and will have more to say later. In the mean time here is a short clip where you can hear Sabeen talking about T2F and on fear in Karachi.
Since she was killed right after hosting a panel on Baluchistan, there is a justified speculation about the role of ISI in silencing her. Here is a short piece that looks at her killing and state terrorism:
Many liberals on social media have condemned the attack and placed the blame on state agencies. This was responded by others who protested that these are unfair accusations being cast with complete lack of evidence. While it is too soon to know for certain who was behind Sabeen’s murder, this cowardly act is the perfect time to talk about the role of state terrorism.
One of the most common responses to accusations against ISI responsibility is why would ISI kill Sabeen Mahmud when they could have killed Mama Qadeer? The answer to this is obvious: Killing Mama Qadeer would make a martyr for Baloch separatists. Killing Sabeen Mahmud sends a message to the rest of us not to ask questions about Balochistan. And why not? Why should we not ask questions?
The answer lies in the very subject of the talk that got Sabeen killed. Human rights organisations across the world have reported on kidnapping, torture, and murder of Baloch by Pakistan armed forces and intelligence agencies. Our own Supreme Court has been forced to threaten contempt proceedings against the government for failing to comply with orders on missing persons. When agencies think it will be good to kill Mama Qadeer, they will kill Mama Qadeer.
But I want to leave you with two things. One (that you saw above) was a post about T2F from 2 years ago that linked to an NPR story about this coffee shop. And two, a Bruce Springsteen song because Sabeen absolutely loved Springsteen! She lived a full life and enjoyed every second of it. I'm glad to have had the chance to meet with her on several occasions. Here is the post from January 2013:
I have been lucky to have given three talks at one of the coolest cafes in Pakistan: The Second Floor (T2F). I have always found the atmosphere electric and a very high level of questions and discussions.
One of the persons behind T2F is Zaheer Kidvai - and I have known him since 1989-90. He helped and guided us in organizing AMASTROPAK - our nascent amateur astronomical society in Karachi. In fact, he provided us with some space in his office as well.
So it is an absolute pleasure to know that in the midst of all the negative news from Pakistan, NPR discovered T2F. Here is the story: Pakistani Cafe is Oasis in Desert of Civil Discourse. Congrats to Sabeen Mahmud, who is the backbone of T2F.
A little over a year ago, Sabeen went to a Bruce Springsteen concert and she wrote this on her Facebook page:
Apologies for all the hyperbole that shall follow but there is no way to describe a live Bruce Springsteen experience without excessive verbal indulgence. Bruce is a powerhouse of raw, unbridled energy. At 64, he has the tightest, sexiest ass I’ve ever seen and a lean, hungry body that brings to life the notion of strapping your hands 'cross his engines. He burst onto the stage at 7:15 pm and did not stop leaping, bounding, running, and being all kinds of awesome, until 10:30 pm. 3 hours and 15 minutes. Non-stop. Who does that anymore? In a world of synthesised, over-produced, stage-managed shit, a Bruce Springsteen concert is pure, unadulterated, old-fashioned (but not cheesy) rock and roll at its wondrous, glorious best. The way he enunciated that he is "a prisoner of the everlasting eternal ass-kicking power of rock and roll” … oh god, my heart stopped for a nanosecond. He makes every single moment count. Every single moment is special.This just gives a small glimpse of the liveliness of Sabeen. Since she explicitly mentioned Springsteen's Hungry Heart at one point in her post, I will post a live version here. Here is Boss for you Sabeen.
I was reminded starkly, of what really matters and what’s important. My politics were reinforced. I made leaps of faith in my head all over again. Bruce Springsteen’s music has defined my life - my hopes, dreams, aspirations and struggles. To be in the same space as him was nothing short of magical.