Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Sab

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The day Before T2F 1.0 Opened
14th May 2007

Who is mentoring whom here?

My dearest Sabeen,

Its been 2 years since you were assassinated. I just thought I'd write to you. While I realise that you will never read this, I thought this was the only way I have of communicating with you and telling you about how our world has been since you left. Its a long letter … and if you can read it, fine. You have plenty of time now. (The letter may not always be in chronological order, since my mind jumps ahead at times.)

Sabeen at Delhi Airport
Heading to see Geetan & Tarun

I won't go into the 'national tragedies' in this letter, since you know that they were occurring faster and faster every day … and reached their lowest, or so we thought, and then went even lower the next day. There is no need, too, to go into who killed you and why. He has recounted several different stories. He is in jail. He has appealed to be freed, saying that he didn't do it and was forced to say he did. ——— Life, as we know it here, goes on: Someone is alive one day and dead or has escaped the next day. Who is he 'owned' by, who has let him 'go' (one way or another), no one knows. 

Faiz Ahmad Faiz

At the event of your going away there were thousands of people around the world who attended services and seminars and talks about you, from close people like your sister, Ragni Marea Kidvai.

Sab on FB when Ragni passed her Law Exams
This happened in places that you could think of, many places even you would never have thought of, and more. Your services or memorials were held in various parts of the streets in Pakistan,  but also in USA (at Harvard, for example, among other places), UK, India …

Ragni at a Park in Brooklyn: Memorial Service for Sab
You were spoken about in speeches everywhere. Kamila Shamsie spoke at Hamilton College and this is what she said.

Pervez Hoodbhoy remembers you each time we meet. And so does Salman Hameed. You were praised by every person who worked with you or under your amazing leadership. They still write to me often and say that you changed their lives for the better.

I can understand that … since you spent 26 years with me. From the time that you phoned me to learn about computers, when you were 14, to just before our car turned left after the Baluchistan event from T2F  — and you were shot. Just 30 seconds, at the maximum, we had waved at you and Mimi…  and then I got a call from her saying this had just happened.

Your photographs were everywhere. There were your videos that were highlighted again. There are two new films - one coming out from Fawz in USA today and one coming out fairly soon. Newspapers, magazines, and TV Stations carried pieces about you, from the local papers and magazines to BBC, CNN, NDTV,  NPR, and many many more.

Once you said to me that you'd be on the cover of 'Fortune 500' and then laughed. Your laughter always stays in my mind. I even sent this picture to you.

A contagious laughter
While you and I knew the you would never have the money to be in 'Fortune 500' , you did make it to the 'MIT Innovations Journal' (Here's a pdf of it). And to 'Wired', for your Hackathon. Sheba Najmi has announce a prize in your name. 

Karima Bennoune was introduced to you by Nuzhat and she wrote a book that has a chapter on you. Sadly it was published after your death. The Tunis Classical Orchestra composed a piece for you!

I had once quoted Buckminster Fuller saying: “You have to decide whether you want to make money or make sense, because the two are mutually exclusive.”  You loved it. I had lived my life with that idea since I heard him say that at a seminar. So did you. Neither of us made tons of money in anything we did. Whether at my 3 companies (Solutions Unlimited, Enabling Technologies, or BITS - where you were a co-Director with me), or at your PeaceNiche/T2F organisation, whatever we earned, we spent on hiring more people (mainly girls or minority members),. And we travelled everywhere to learn more, doing new things that no one had done before: The IBM CD, the ABM Art CD, and the Faiz CD have no equivalence here at all. The programming was all done by you.

One of my favourite days of our wonderful lives together was your 21st birthday when I took you to the Apple Headquarters. 

Sab at the Apple Headquarters
Apple was one of your greatest loves. Every moment stands out from that day. But you've already blogged about it, anyway. Here are two more of your pics with Apples:

Sab working on her Mac, Nuz's Mac, Mimi's Mac, and my Mac

With your greatest love!

On the day, the day you were killed, we spent more time in months together (you were so busy with Dil Phaink). You came to my house and said. "Here I am for just 10 minutes, so that you can't say I am too busy. But I really am." … And then you spent 2+ hours in the morning at my house. We discussed old times, your school friends, your college friends, our early office days, and a couple of films that we loved.

I asked you if there were any threats and you said no. You passed me your phone to check (you did save everything on your phone!) … and there were none. You said you weren't going to do the program until you came back, but Moneeza Ahmad had said she would do it instead.

We spent almost an hour, again, in the afternoon at T2F. And even spent a few minutes together between the program that you didn't want to run. You came down four times between your work upstairs. You said the program was "Shit. Terrible."——— I agreed. (So did Mimi: I looked at her during the event and saw her face that really said so.)

These are your two pics from the Event.

Sabeen — Opening & Closing the Baluchistan Event

When we arrived at the hospital a couple of minutes after they had taken you both in, you were dead. Dead? The doctor said you had died on the spot within a second of being shot. Mimi was outside and was soon taken to AKUH by Nuzhat, because she had two bullets in her. (One was removed. The other stays coz its not doing any harm and is too close to the spine to operate.)

I had phoned Marvi Mazhar who arrived fairly soon. Others arrived, too, and we took your body to the Hospital. A post-mortem was performed there. Your father, Tallat, arrived there and was shattered. Nasreen Jaleel was there very early and handled the increasing crowd. Many WAF members and friends kept arriving. We then took you to the morgue.

The funeral took place the next day. Marvi, Insiya, and Sonia bathed you. Thousands of people appeared at T2F to bid you goodbye. Many followed us to what would become your grave.

The assassination was covered by many organizations - but was covered rather poorly by the Press and TV, here and abroad: They asked people who came up with all sorts of answers; They focused on people who knew little; or on people like Mama Qadeer who lied on TV; NYT (yes you were on that, too) said that a friend had told them that you had decided to leave T2F and decided to join the Baluchis for fighting for them. I was appalled and still am — for the line does get occasionally quoted by others. The Baluchi separatists took this and your other quotes, running posters about you being their Freedom Fighter. 

However, Google had their image changed on your Birthday

… and Herald readers chose you to be this:

Herald: Person of the Year 2015

I was told by the NMC people to tell Mimi that you were no longer here with us, when they officially pronounced you dead. She was at AKUH already. When I arrived after the morgue at the hospital, before I could say this (and I really didn't know how) she said, "I know". She had lifted your head immediately after the shots and found you lifeless. How terrible that thought must have been. I admire her courage for this and the interview she gave to BBC.

Mimi and Sab

Ghulam Abbas, whom we all called Babu, was your driver. During the day he worked with the Police, but he was becoming more and more Talibanized. I had mentioned my conversation to you that I had had with him and you said I shouldn't tell Mimi about it. 

He lied constantly, too; then and later! — think he wanted to save you because he knew what was going to happen. He thought the world of you and his action that evening showed that. I have never seen him talking back to you. But he did that evening as you were leaving, because you forced him to sit at the back while you drove, with Mimi in front. He insisted that he'd drive. Now he couldn't dodge the motorcycle that he knew would attack you.

Although he lied repeatedly to us that he was looking through the opposite window when he heard the gunshot and ducked, this was untrue. He described to the Police about the two men he had seen (and, I think, also seen outside T2F that evening). The two artists at the Police Station sat with him drawing two different pictures when Fahim and I went there that night after your burial. I saw them, too. But he lied to me, again, saying these were two artists trying to draw the same picture so that he could see the real picture or choose things and have them shifted to one of them. He said they were of the boy who had carried Mimi's handbag into the hotel.

(I spoke to the boy - a Hazara boy - while I was at NMC. He even went with my money and got medicine for Mimi. I threw away the receipt and he picked it up and gave it to me saying this was a Police case and they may want to see hospital papers. The boy had stayed there for a long time and even came to your funeral.)

Babu was wrong, obviously, and he knew that! Just a few minutes earlier Fahim and I had seen the full hospital video and the boy was clearly seen in many frames. No images of the boy were necessary to recognise him.

(Sadly after a couple of months of your death, Babu was shot, too, outside his home. Some people say the man who killed him was from the Police, but who knows. I haven't seen him caught yet, or even a report about him later.)

Days passed after that. T2F remained closed, then opened again. Jehan Ara had a memorial for you at Nest I/O where we spoke about you.

(Sabeen's picture made up of little pictures of her)
T2F had a meeting where people came and offered their condolences to Mimi and to each other. Many just kept quiet. Many cried. But everyone knew what you were and the crying was not just about your assassination but also of their own feelings about how they were going to live without you. You were a hero and a mentor to many of them.

Sabeen with a sign painted for her by Haider Ali
Yes, they live now. Chand comes here sometimes and I see him in tears. So are all our staff members. You may have no idea of how difficult it is. They cry so often when speaking about you. And, yes, they too laugh when they think of your jokes and the fun they had with you.

The people at 'b.i.t.s.' visit when they are in Karachi. Mina made this lovely picture of yours for me and I have it in my drawing room.

Post-Modern Flower Child
I left for USA, asking a consistently crying Ragni to not come here for the week that she could take off. Nuzhat and I would come there and stay a month with her. She cried everyday that I phoned her …and in all the days that we stayed with her.

A corner in Ragni's room for Sab's memories
Once I reached there, I sent a resignation letter to the PeaceNiche/T2F Board. While I did say that I couldn't run this with you no longer on it, I agreed that I would do everything for T2F whenever asked. What I did not write in it was the fact that working with someone in that Board was no longer possible. You knew that, too. I was going to resign earlier but you asked me to stay on … and so I stayed on.

Dil Phaink happened in the UK. Lots of people went there from T2F. The place was crowded. People celebrated your life between their sobbing. Here is a picture from there.

Marvi with the Poster at Dil Phaink
T2F in Karachi ran … but no one really knew what to do. And when everyone came back things took a much worse turn - but let's not go there. No real point. Honestly. A new group was formed and then it died. I am not sure what happened, since I was never part of anything after my resignation — and, in any case, a lot of this happened while I was still in the USA or my early days back here.

Marvi decided to run T2F. Her own experience was nothing but she learnt a lot in the next 2 months and ran it very well. Time and time again, Mimi decided to close down T2F or keep it running. Her tragedy was far too much for her to handle and we all realised that. But keeping T2F alive was another idea that many people had. It was a public space. It was your gift to Karachi. It had inspired a few people to try this in Lahore and Islamabad (although the Lahore one failed as soon as Ayesha Alam left the city).

Marvi finally got Mimi to agree to run it as best as she could until December 2015. And it ran. People loved her work. The Board did, too. There were letters that were exchanged by Board Members that congratulated each other for having chosen her as the new Director. For months Marvi had worked without any salary. Now she was getting paid, too.

On your first death anniversary Alliance Française decided that T2F should do a two day seminar there. It happened with lots of people, despite the heat, coming there for the two days.

Poster by Sana Nisar 
Sheema & Suhaee: Dance tributes in your memory
The next day we planted an Amaltas - your favourite tree - near where you had been killed. A stone also marked the spot. People pass by this every time they go to T2F.

The memorial spot

Karachi has a road named after you. The spelling is wrong … but that's usual here. No one seems to care. I am trying my best to have it altered but will someone respond to my letters? I doubt it.

The Sabeen Mahmud Road: A ص  has been replaced by a س

Over time, and after some discussions, the Board made a smaller committee, leaving out of the team Nuzhat, Ghazala Aziz, and Khalid Mahmood. KM was a new member of the Board, and had been a great help to us at T2F, having given you the building where it now is, at Rs. 1 per month. The Committee informed Marvi that she was not to serve after December 2016, whatever their views may have been. Marvi says she asked why she was being removed and people came up with different reasons. Sharjeel Ahmad even drew out a paper that had her 'failings' listed. She asked for it. It was never given. 

Nuzhat, Ghazala, and Khalid decided that Marvi should be called to the Board meeting and were disappointed that she had been removed without being heard. A meeting was arranged for 3 people to visit her the next day. Two hours later Sharjeel said he could not attend. Omar was going to come with Khalid and Nuzhat and go to Marvi to ask about her view. Another hour and the meeting was officially cancelled. That's what Nuz told me. Well … I guess there must have been reasons. I've never looked at Nuzhat's mail so I never did find out why this happened or if any more letters were sent explaining this.

The Prince Claus Award Committee decided to give €25000 to PN/T2F for its wonderful work done by you and by the team after your death. Marvi (as Director) was invited. Mimi (as your mother) was also invited, first as a guest but was then added as a person who, with Marvi, would receive the Prize. Here is their letter.

Peace Niche | The Second Floor (T2F)

Culture & Development 

The Second Floor (2007, Karachi) is an interdisciplinary space committed to social change and conflict resolution through dialogue and cultural engagement. It is a welcoming venue where people can gather, talk and laugh, listen to music and poetry, discuss politics in English, Urdu and other vernacular languages, and drink coffee. This apparently normal place is rare, a source of ‘social oxygen’ in a context where public space is shrinking and recent laws encroach on freedom of expression.

Comprising a café, bookshop and multi-purpose area, The Second Floor (T2F) encompasses low and high culture and its doors are open to all. Its activities include art exhibitions, scientific lectures, forums on human rights and new laws, meet-ups with writers, theatre, film screenings, open mic nights and stand-up comedy. It hosts numerous music events from traditional qawwali mehfil and tabla classes to jam sessions and experimental electronic performances. As well as organising the popular Creative Karachi Festival, T2F runs emotional well-being programmes for schools, training courses on mental health, and recently convened the city’s first civic hackathon where Karachiites came together to brainstorm about technology-based solutions to urban problems. 

Attracting a truly diverse audience, T2F bridges divides of age and class, addresses the concerns of minorities and marginalised groups, and is a hub for intellectuals, social workers and artists. It is an independent platform for participation, dissent and collaboration, giving young people the confidence to enter public space, perform, experiment, question and join current debates. In 2015, T2F had 100 visitors a day and it has inspired similar efforts in Islamabad and Lahore. 

The flagship project of PeaceNiche, a Karachi-based non-profit organisation, T2F was founded by the late Sabeen Mahmud, a prominent Pakistani social and human rights activist who was gunned down following an open discussion at T2F on the situation in Baluchistan. In the face of this great loss, friends and supporters of T2F immediately rallied and the centre’s crucial activities, now under the leadership of Marvi Mazhar, continue to energise Karachi’s cultural landscape. 

T2F is awarded for its courageous continuation of what should be normal civic activities; for promoting and enabling democratic discourse, progressive thought and critical debate in an increasingly polarised society; for creating a haven for tolerance, welcoming all shades of opinion within an overall framework of peace and secularism; for stimulating artistic expression in a broad spectrum of disciplines and encouraging experimentation that challenges local conventions; for mentoring and providing a supportive platform for younger generations to exercise their talents and opinions. 

I have no idea about what happened in Netherlands, but Mimi received the Certificate. Marvi was asked by the Claus Board to stay out of the actual event only a couple of minutes before the award was presented. They had both been waiting to go in. Marvi seemed very upset about this. So were KM and I and the other people who heard this — but, I guess, the Claus Award team and their 'partners' must have had some reason for doing this. I just think it was bad taste to leave it so so late.

A few days later Mimi eventually decided to end her stay at PeaceNiche/T2F. She called up Khalid Mahmood and it was finally decided that KM would take over from her. An announcement to this appeared on Facebook and many people did think that Mimi should stay - but she had decided to leave. It was something she had said often. (Sadly the announcement also said that Marvi was 'moving on' - but that was not really true: 'Moving on' meant that Marvi had decided to leave. Many people wrote back asking her to stay on. A small group of performers wrote a letter asking her to stay back for at least a year.)

KM asked that all Board members resign. He would check each of them - and some new members - and put up a new Board. This happened after some negotiations between him and Mimi. Soon a new Board was formed.

The Board has KM as Chairperson, Nadeem Khalid as Treasurer, Nazish Brohi as Secretary, Faisal Siddiqi / Aisha Gazdar / Khalid Ahmad / and myself as the new Members. I was repeatedly asked by KM to accept, which I eventually did.

Taking over the new tasks we've had a lot of financial problems - and you would know that, of course - but they are being sorted out by KM and the team. Our accounts are now beginning to run smoothly, as they were when you were around.

Sharjeel had added T2F's payments in the 2015 accounts, which were audited in 2016. One was for the salary cut that you took some years ago. The money has now been given to Mimi. Another payment was sent to your mamooñ, Zahir, for money that he loaned to you for Dil Phaink. That's fair. So its all clear now.

Mimi was asked by KM to stay on the Board, if she wanted to, but she said she'd rather stay away.  Understandable. However, your room is now in her possession for whenever she comes and starts her project.

The Claus Award Team came to Karachi and we had Lunch with them and a few guests. The entertainment was provided with two of your favourite artists, Natasha Ejaz and Sarah Haider, who started their careers at T2F. 

T2F is running without an Executive Director but an ad has been placed on some websites and we are looking for people to send in their applications before the end of this month. The programs are still going on and many new events have also started or are on the verge. 

PeaceNiche & T2F are going to continue and become bigger. Your name will always be there along with your photograph … and a zillion memories that we all hold dear. We all often miss you at Qavvaalis, too. On your death we had four qavvaalis in your memory. The first one was by Fareed & Abu, followed by Saami Brothers (who thank you wherever they perform, coz you made them start at T2F, Subhan & Group, and Saifuddin & Brothers. Here is an intro and a piece from Fareed/Abu.

I am getting the old website of b.i.t.s. 'reactivated'. It has wonderful things you made on it, including our old and new website designs, the Eqbal Ahmad memorial site, your Blog that was there, and all the other amazing things that you put in. In addition I will put up your pics that I took, as well as some that your friends took. 

Finally, I hope to turn our CD-ROMs into Websites at some point … but that takes time. They were your work, mainly, and will be dedicated to you.

Will write to you again, next year — if I am still around.



Missing you like crazy!

Update: 25th April 2017

A letter from Mahenaz Mahmud was handed over to Khalid Mahmood, last night,  which he opened this morning.

Mimi was donating to T2F the funds she had received as Sabeen's unpaid salary. The donation was meant to be from her and Sabeen.

Thanks a lot, Mimi, from me and everyone at T2F, as well as the visitors there. Sabeen will always be a source for everything that T2F does. Her principles will be at the heart of everyone who works there. May T2F live long.

Thanks again for bringing up Sabeen the way you did.

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