To be released on her anniversary today
The first time I met Sabeen Mahmud, I was 17 years old. I had gone to The Second Floor, the community space and café she had created in Karachi, to cover a talk by a Sufi scholar for the Daily Times newspaper where I worked.
As I reached late, the room was already packed and the session had begun. So I stood in the corner taking notes, till Sabeen tapped me on my shoulder and pointed to an empty spot.
Over the years, I ended up interning with her when T2F put up Burqavaganza at the Arts Council. I would often hang out at T2F with my best friend Rameez. When I came back from college, I would meet Sabeen before an event at T2F where I covered art exhibitions, Mohammed Hanif’s book launch for Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and many more talks. It was through Sabeen that I met Raheel, Vishal, Sara, Rabea and so many others.
The last time I met Sabeen I was 26 years old. It was 2015. I had stepped out of the house for the first time after my father’s death. I met her and we had hugged. By the time I got home, news channels were running tickers that she had been killed.
And so, in the space of barely a week, I found myself grieving my father, Masood Hamid, and Sabeen together.
Five years later, as the anniversary for their deaths arrived as twin memories a week apart, I called Sabeen’s 69-year-old mother Mahenaz at her home for an interview. We talked about what Sabeen and my dad would have been doing in the lockdown, and realised that both of them had been such restless souls that they probably would not have been able to stay home.
As we spoke, I realised how much our double griefs were one.
As our conversation progressed, we talked about what we did/were going to do to mark this five-year milestone.
The COVID-19 outbreak had affected my plans to commemorate my father’s death anniversary but I had still managed to do something with family. I asked Mahenaz about her thoughts for the day. This is what she told me.
This year on Friday, April 24, Mahenaz plans to share her Sabeen with the rest of the world.
In the obituaries, documentaries, research work that followed her daughter’s death, people identified Sabeen as a human rights activist, the soul behind T2F, a feminist, a techie, a best friend, a friend of the outliers—but Sabeen was so much more. She was Mahenaz’s daughter and her best friend.
To help others see Sabeen from this lens, Mahenaz has been writing a journal since that day. “I have always been an introvert so writing a journal was very natural for me,” she said. “I would scribble away in it when I was facing a problem or something was bothering me. When Sabeen passed away I used to write notes to her.”
In Conversations Interrupted, Mahenaz talks to Sabeen like she used to, like they always did—as friends.
She hopes that reading her journal will help readers deal with the grief and loss of a loved one. It is perhaps one of the first such works of its kind in Pakistan.
“Many people wondered how Sabeen became Sabeen,” added Mahenaz. “This will also give an insight into that. She got a lot of her street smarts from her father. She wasn’t just a girly girl, she would play with hammers too.” In the journal perhaps readers will be able to glean how Sabeen was parented, what a mother-daughter relationship such as theirs looked like. Perhaps readers will find a little bit of themselves in Mahenaz as mothers of daughters who may be like Sabeen.
The journal will be available in the form of an e-book on Sabeen’s fifth death anniversary on Friday (today). Details will be posted on the Facebook page, Sabeen Mahmud Archive, a digital archive that will serves as a memorial and space to preserves a record of her life. It will include Sabeen’s notebooks, photographs, articles she wrote, beloved cricket bats and stories from those who knew and loved her.
The journal and archive are part of a larger project called the (proposed) Sabeen Mahmud Foundation. Mahenaz is waiting for the official registration to be processed.
The foundation will focus on three things: education, mental health and the archive. While Mahenaz wanted it to be more of a physical space, they have had to move it all online because of COVID-19.
In the fall of 2015, Mahenaz said, Sabeen had plans to go abroad to study psychology. “She felt very strongly about mental health, especially for those in middle school,” she said. “People used to walk into her office at T2F all the time and she used to help them.”
With the archive, Mahenaz hopes to show people how Sabeen was funny and sentimental. In a series called the lighter side of Sabeen, Mahenaz shared the story of a jar or potpourri she gave her daughter when she went off to college.
“I used an old coffee jar and tied a ribbon from another gift to the jar. She loved it. It moved back with her to Karachi four years later. A couple of times over the years I said to her, ‘Achha na, abhi tou iss ko retire kar do’. She didn’t. She just wouldn’t! It lives on, on the rack of toiletries in her bathroom.”