Sabeen, what do I teach our children now?

Published April 27, 2015
We are a nation of narratives not questions. —Reuters
We are a nation of narratives not questions. —Reuters

Dear Sabeen,

I woke up today to read on my Twitter feed that you had been shot. And, that you are no longer here with us.

Believe me, the realisation that I was asleep while you were organising an event on #UnsilencingBalochistan at T2F, is not lost on me.

Also read: T2F hosts the Balochistan discussion that others shy away from

I didn’t know you well. I wish I did, but I didn’t. Our paths had crossed twice at those posh events organised in hotels where people talk at length about what they are doing to ‘make Pakistan a better place’.

The goal is to inspire others to join in. Sometimes, it works.

It speaks volumes that, at both events where I ran into you, I was the one asking you to elaborate on how you were doing that, while I jotted down notes and fumbled my way through meagre ramblings on how I ‘also covered human rights’.

You gave me one of those knowing looks and smiles that are the reserve of ‘brothers in arms’, comrades if you will. I did not deserve it. But, I accepted it nonetheless.

Today, it is different because I feel that your not being here needs to be marked with more than words but, as always, I am falling far behind you.

Also read: Sabeen, the one who never backed down

I don’t know how you will be remembered in the days to come: I know some will laud your courage; others will recall your friendship and many will commiserate with your family and your city on its loss of you.

There will also be another voice – I am not sure how loud it will be as yet, but I am sure it will be there – a voice that will call you a discursive influence.

There will be people who will say that you didn’t love this country and that their proof is the fact that you tried to shed light on certain parts of it that are apparently ‘un-lovable’.

You see, it seems Pakistan doesn’t belong to all Pakistanis. It never did.

It belongs to some Pakistanis who speak for other Pakistanis. You never really hear from the others. After all, we’re there to speak for them. You never really quite accepted this reality. I feel that this is both your tragedy and your triumph.

I teach at LUMS, where recently there was a cancelled talk on Balochistan. Students and staff, alike bemoaned the fact that an academic institution was being pressured, nay, silenced.

There was the usual backlash of course, after all, what credibility does an ‘elite institution’ like LUMS have anyway and how could it possibly empathise? Then again, that was probably part of the problem.

When the so-called ‘elite’ wants to simply listen to stories that the assorted powers would rather relegate to myth-status, there is a crisis. It causes a tear in the social, national and most importantly, ideological fabric of this country.

This carefully woven tapestry of grandeur, honour and fidelity can easily unravel if people start to question where this thread came from? Who wove it? Why this pattern? Did we make it ourselves or did someone else?

It looks so beautiful, perhaps too beautiful.

Questions cause narratives to collapse. That is why, as Pakistanis, we have never really been good at asking questions and those of us that can, aren’t allowed to do so for very long.

We are a nation of narratives not questions, Sabeen.

We have stories, but we also have a very strict editorial policy on who gets to publish those stories, which ones and how often. The ones relegated to the scrap heap are forgotten.

People like you, who enjoy digging in national trash heaps, scavenging for untold scraps of stories, are inconvenient. Remember that tapestry? People like you want to go off pattern. Now how would that look, a pattern without uniformity?

Sabeen, you seemed like a person who was beloved, who made a lot of friends and wanted to create places where other people could as well. I usually cower from too much society. That said, your absence scares me. It makes me think we are all doomed to watch these things happen around us again and again.

Good people getting killed for speaking up, with their killers running free. The catchers coming up empty handed. The leaders pointing fingers at each other so they don’t have to lead. The talkers speaking of their sorrow and guilt. The writers penning their platitudes. The powers watching it all unfold. It never seems to stop.

Also read: Intelligence agencies to probe Sabeen Mahmud's murder: ISPR

I stand here in the middle of it all still wondering what to do next.

What does one teach young people now? Do I say ‘just read, learn, speak and do what the popular narrative says’ because you might die if you don’t?

Is that where we are now? Where do we start unpacking narratives? In fact, where do we even find all those lost threads to start weaving that forgotten fabric? We are so far gone we don’t even know how to recognise each other anymore.

Those who speak a language that hasn’t been sanctioned usually talk in whispers, and whispers are no antidote against all these other screams.

I am at a loss on where to start, when giving up on it all just seems simpler… safer.

Sabeen, what are you trying to tell us? To speak out? Is that it? You want enough of us to start speaking so that it is harder for this to happen again? You ask a lot.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Amir



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