KARACHI: Closed for nine days, The Second Floor, popularly known as T2F reopened on Sunday afternoon, after its director Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead on April 24. The mood was somber with many expressing their disbelief over what had transpired. However, T2F frequenters were pleased to return to their favourite haven in the city where they could study or work on their presentations. Some of the regulars had questions such as who is/are going to be the point person/s that they could collaborate with on ideas and projects they were working on with Sabeen.
Awatif, a medical student, said she comes to T2F cafe to study along with her friend. “I was waiting for this place to reopen. During the days T2F was closed I and my friend went to Dunkin Donuts in Clifton to study. But we couldn’t since the place is frequented by O- and A-level students and they have way too much adrenaline and the place is too noisy.”
This meant that during all this time she was unable to study. Her day so far, she said, had been good as she had completed quite a few chapters. Speaking about Sabeen, she said that she used to see her every day. “She was energetic and looked quite busy. I don’t think she ever had a free moment.”
Former information minister Sherry Rehman also dropped by at the cafe along with her husband and daughter. Speaking to Dawn, Ms Rehman said: “I and Sabeen were planning a fund-raising event, an ideas festival, something that we do regularly for the Jinnah Institute [an Islamabad-based think tank of which Ms Rehman is the founding chair].”
“She was pretty unique. She wanted to do so much,” said Ms Rehman sadly, with disbelief writ on her face. “I want to know who I can get in touch with so that I can help. I heard there was going to be a memorial today so I brought my husband and daughter. It’s good to see the cafe is full but do you know who is running the place now?” she asked. Ms Rehman also shared her views about Sabeen’s courage. “When the blasphemy issue happened with me, she wanted to [openly] support me. I told her not to as it would be highly dangerous for both of us. I told her so many times to have security and we would find a way to provide her with some form of it but she refused.”
For Awais Iqbal of Bol TV, everything seemed normal at T2F. A Lahore resident, the cafe cum community space reminds him of Lahore’s Nairang Art Gallery designed by eminent architect Nayyar Ali Dada. “I have been coming to this place for four years now. I come to meet friends, attend talks and even seek solitude that you sometimes crave and which this space provides,” he said pensively.
“I had met her a day before the Balochistan talk and she had asked me to attend it. But I couldn’t as I got caught up in something. That night when TV channels started running news tickers of her being shot dead, my mind didn’t register that it was that Sabeen Mahmud.” Nevertheless, he expressed his happiness at its reopening. “I am pleased that this place has once again opened its doors and it should continue to remain so.”
A memorial to Sabeen has been set up on the main space. “You died like you lived — never compromised. Thanks for your life’s work, Sabeen. It’s more than many of us can hope to accomplish in two lifetimes,” is inscribed on a paper pinned on a large white sheet placed in a corner. “Sabeen, tu mera hero,” is written on another. Next to it is a table with markers, pens, paper which visitors can use to express their sentiments over the civil society activist’s untimely death. A condolence book is placed.
At the other end of the room are Iqra and Anas, communication design students, working on their presentation. They said they come here to focus on their work and it was an “ideal isolation space”. As students for whom finances are always precarious, they said at T2F they can sit for hours without ordering anything and would not be asked to leave. “There is no place like T2F.”
Raana Sheikh, former managing director of PTV, was distraught when Dawn met up with her. She and Sabeen were working on a musical drama, the lyrics of the songs penned by the well-known poet Zehra Nigah, and was going to be staged at the Arts Council. “I had developed a back pain and so the project had come to a halt. Sabeen said: ‘Raana khala, why are you worried, we will do it next year.’ I can’t believe she is not here anymore.”
“She and I thought alike. She like me believed that putting up cultural events would lead to a more open society. She was confident, she had a vision and she knew exactly where to go.”
“I do hope that T2F continues in the same manner as before because if someone changes it then it will be like another death.”
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2015