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‘Parween made us into better people’

Updated April 20, 2016

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Her voice echoed through T2F as the audience sat hooked with their eyes fixed on the screen watching ‘Parween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist’ .─ Youtube screenshot
Her voice echoed through T2F as the audience sat hooked with their eyes fixed on the screen watching ‘Parween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist’ .─ Youtube screenshot

KARACHI: Parween Rahman was shot dead on her way home in March 2013, but on Tuesday evening it felt like she was sitting at The Second Floor (T2F) having an intimate conversation about Karachi with her friends, colleagues and students.

Her voice echoed through T2F as the audience sat hooked with their eyes fixed on the screen watching ‘Parween Rehman: The Rebel Optimist’ directed by documentary filmmaker Mahera Omar, who is also co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society.

The documentary is an intimate portrait of Ms Rehman, an architect and urban planner who dedicated her life to the poor of Pakistan.

In several interviews with her siblings, colleagues and best friends, including Anwar Rashid, Arif Hasan, Aquila Ismail, Anis Khair, Ashraf Sagar, Fazal Noor and Sadia Fazli, Ms Omar managed to capture Ms Rehman’s fierce spirit and intense love for the city.

“No one is safe in this city,” said Mr Rashid. “Those who think otherwise are living in a fool’s paradise.”

He talked about his friend and how she started work in the field. He said her command of the Urdu language was not very strong and looking at her “privileged background” he did not think she would stick to the profession; but she made it.

Parween Rehman worked at the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), a project founded by Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan in the 1980s that focused on improving sanitation in the area.

Ms Rehman was responsible for developing a low-cost sanitation model for Orangi. In an interview from 2013 used for the documentary, she explains how the country’s population was increasing and how it was affecting the city. She also discussed sewage disposal and mapping.

“When I joined the OPP we used to go into all the streets and lanes making maps,” she said in an interview. “Just like an x-ray is important for doctors, maps were necessary for planning.”

Her school friend, Sadia Fazli remembered the Parween she met at St Joseph’s as a “carefree spirit”.

Ms Rehman’s sister Aquila discussed how the family’s move from Dhaka, Bangladesh, during the war affected her sister. She said the violence changed her sister, who became obsessed with security and housing. She added that the family saw this when Ms Rehman was working on her college thesis which was on low-income groups in Quaidabad and public spaces.

This, she added was Ms Rehman’s first interaction with a low-income area in Karachi. “She made us into better people,” she said, recalling the last time all four siblings were together was at the Karachi Literature Festival held earlier that year.

The screening was followed by a question-answer session with the director.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2016