How I miss you, Sabeen

Sabeen Mahmud left an indelible impression on a city of more than 20 million and perhaps our world.
Published April 24, 2016

This article was originally published on April 23, 2016.

Born 1974. Flown, but never forgotten

It’s now a year to the day when I got that call. Sitting at lunch, family visiting, and a single, awful sentence: you were gone. In this past week, time has been slowing and stretching out into packets, paused moments.

There was hail here this past week, there were thunderstorms and I even heard lightening strike. But today, magically, the sun is out — and we'll be celebrating you with music and memories."

Graffiti at the skatepark in Southbank, London.
Graffiti at the skatepark in Southbank, London.

I’ve been thinking back to the day you and your friends took me on an adventure, a dawn breakfast in Saddar  —  the thrill of walking past Grammar School at 6am with no uniform on, no fear, no traffic, no noise, and no people.

Of how we took secret photos to Instagram later, while we snaked through Empress Market and ended up in a room so vast, so tall, so beautifully lit with smoke rising and greasy plates, I almost cried. We laughed that morning, a lot. I’ll never forget the blackbirds outside when we left, circling  —  the colour of that sky. Morning had broken.

Did I understand it was a signal? Did I understand what was coming? I don’t think I did at all.

I’ll never forget the blackbirds outside when we left.
I’ll never forget the blackbirds outside when we left.

Beanz, my kids’ Bean Khala, Sabs, my childhood confidant, mentor and firecracker of a friend. Jobs-ian, protaganist in a Hobbesian life, (oh, we always liked to play with words).

I remember the first time you and I hung out  —  class 8? Invited to your home for an afternoon visit, meeting Nana and Nani, eating Aunty’s potato salad. That house was close to the sea. While our home remained the same, over the years, yours moved, as your life shifted and changed.

In each new room, new home, we’d spent so much time talking. About start-ups, social enterprise, philosophy, privilege, drawing rooms, politics, dancing, The Boss.

Most recently, it was about 40, why 40 mattered, and what to do next. You had so many new dreams, greater and even more ambitious than the ones you already grew.

Though we lived on opposite sides of the world, we met again in person  —  was it just around this time of year?  —  taking a bit of a mad, epic roadtrip to Virginia Beach, to see our childhood hero, Springsteen. I drove, and distinctly remember we reached this one point where road gave way to a large expanse of water.

It felt strange, a country I had never seen. We screamed at every song like we were still 12. It was your early birthday present since we weren’t sure of schedules and where in the world we’d be by June.

After 7 hours on the road, ready to see Springsteen live for the first time. Dreamed at 12, 28 years in the making.
After 7 hours on the road, ready to see Springsteen live for the first time. Dreamed at 12, 28 years in the making.

My sister gave Sabeen this brave haircut, she cut it short and it looked so fabulous. Usually unconcerned about looks, she did every once in a while, have a small moment where she, too, preened.

Considering that in her book, I spent rather too much time on social niceties and blow-dries, I was thrilled to see that tiny-teeny moment of vanity.

How I miss you, Sabeen.

At fourteen, while I fell for literature and began to flirt with words and theories of relativity, you fell for computers. From this defining moment you blazed an amazing path to international fame in social enterprise, national awards and unspeakable compassion and love for those neglected and rejected by your city, Karachi.

Yet with every award (“haan yaar — something from Davos people, not sure if I’ll go’. “Asia society” “Written up in MIT Journal”) was not nearly as important as keeping the vision of PeaceNiche and T2F growing and serving the young creatives, hackers, and philosophers of Karachi.

Most likely, you are just as unconcerned about the new awards, Sabs. (‘Liberty Humans Rights’, Herald ‘Person of the Year’ ‘100 Most Influential People in Foreign Policy’)

#SabeenMahmud, just shy of forty, resident of Karachi, Pakistan, left an indelible impression on a city of more than 20 million — and perhaps our world.

For Sabeen, life was all part of her experiment with McLuhan’s idea that the medium is the message. She owned a dog-eared copy of his book.

She would show me paragraphs, underlined. She always took notes. I would sit back, listen, a little in awe, amazed. New online languages, emoticons — that came much later  —  but in the beginning, it was McLuhan, and of course Apple and Steve Jobs.

When we were all grown up, she entered the T2F decade with the birth of her perfect little space for creativity and youth  —  a space for spreading art, culture and science  —  part of a greater vision for change she called PeacheNiche.

Despite losing its leader to assassination for nothing more than celebrating the idea of love, T2F bravely still stands, and serves the city that gave Sabeen her life, and then, her untimely passing.

T2F — Sabeen’s Legacy.
T2F — Sabeen’s Legacy.

For college, you went to Lahore, in love with Apple and music, coding, never ceding from your countrymen. I went to Hanover.

My mother tells me that in cleaning my room, there was clear evidence how loyal a friend you were. She told me,

"Sabeen is the one who always wrote you letters, Aassia."

Sabs — Where are you now?

It’s getting late here in Dallas as I write this, it’s thundering again. The silver lining is that Sabeen's city will spend this weekend celebrating the principles by which Sabeen lived, with the Creative Karachi Festival. #CKF16 is timed in her honour.

Musicians, artists, artisans are coming together April 23 and 24 at the Alliance Francaise to give an embattled city that amazing high that comes from creating and sharing something beautiful.

I didn’t know anyone more selfless than you, Sabeen. However hurt, trodden-down, temporarily broke, and Nietzschean you were, you continually gave of yourself to others.

How speechless I was when you told me you flew to Peshawar after the APS tragedy and went door to door. You were gripped by the idea of counseling, gripped by exploring the psyche, gripped by helping  —  it was a topic you needed to learn more about.

You dared to knock on a mother’s door who had lost her child. How brave can one girl be? How close to the flame? Did it hurt to see the loss in that mother’s eyes?

Today I think about Mimi Aunty, my darling and brave friend’s mother, who endures, who survived  —  and who carries forward, with a small circle of the closest ones, the flame that is Sabeen.

Thank you Mimi Aunty for raising Sabeen. Her legacy is with us still. And thank you to all of those tirelessly upholding it. You know who you are.

I hope that one day, Apple will plant a tree on its campus for its biggest ambassador, like you will plant one in Karachi on April 24, Mimi Aunty. I just know Sabeen’s probably pitching Steve about it right now.

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

This coming weekend, at events in London, Washington DC, Chicago, and around the world, Sabeen will be remembered with music and laughter and in the private reflections of her classmates, colleagues and friends. I hope the efforts to grow her legacy via crowdfunding flourish.

Please take a moment to know or remember the brave girl and fearless woman that was Sabeen Mahmud, on April 24. If you do, write on her wall so her mother knows it; share a photo, video or thought with her.

Mimi Aunty, you taught Sabeen to speak her mind, and to fight for the world she wanted to see, with more than armchair words. For that, I thank you.

"Only the good die young"

(Sorry Sabs, I thought about a #Springsteen line, forgive me for picking Billy).