A tribute to Sabeen & the Idea of an Idea


Sabeen’s death is hitting me in waves. Sometimes I forget it has actually happened. Right now I remember. For those who don’t know, Sabeen was the person behind The Second Floor, one of the few places open to the thriving public of Karachi to demonstrate critical thinking. To be connected to art and culture from Pakistan and the rest of the world. To hear stories in public we would only think in our minds. I will never describe it will enough to do it justice.

Disclaimer: I didn’t know Sabeen as well as I wanted to. Of course, I want to know her more now. I began meeting her at events so frequently it became hard for her to probably ignore me every time I shoved my presence in her face. I had spoken to her about having exhibitions of some of my photographs and host events with my last organization but then I moved to the US for my Masters and of course didn’t stay in touch. My father spoke at T2F a few times. My mother had met her only a couple of days ago. Frequently our family would go to hear the tabla and sitar, to famously intellectual talks, exhibitions – anything. We are regulars. Sabeen was always there.

I think sometimes when someone so great and powerful is standing in front of you, and with you, and listening to your silly ideas you don’t appreciate it enough. You don’t understand the greatness. You don’t understand the person fully for what they represent and what they stand for. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I took her presence in this world for granted when she was alive. I feel ashamed for that.

I loved Sabeen because she is one of the few people I know who took the idea and made it real. Didn’t listen to the naysayers. Didn’t give in to societal pressures about conventional ways things are done. Never charged for events. She just did it. She makes me believe that it is easy. That all those stupid dining room conversations would just stay in our heads if we didn’t do something about it. Starting an independent space for people to appreciate art and culture and life – I can just imagine how many people in Karachi could have laughed at that. Even I remember thinking during a talk there – this is just a talk, nothing will change from this – how foolish of me.

Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man – Che Guevara

Bullets kill people, not ideas. To put it mildly, I don’t resonate with people who say ‘all hope is lost’ or ‘this is why I never want to move back to Karachi’ because they just don’t seem to get it. I wish they would stop.

Because in fact, it is the opposite. This is why you need to live there. This is why you need hope. People who think her death is part of another target killing showing how dangerous it is for you to live there – please, please get over yourselves. Stop using Sabeen’s death as a justification for you to avoid doing the work that needs to be done in Karachi, in Pakistan, in the world. Her death doesn’t mean you can make yourselves feel better about not living in Karachi. That is just disrespectful and foolish.

The fight isn’t over and we certainly haven’t won. But we haven’t lost yet either. Unheard voices need to be heard. Unsaid things need to be said. Uncreated spaces need to be created for this. There aren’t enough people on the good side willing to stand up. Sabeen was one. Now if anything, it is a time to understand that there need to be SO MANY MORE SABEENS because then they won’t be able to kill us all. Not with 5 bullets, not with 5,000.

Whoever they are: they can’t kill ideas. They can’t kill Sabeen’s ideas. Her ideas are with us now, forever. They can’t change minds with bullets. They are afraid of ideas. It’s so simple. Ideas threaten them.  Sabeen was a threat to them because she didn’t give in. I want to be a threat them too. We should all want to do that. Because we are in the right. We shouldn’t let the wrong win. We can’t.


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