Love Letters To Icons: Sabeen Mahmud

There are countless female icons that have coloured our history and left a lasting impression on us with their talent, charisma and presence. Every week, Ammaar – known on Instagram as ammaavocado – will be sharing his letter of love and admiration to some of these inspiring women. This week it’s to activist, social worker and a woman gone from us too soon – Sabeen Mahmud, the founder of T2F.

Beloved Sabeen,

People tend to never realise the cost of having a voice. The kind of criticism, hatred, and mockery we face for everything we do is unparalleled. It’s being more marginalised than you already are. There are sacrifices we make, of our passions and our people. And in your case even our lives.

Sabeen, I will not wax any poetics over this letter; they help only to hide emotions behind words and are meant to be deciphered by whoever reads them. I will write everything as it is spilled from the heart to the fingers. I owe that much to you, we owe that much to you.

You always did what your heart wanted. You always relished in whatever desire you could afford. You never held back from speaking what was meant to be spoken. And I know that there was a price you paid for it. But perhaps that price does not even matter when the heart is filled with joy and content.

There are stories about how you would sometimes ride your bike to T2F (The Second Floor) and perhaps there was some joy there. There are stories about how you once wished a place where everyone could exist, where they were not foreign — you made a world where everyone felt belonged; a heaven where God allowed everyone — and you made it, brick by brick, drawing and crafting each wall to not just build a boundary but to build a comfort for those who wished to speak their heart. There are stories of how on a friday night, you made room for the people who had no place to talk, where people could discuss the oppression an entire region of this country was quiet about. You called it “Unsilencing Balochistan-Take 2”(you called it ‘take 2’ because the event was originally going to happen at LUMS but was revoked by the government) and then were shot dead in your car after, and I imagine you driving home, with a heart soaked in pride and joy, knowing that you gave a voice to those who needed it the most. I will speak of that night in the end. But for now, all I want to say is that I know that in your last moments you were at peace.

I went to T2F last year. I went in knowing no one, and then knowing people who I would’ve never spoken to otherwise. There was no hesitance in talking to a stranger there, Sabeen. There was no holding back. There was acceptance. There was love. I saw your murals on the wall, and I felt as if, in some way, you were there. As I walked across the bookshelves waiting for the event to begin, I felt you walking with me. When I sat waiting for the open mic, I felt you sitting in the front row, excited for whatever love the poets had to envelope into the air.  I read something too, a poem about grief and longing. And how everything about it was not entirely tragic, rather, intimate and romantic.

That night was not just our parting with you, it was the parting of our only hope to be able to say and do what we want. After you, things seemed dangerous. Saying that we disagree felt like a sin. That night, those men did not just rob you of your living, but they robbed everyone of someone they loved and who allowed them to be them. Only until those who loved you walked back into the home you built for them. And that home then served as a mercy to us, a part of you that accepted us as we were even the parts of us no one else wanted. There’s a calm in knowing that there is a place where we can be appreciated for how we are. There is a gratitude in knowing that everyone around us in that place was once told to change and decided not to, instead to set out into a war to be free. You helped us feel free. And that is a blessing you left us with.

And so when I speak of you, or of that night. I speak with love, I speak with imagining you once more, witnessing your grace. I imagine you in your white suzuki with your mother, hoping to reach a warm bed and a meal to fill your hunger. I imagine you watching those murderers and wishing them a warm bed and a meal to fill them with not just food but with gratitude and humility after they were done committing the greatest sin of their life. I imagine you smile whenever I imagine you. I imagine you loved as much as you deserve to be loved.

I hope your heaven is everything you wished for in this life. I wish your heaven to be an endless garden with everything you loved and everyone you loved at an arm’s reach. I wish you peace, Sabeen. The kind no one can rob.



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