R.I.P Ruqaiya Hasan: A life well lived

Ruqaiya Hasan, Hong Kong, Feb 2015. Photo by Lexie Don

Ruqaiya Hasan, Hong Kong, Feb 2015. Photo by Lexie Don

Ruqaiya Hasan: Born -1931, Pratapgarh, India; studied at Allahabad University (1953); Government College Lahore (1958); Edinburgh University (PhD in Linguistics, 1964). Retired as Emeritus Professor Macquarie University. Passed on: 2015, Sydney, Australia.

She seemed to be getting progressively better since the life-threatening respiratory infection she’d contracted after receiving radiotherapy for her advanced stage lung cancer. I had rushed over to Sydney to be with her, not knowing whether she’d still be there when I landed. If she’s still around, I’ll get to see her, if not, I’d be there for my cousin Neil and Uncle Michael, I reasoned. We knew, as did she, that it was a terminal disease but the rate she was improving led the doctors to add a chart to her hospital room stating her expected date of discharge as: “(?) 07/07/2015. Destination: Home”. We knew she wouldn’t be with her long, but at least some months seemed assured.

Continue reading

An Ozzie update, and thanks

Sydney, Feb 17 2015: Christian Matthiessen, Ruqaiya Hasan and Michael Halliday at a symposium in honour of Michael in his 90th year. Photo by Lexie Don, courtesy Frances Christie.

Sydney, Feb 17 2015: Chris Mathieson, Ruqaiya Hasan and Michael Halliday at a symposium in honour of Michael in his 90th year. Photo by Lexie Don, courtesy Frances Christie.

A quick update from Oz: my aunt Ruqaiya Hasan is improving, slowly but steadily. She was discharged from hospital and is now in another to receive palliative rehabilitation care until she is strong enough to return home, which the doctors hope will be in a couple of weeks. This really is nothing short of a miracle given the condition she was in last week. The other good news is that my mother Zakia Sarwar in Karachi has just got the visa and should be arriving on Sunday. Many people worked to make that happen in days rather than the month it usually takes. A multi-effort led to Ammi’s pre-visa medical exam being moved from July 4 to June 17. A heartfelt thanks to the friends in Islamabad who kept calling the Australian embassy, the linguists who appealed to the Australian government, and those who used their contacts in the Australian foreign office to expedite the visa.

An unplanned visit to Oz and my mother’s appeal

M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan, at a conference in Sun Yat Sen University, 2012

M.A.K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan, at a conference in Sun Yat Sen University, 2012

Sydney, Australia, June 13, 2015.

I’ve been promising for years I’ll visit them in Sydney but as things happen, one ends up keeping a promise only when disaster strikes. A couple of weeks ago, doctors said that that Khala Ammi’s discomfort was due not to reflux (a digestive disorder) as diagnosed earlier but advanced stage lung cancer.

“I’m 84,” she said. “Everyone has to go, but I had always hoped that when my time came it would be quick.” That’s not something cancer is known for but we don’t always get to make these choices. Continue reading

For Insha Afsar… Ski is the limit

Ski is the limit

Insha Afsar: A champion skier from Muzaffarabad.

Thanks to the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England (APPNE) for the opportunity to meet an inspiring young lady, 14-year old Insha Afsar of Muzaffarabad who lost a leg in the earthquake of 2005 but has risen to become a champion one-legged skier, enabled by her supportive host parents in the USA. My piece in The News on Sunday

Some weeks ago, I happened to sit at the same table as a bright-eyed, long-haired young girl with a wide smile. The only non-desis in the room were the white couple with her. I assumed they were doctors or medical representatives in that hall full of physicians and their families.

But a pair of crutches resting on the table indicated that the girl was Insha Afsar, the 14-year old from Muzaffarabad who lost a leg in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake but has become a skiing sensation as she dominates the slopes — on one leg. Continue reading

Jimmy Engineer: The artist, his inner voice, the lion story and a dream

Jimmy Engineer stands with protestors at the 4th monthly remembrance for Peshawar school massacre, in Boston. Photo: Ehsun Mirza

Jimmy Engineer stands with protestors at the 4th monthly remembrance for Peshawar school massacre, in Boston. Photo: Ehsun Mirza

An article I wrote for The News on Sunday about the artist, humanitarian and peace worker Jimmy Engineer, The artist and more, May 3, 2015. Reproduced here with additional links and photos.

“There is a long list of people who are activists and who take up causes who get killed. It’s an endless list, and it’s a senseless list,” says Jimmy Engineer.

I’m talking to this Pakistani artist and philanthropist on the phone, having him met a few times in the Boston area. Based in Karachi, he’s visiting the USA, currently in Houston where his parents live. I’ve called to ask if he heard about the murder of activist-entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi.

He puts the tragedy in perspective as part of the perennial struggle between good and evil. “There will always be those who try to improve things and raise a voice to create awareness. There will always be those who want to destroy them. This happens everywhere in the world. Nature also takes its toll. Along with all the positive, there’s always a negative, like the Nepal earthquake.”

Sabeen herself well understood herself and exemplified this philosophy, accepting that negativity and evil exist but yet continuing to strive to do what is possible on a personal level. Life is a never-ending struggle and we each need to do what we can. Continue reading

‘An honest Pakistan is a better Pakistan': the ‘unsilencing’ idea and the ongoing intellecticide

Citizens in Lahore at a #Rally4Sabeen. Photo: Farooq Tariq

Citizens in Lahore at a #Rally4Sabeen. Photo: Farooq Tariq

I wrote this piece last week for EPW – Economic and Political Weekly, India; reproduced below with photos and additional links.

“Unsilencing Pakistan” was an idea first articulated in 2011. It has been revived following the recent murder of Sabeen Mahmud, who had attempted to create a space where Pakistanis could discuss contentious issues–like the human rights violations in Balochistan–without fear. Can Pakistan’s intellectuals and human rights activists survive the “intellecticide” being perpetrated?

By Beena Sarwar

When the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) announced that it was organising a seminar titled “Un-Silencing Balochistan” on 9 April 2015, it reminded me of the “Unsilencing Pakistan” initiative of the summer of 2011. Continue reading

Unsilencing Pakistan and the 5th Global Vigil #NeverForget


Daily vigil for Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi, 8-9 pm at Do Talwar

Protestors holding daily public protest vigils in Karachi demanding justice for Sabeen Mahmud hold placards calling to #unsilencePakistan and end the culture of impunity. Today’s vigil, marking give months of the Peshawar Army School massacre, also incorporates the carnage at Safoora Chowk in Karachi where armed men in police uniforms killed 45 of the 60 Ismailis on a bus.

“It has been 17 days since I have been present here daily from 8pm to 9pm,” poignantly writes Ibad Sheikh who initiated this event and brings along his drums to pound on. “I come to celebrate Sabeen, to grieve her death, to find comfort in fellow protesters and to tell the world that I have not forgotten her.” (From APS victims to Sabeen Mahmud: Honouring all who have been taken away from us, May 15, 2015)

Protestors at the Fifth Global Vigil this weekend in various cities are demanding an end to impunity and against terrorism in Pakistan.

  • Karachi – 16th May – assemble at Danish Gah, Punjab Chowrangi at 5:30pm and march to Do Talwar.
  • Islamabad – 16th May – 5.30 pm at Press Club
  • Boston – 16th May – 4 pm – Boston Common (near the fountain by the Part St. T)
  • Toronto/Mississauga – 6 pm, 7880 Keele Street, Unit #14, Vaughan, ON L4K 4G7
  • London – 17th May – 3-5 pm in front of Pakistan High Commission

Below, an extract from something I wrote recently about the Unsilencing Balochistan events in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi:  Continue reading


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