There are two kinds of people you have around you, the ones who you know and the ones who you think you know.
The former might be your close family members or ‘real friends’ and you know much about their interests and passions based on either experience or interactions. But in this post-Facebook world, its actually the latter that would surprise you the most. These are people you have met only once or twice, or those that you used to frequent with but not anymore or ones that you follow or who follow you, such as former third-degree colleagues, an influencer working for a cause, the cousin of a cousin, old college friends who would spam your timeline with selfies and photos of their newly born babies. Thanks to the digital revolution and social media, you have the fortunate (or unfortunate) privilege of calling these people your ‘friends’.
Sabeen Mahmud was one such friend whose interaction with me, though limited, was always full of enlightenment.
Our first interaction, if I recall correctly, was at the Karachi TweetUp back in 2009 when I visited Karachi for the very first time and I was introduced to her as someone told me about T2F – a physical space for people where they could learn, teach and practice their love for technology, entertainment, design and open-dialogue (“wow!” I said as I couldn’t imagine such a place to even exist in Pakistan). Later that day I visited T2F and fell in love with the concept and it was then and there that Sabeen told me about Kuch Khaas and introduced me to Shayaan Poppy Afzal Khan (the founder of Kuch Khaas) who later on became a patron and helped me launch the first ever TEDx event in Islamabad.
Later on, my interaction with Sabeen resorted to just an exchange of notifications on Facebook and Instagram on the subject of Apple and its products as I discovered that we both shared great love for Apple and Design. Until 2015.
A lady enters the huddle room at Nest I/O where a design-thinking workshop is in progress and pulls out an iPhone from her back pocket and puts in the on the table (“who puts a phone in the back-pocket, weird!” I thought). It was Sabeen. The very amazing thing about her that she always had a vibe that would make her known, you could feel her presence in the room, and whether that vibe was weird or funny – it worked. That day we developed a very special bond as I was paired up with Sabeen for the workshop and made a gift for her as part of the design-thinking process. I learned that there was a very simple, kind and loving persona behind the one that she actually projected in the public.
“Do you like the high-tech flower I made for you”, I asked. “It’s bluetooth enabled and adapts to your mood. Its super high tech!”. “I don’t know”, she said. “I like simple things. Perhaps the best gift for me would be a simple bouquet of real flowers from across the street and a CD of music”.
I was baffled but gratified and I knew for sure that the next time I would visit T2F, it would be with a bouquet of flowers. Little did I know that there would be no next time.
Only today, two nights after she’s gone, I realize how there was so much more to Sabeen that I didn’t know. How she was a woman of steel, a beacon of light and hope for the people of Karachi, yet a simple human being with simple aspirations who just wanted to see her people change through the power of knowledge, wisdom and open-dialogue.
It’s only when you look back and connect the dots that you realize how many amazing human beings you know and how many you think you know. Until recently, Sabeen was the latter to me and I always have a regret of not getting to know the real her and not taking those flowers for her from across the street. I will also regret never getting the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about our common love and passion for Apple and the future it builds.
“What do you think about the Apple Watch”, she asked me during one of the conversations and I replied that I would tell her my thoughts once I try on the device. Today I placed an order for an Apple Watch but I will always regret of not being able to talk to her about it.
Me and Sabeen at Nest I/O.
I think when you lose people like Sabeen, its always hard to have a closure. Finding the right words, siphoning the right memories, reminiscing the right moments but when I think of her, I think of her as the crazy one, the misfit, the troublemaker…the one from Karachi who thought different!
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.