Zahra Shahid Hussain: A woman of substance

Published: May 20, 2013

RIP Zahra Aunty, the world is such a poorer place without your glowing presence.

Zahra Shahid Hussain was a tour de force. Nothing seemed impossible for her to conquer and she made it all seem so easy. Her ready smile and twinkling eyes lined with kohl will always be in my mind’s eye.

My parents counted Zahra Hussain and her husband, Shahid Hussain, as one of their closest friends. The towering Uncle Shahid, in his white kurta pajama and deep baritone, was a gentleman to the core who had a vast repertoire of stories.

As for Zahra Aunty, she was a woman of deep conviction and strength. Fearless and passionate, she was a great ally to have in your corner. She was my mother’s friend, but she was extremely fond of us kids. Many a time she would pull me aside to ask,

 “My dear lovely girl, how are you doing?”

And she would actually listen unlike most other grownups. Our chit chats would invariably end in giggles with Zahra Aunty wiping tears from her eyes.

When Shahid Uncle suddenly passed away, Zahra Aunty, though badly affected, took it in her stride. She cut a lonely figure without her beloved husband, but she soldiered on for the sake of her daughters.

Despite life’s travails, there was contentment and perception in her gaze. She loved literature, art, politics and history and could talk with authority on any topic under the sun. Her husky voice and charming demeanour was enough to grab any one’s attention and she was usually the centre of attention. A regular at art exhibitions, literature festivals and weddings, Zahra Aunty cut an imposing figure draped in beautiful shawls, flowing shalwar kameez and regal saris.

It didn’t surprise me in the least when my mother told me Zahra Aunty had joined PTI and was a leading figure in the party hierarchy in Sindh. She always had time for younger people and shared their idealism and enthusiasm for changing the world. At an age when most ladies her age were engaged in coffee parties, dars, social work or travelling the world, she had decided to contribute her bit towards making change happen in Pakistan. She threw herself heart and soul into this new adventure and enjoyed it to the hilt.

Photo: Facebook

The day I realised what an impact Zahra Aunty was making was when my apolitical mother told me she was planning to attend Imran Khan’s jalsa in Karachi last year. Considering that she had never even been near a jalsa ever, I was speechless.

“Beta, Zahra convinced me to go. She said she will take me with her and will look after me.”

That was the kind of faith and trust she inspired amongst her friends.

Photo: Facebook

My mother has never voted in any election, but come this election, she made a promise to Zahra Aunty to cast her vote and, despite a healing fracture of her femur, and she went hobbling on her stick to the polling station. People standing in line made way for her and thanked her for coming to vote. Despite the sizzling temperature and the exertion, she came back energised, satiated and so happy. Of course, she voted for Imran Khan because she, like Zahra Aunty, had invested all her hope for a better future in him.

When I heard the news of Zahra Aunty’s demise, I was unable to process it. How could such a wonderful, dynamic woman suddenly cease to exist?

In the prime of her life, Zahra Aunty was cut down by vile cowards who silenced her forever by shooting her in the face. Considering that she was an advocate for peace and harmony, it is ironical that her death unleashed a hailstorm of accusations and slurs.

Photo: Athar Khan

Whoever killed her, the murderers certainly achieved what they wanted; sowing the seeds of dissension, friction and hostility in Karachi, the city Zahra Aunty loved and cherished.

What these elections have thrown up in no definite measure is the level of intolerance, partisanship and animosity amongst supporters of different political parties. I miss the drawing room discussions at my parents’ dinners at which Zahra Aunty and Shahid Uncle were a staple. After tucking into sumptuous food, the friends would argue back and forth in measured tones about their different party manifestos and why theirs was better than my father’s. At the end, they would embrace, exclaiming sarcastically, “good luck to your party, janab!” with a big laugh amidst cigar smoke and bonhomie.

I miss purana (old) Pakistan.

The regret I will always have is that I did not get the chance to see her in the last couple of years. Somehow, she seemed invincible as she strode along Karachi’s stage. She had so many more years of service and commitment left in her. I wish Zahra Aunty had lived to see the success of Sunday’s re polling and how Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) candidate Dr Arif Alvi trounced the opposition. How happy the result would have made her.

I will miss her endearing laugh with her bright eyes crinkling at the corners, her warm hands drawing me into a bear hug, the affectionate pat on the cheek, the interesting conversations and the  and warmth radiating from her larger than life presence.

RIP Zahra Aunty, the world is such a poorer place without your glowing presence.

Read more by Maheen here or follow her on Twitter @MaheenUsmani

Maheen Usmani

Maheen Usmani

A freelance writer who has covered subjects ranging from socio-political issues to women's rights to counter terrorism, sports, travel, culture and music. Maheen tweets @MaheenUsmani (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fatla Niassuh

    What a coincidence that the murder happened after there was talk about ‘the three swords cutting PTI people to bits” and “fists unleashed”.

    Such a coincidence that purse snatches were waiting at a PTI leader’s house after these provocative statements.

    — Fatla NiassuhRecommend

  • Faisal Ahmad Jafri

    Yes indeed Fatla “what a coincidence”. May Zahra aapa’s soul rest in peace. May her blood give peace to Karachi forever.Recommend

  • Khanzada

    This brave lady Zahra Shahid Hussain was a hero and patriot for Pakistan and her loss is irreplacable! What kind of people can shoot a helpless elderly woman in the face in cold blooded murder? No question as Imran Khan has said that this cowardly act was a result of Altaf Hussain’s hate speech that incited his followers on May 12. Let there be no more mention of “naamaaloom afraad” by the news media and let them learn from Zahra Shahid’s example and call them MQM from now onwards. Recommend

  • Water Bottle

    Elections have a long way to go in Pakistan.

    Killing anyone (worker, candidate or just supporter) for changing the election results is simply not acceptable. In such incidences, the victim is an entire nation.

    This lady’s death is a blow to entire Pakistan and more importantly to the party she represents.

    So, looking at how TTP deliberately attacked and killed supporters/members/candidates of ANP and PPP, PTI and its supporters should feel ashamed that Imran Khan deals very softly with TTP.

    PTI is in power in KPK. If PTI (IK) does not support the war on terror and crush TTP, he will be doing a great disservice to Pakistan.

    No only that, he will simply help TTP consolidate and kill more PPP/ANP and PMLN (PMLN would have become the enemy by then) people in the next years.

    Besides, why is Imran Khan is hesitating in crushing the evil TTP which he claims is armed/funded/trained/supported by CIA/RAW?!!

    Makes no logical sense.Recommend

  • Fudge

    My prayers go out to this brave woman and to my dear city which has been in the hands of a violent, uneducated ‘leader’ of a political party. Anyone who doubts me can see any of his “khitaabs”. We need an end to the rule of the “na-maloom afraad” once and for all. You talk of our rights? You never gave rights to the citizens of the very city you have been ruling over for 2 decades now. What rights?! Recommend

  • Naser Hamdani

    Can anybody tell me about Mr Shahid Hussain? I hear he was an Air Force Officer who produced the movie ‘Qasam Us Waqt ki’ and was also an ambassador. Recommend

  • Parvez

    I had not known Zahra Hussain, nor even heard of her but after this incident and now reading this lovely eulogy of yours, I realise that she must have been an extra-ordinarily nice person. Thank you.

  • advocate

    From your blog i came to know what a brave woman she was and due to the hard work of her and the people of Karachi and PTI supporters Dr Alavi won and the goonda party lost. RIP Zahra Hussain.Recommend

  • Khurram

    Dear Madam
    i had heard of Ms Zahra hussain as political figure of karachi but never actually had time reading about her. well thanks for writing, it indeed let me felt that i have known this lady from a while.
    It is said that change would demand blood and indeed this time it has demanded her blood. Results of elections are a proof to this but mind you this is just a start. Karachi has to bear more in order to achieve absolute serenity. I am saying this with a very heavy heart and the path which the fellow karachiates have chosen is never going to to be a bed of roses.
    I also agree with the comment of Khanzada that media has gone enough of mature and it should start taking names instead of unknown political parties.
    In the end my condolences for the family members and may her soul rest in peace. Amin Recommend

  • imtiaz ali

    inshaallah a will come when justice will be done, and who, they are responsible for this horrible act will be expose. I think they are more dangerous and more brutal then Taliban, because taliban do what they said, but they are not what they are.Recommend

  • Nadia

    Beautifully written. RIP Zahra Hussain. Recommend

  • Karachiwala

    Jaisi kurni waisi bhurni…..PTI will get loved by talibans again.Recommend

  • Shahid

    Beautifully written. I regret it very much that I did not meet her when I went back 4 yrs ago.Recommend

  • Ashar

    Thanks for such a beautiful portrait of Zahra Shahid Hussain. Recommend

  • Samina

    Brought tears to my eyes. RIP ZahraRecommend

  • Adnan S

    Surprised to see people blaming NaMaloom Afraad for Zahra Hussain’s murder. Just because Imran Khan says so, it doesn’t mean it’s true? Recommend

  • Maria

    @Adnan S
    What more proof do you need? Didn’t you hear the threats hurled by the crazed leader? Recommend

  • AQ

    Karachi lost another educated, enlightened and refined individual. But unfortunately, PTI leadership seems to be working on an agenda. Karachiites are well aware of MQM modus operandi / wrongdoings and INSAFians are not really unveiling something new. Jamaat-e-Islami have been trying to neutralize MQM for last 20 years with hundreds of “Dharnas” but without much success

    Snakes are not aggressive – Their immediate reaction when approached by larger creature such as human is to disappear unless provoked. Snake strike human only as a result of provocation either unintentionally or intentionally because they feel threatened. Best-suited approach to avoid snake bite is to remain indifferent and the deadly creature will disappear. Hopefully, educated, enlightened and refined INSAFians get the underlying message

    Heartiest congratulations to INSAFians for winning NA-250 with meaningful marginRecommend

  • Naheed

    A befitting tribute to the amazing Zahra Shahid. Thanks for this. Recommend

  • soniya

    Can anyone of you really notice how many people have lost their lost their valuable lives to snatchers, jackers and robbers besides road accidents in this Karachi? There are many crimes recorded earlier also about these type of killing. Yes they all are killed with cool of mind to make an easy escape after committing crimes like snaching, jacking and robbery or upon facing resistance.
    Same thing happened with late Mrs Zahra. It is just a coincidence that Mrs Zahra was a PTI activist.However it is unfortunate there is no one to tell about the truth, which I believe Mrs zahra must have resisted those alleged purse snatchers, who resorted to killing.
    So please stop politicising Mrs Zahra killing.
    Also stop blaming the MQM Recommend

  • Nezihe Hussain

    Maheen apa, thank you so much for writing such lovely words for my mother,

    You knew her well and she loved your dearly.

    Her passing is painful for me as a daughter but the love I see evoked in so many has filled my heart with such pride for her – there is no place for pain.

    I can proudly say that not only am the daughter to have fearless and a dynamic fighter pilot for a father I am also a proud daughter of a Shaheed mother.

    Thank you all for your lovely words for her. Recommend

  • Pakistani

    @Nezihe Hussain:

    I did not know your mother at all till I heard the very sad news.

    All these lovely tales about her are a proof of the warmth and love she radiated.

    May Allah always keep her in a happier place and keep you, her family in His Protection. Ameen. Recommend

  • Foz Hameed

    Rest in peace, Zahra Shahid. Humanity died the day she was murdered in cold blood. I never knew her, but I am so sure I would have adored her had I had that honor. I fear Karachi will sadly have to suffer many more Zahra Shahids till dawn breaks over the blighted city and returns peace & humanity to its citizens.Recommend

  • Hassan Arshad

    @Water Bottle:
    IK disapproves the war on terror policy on the basis of history and experiences of different nations in the world. No war was won untill negotiations were made, and IA so will be this.
    The menace of war on terror and tehreek e Taliban Pakistan are two different things. Remember the terrorists which America considers terrorists emerged in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan. The Pakistani version arrived later on. This menace can be solved if left to the local tribesmen of waziristan, as they have proposed themselves, and conquer the fundings they receive. On the other hand, this situation is worsening day by day due to drone attacks. Indirectly IK sure do wants to eliminate this problem but he must not say to deal those things by force in the gloves of a mandate of his party policy. They lead to no practical output.Recommend

  • Hassan Arshad

    I never knew more about this legend of a person till now..
    This surely is a grave loss to Pakistan.
    I will like to quote the mandate of the party she moved on,
    May Allah bless us with that..Recommend

  • Negative

    My thoughts with the family of Ms. Shahid. But I am not hesitant to say she wasn’t a woman of substance. Please avoid exaggerting when paying tributes. can not be put in same line as of real national heroes.

    Sorry, but I mean, give due credit not overdue.Recommend

  • Shahid

    @Nezihe Hussain:
    Please accept my condolences. She was a fine lady. I will always remember the red “sports car” Uncle Shahid Hussain used to drive to our house in.Recommend

  • Nezihe Hussain

    @Shahid: you obviously knew them both. Thank you for your words Recommend

  • Shan Haider

    @Nezihe – My deepest condolences go out to you and the entire family. RIP Ma’am and hope one day to bring out the people who did this.Recommend