T2F: A pursuit of the heart

Published: August 7, 2010
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Sabeen is a role-model to many young Pakistani's

I first saw Sabeen Mahmud in 2000 at the TIE-Indus seminar, their first in Pakistan at the Sheraton, Karachi. She was bubbling with enthusiasm. Dressed in trousers with short cropped hair and holding a folder in her arms she had struck me as the “yuppie” breed, a fashionable term used to define young people who were entering the work force. Ten years later, she is the president of TIE and her heart’s endeavour,  The Second Floor cafe (T2F) is booming.

She seats herself in the cafe’s tiny but cosy balcony for a very brief interview – a look into her heart.

Sabeen’s inspiration was her mother. Mrs Mahmud, an educationist in Karachi, always rebelled against their life in Bengal (then East Pakistan). She admired her mother for standing up against tradition and status quo. This in essence defines Sabeen’s main goals today which centre around activism.

Her real journey was from 2000 to 2010. Her conscience searched for the meaning to life, as she fought for what was right, and learned the value of of activism. She says that her ideal world is one where people will no longer think of activism as a solitary act of  random protest but will stand up against injustice, discrimination and dogmas every day.

A platform for good

Sabeen left behind the glossy corporate world to enter ‘Peace Niche’. The organisation, she says is  not an NGO (she is sceptical of the term due to various kinds of organisations that are misusing it in Pakistan) but a social platform where goodness can be launched. Many discussions and exhibitions on politics, culture and social discourses have taken place at the ‘Faraar’ art gallery and many good samaritans have launched philanthropic organisations or groups here.

The business of peace

How has she become an entrepreneur par excellence with a social conscience, in a short period of only three years ?

While Sabeen uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter to invite friends, she says she just lets people find T2F organically. She never wanted people who were uninterested to come to T2F, who were there for advertising or simple material gain.

Her ethics are reflected in her passionate discourse. She dislikes branding, hates unethical “gora rang karne wali cream ads”, loves all religions, races, genders, ages, and persons. “T2F is  a place where anyone without a ‘membership’, without a ‘club’ exclusivity can freely enter, sit , enjoy a coffee, look around and chat and meet people in comfort,” she says.

The expensive exclusivity of Karachi’s posh restaurants and clubs does not offer the kind of social and intellectual atmosphere that exists at T2F. She has beaten The Arts Council and successful clubs and in bringing together activities that are important for the intellectuals in Karachi. I remember there used to be  coffee shops by the name of Café Grand and Shezan where such activities took place in the 1960’s. Somehow this new forum has moved beyond being a coffee shop to a multi-dimensional platform.

The ripple effect

The question is unavoidable. How does she plan to bring about the much needed culture of tolerance, social awareness and change, when most of the people of Pakistan are entirely on a different plane?

Sabeen answers my question with a steady gaze. She does not see a massive revolution. “The people of Pakistan are going through severe disasters and traumas every day. They need to recover and absorb the shocks. They need understanding and support. The ideas will spread slowly, in a ripple effect.“

She also understands her niche. “I see a light, beckoning at the end of the tunnel that Pakistan has entered right now,” she says.

I see hope in Sabeen’s eyes – hope for a more tolerant, aware and egalitarian Pakistan. She stands tall as a role model for young people who want to be Pakistanis who are educated in the real sense of the word, not in some fancy elitist degree-holding sense. She has created a ‘brave new world’ of thought and wonder where one can get lost and find an anchor.

Dr Meher Zaidi

Dr Meher Zaidi

A blog on development, health and human rights.

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

  • http://www.shireenkhan.org Shireen

    It was interesting to know about the initiative & its boom . however I could not understand what does T2F stand for ? All the best anyway! Recommend

  • http://baithak.blogspot.com/ temporal

    in a city the size of karachi we need dozens of such meeting places to spread the awareness

    t2f is just a ‘niche’ in defence and as such its reach is limited

    wish it would grow and spread:)Recommend

  • http://shoaibtaimur.com shobz

    T2F(The Second Floor) is a great place and is open to everyone.I remember the first time I went there I felt a bit out of place but Sabeen was nice and welcoming. That helped to ease my fears and made me feel very welcome. It is not a niche as I have seen people from different backgrounds interact with each other at T2F. It has hosted a lot of interesting events. It is more fun going to T2F as there is always something interesting going on over there. Kudos to the Sabeen, the great team at T2F and the patrons who make T2F the place to be.Recommend

  • Sahar

    Isn’t the Second Floor that place where pretentious bleeding heart intellectuals go to save the world from a studio apartment cafe?
    They discuss poverty while drinking Rs200 coffee and complain about hypocricy while their drivers wait outside for them in the cold.
    Yeah, these are really the people who are bringing change in society.
    Also, if T2F is so awesome – why doesn’t Ms Mahmud advertise? Why is it a big ‘niche’-y secret?
    Why does she only ivite her friends on FB? Are bottom feeders not allowed? Or does she think advertising is a tool of the devil just like fairness creams?
    I’m sure a lot of good has come from this place – but is it really worth the hype? It is just a cafe where a bunch of kurta kids go to pat each other on the backs and continue their college conversations because they miss A-level general class. Boo hoo. Recommend

  • Umair

    @Sahar these kurta kids as you put them have the power so they can defintely bring the change our society needs so sabeen mahmud is right in trying to target them! Okay, so most of them wont do anything to change stuff and they only talk talk talk but maybe in that talking out of 50 useless ones, maybe 5 will think differently? And then maybe the 5 will hang out together and do something good? I think your attack is fair and unfair at the same time. Also, they do not need advertising because growth organically is good for a coffee shop/meet-up place. We have something similar to that growing in Islamabad too in the form of Kuch Khaas.Recommend

  • http://ciopakistan.com rabia garib

    Go there and experience it, Sahar (and others…)… you can then write about it. No use in giving a barrage of comments if you simply can’t relate to it..

    I doubt Sabeen knows so many people who are on the T2F Facebook group personally – You may want to research viral marketing and then come join some of the “kurta kids” to do something worthwhile more than a meager banter on an article.. They may not change the world, but they’ll bring about a change bit by byte.. Recommend

  • 19ErumShaikh87

    RIP SabeenRecommend

  • Omar

    You sicken me.Recommend

  • Meherzaidi

    When I wrote about her activism and standing up for human rights I never new that she would achieve the ultimate in sacrifice,true martyrdom.But we should never let her sacrifice go waste .Remember nations that forget their history and belittle sacrifices become forgotten dust themselves.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    The second floor.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    “Isn’t the Second Floor that place where pretentious bleeding heart intellectuals go to save the world from a studio apartment cafe?” NO.

    “They discuss poverty while drinking Rs.200 coffee and complain about hypocrisy while their drivers wait outside for them in the cold”…Not all people are like that. Stop generalizing.

    Yeah, these are really the people who are bringing change in society…Ditto.

    “Also, if T2F is so awesome – why doesn’t Ms Mahmud advertise? Why is it a big ‘niche’-y secret?”

    It is not a secret. Had you moved in any literary circle, you would have known that.

    “Why does she only invite her friends on FB? Are bottom feeders not allowed? Or does she think advertising is a tool of the devil just like fairness creams?”

    I am not her friend. In fact, I am just a student. But I have attended several sessions there. I am from middle class so yes bottom feeders are allowed. And btw that fairness cream wala reference was really lame.

    I’m sure a lot of good has come from this place – but is it really worth the hype? Yes, it is worth the hype because it is one of the few places in city where you can find peace.

    “It is just a cafe where a bunch of kurta kids go to pat each other on the backs and continue their college conversations because they miss A-level general class. Boo hoo”

    Go and see how many intellectuals have graces T2F with their presence. Maybe then you will change your perspective. Oh wait, you won’t change your mind even then. People like you can never shed their biases. You won’ do anything for society but you will criticize everyone else.Recommend