Yesterday, more than 50 invited family members and friends from around the world signed in on Zoom to celebrate my father and share stories about him. The baithak was organized by my mother Professor Zakia Sarwar—who’s currently in Karachi—in remembrance of my father, Dr. Mohammad Sarwar, who passed away on 26 May, 2009.
Dr. Haroon Ahmed and Mazhar Saeed talked about the student movement that my father started in the early 1950s and for which my father served time in a Karachi jail. S.M. Shahid played the harmonium and sang, reminding attendees of the poetry, dance, and music gatherings that my parents hosted in our Karachi living room during the dark General Zia-era.
Artist Salima Hashmi shared the story of how my mother introduced her to my father in Karachi’s Kemari Harbor before Salima and her father Faiz Ahmed Faiz boarded a ship to head to Moscow where Faiz Sahib would receive the Lenin Peace Prize. “Sarwar got my stamp of approval,” Salima Hashmi said. “He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he had a sense of humor.”
Singer Tina Sani laughed as she talked about how she was ordered by producer Arshad Mahmud to visit our Clifton house long before Tina knew anything about Pakistan’s progressive movement. The Zoom gathering lasted longer than two hours, but even as my mother tried to wrap up the conversation, attendees had stories to share.
We lost Babba eleven years ago, but the Monday afternoon that I received the phone call from Karachi still feels recent. Yesterday’s gathering reminded me of the living room art show, Honoring Dissent/Descent, that I produced six months after my father’s passing—in my Houston home—to honor him and his work. Videos and interviews of my father can be found on a website that my sister Beena Sarwar assembled.
In the backdrop of yesterday’s video-call, the realities of COVID-19 loomed large. In California, we’ve entered Week 11 since stay-at-home orders were issued. Though restrictions are loosening, risks remain high, and different parts of the world will continue to experience surges. More than five months have slipped away since the virus was first identified, and 350,000—three hundred and fifty thousand lives—have been lost.