“the present is a transit lounge…”

Arundhati Roy talking with Imani Perry on YouTube; organized by Haymarket Books

Yesterday morning, I disrupted my schedule to listen to Arundhati Roy’s conversation with Imani Perry, The Pandemic is a Portal, in which Arundhati opened by saying, “The present is a transit lounge,” and reminded listeners that “the virus betrays boundaries.” As expected, her talk was thought-provoking. and I left the conversation mulling over Arundhati’s reminder to “travel light” even as we “reconnect to the land.”

This week feels heavy. Today, April 24, is the death anniversary of activist Sabeen Mahmud, who was murdered in Karachi five years ago as she drove to her house with her mother by her side. Her memory and legacy remain strong, and T2F, the radical public space, that she initiated and directed continues to serve as a platform for art and dissent.

And in Pakistan, the month of Ramzan starts tomorrow, one day later than in the rest of the world. I don’t fast; nor do I wait for Eid-ul-Fitr. But this year, tensions in Pakistan run high: prime minister Imran Khan announced that mosques around Pakistan will remain open — as my sister Beena Sarwar reported on Al-Jazeera — despite rising cases of COVID-19 around the country. However, the Sindh government has once again taken the lead and called for mosque closures in Karachi and the rest of the province.

In 2002, a year after 9/11, Arundhati Roy participated via speaker telephone (pre-Skype days) in the first Words for Peace that fellow artists and I organized in Houston. Almost twenty years have passed since 9/11, but today’s threats — on freedom of speech, movement and migration, tolerance, health and more — are even more frightening than what the world faced after 9/11 when the US government began bombing Afghanistan and went on to launch an invasion against Iraq.

Sabeen Mahmud hosting my first reading at T2F (2007) – her death anniversary is 24 April