In the early hours of 25 April, as I ended my daily dose of reading late into the night, a glance at my Twitter timeline left me horrified. I learnt that Sabeen Mahmud, human rights activist and founder-director of T2F (The Second Floor) in Karachi, Pakistan, had been shot dead by unidentified gunmen soon after she left T2F with her mother at about 9pm.

Mahmud has been laid to rest, her killers remain unidentified and at large, as her injured mother, friends, colleagues and admirers grieve for her and condemn her brutal slaying. I grieve too, and remember Mahmud through a collaboration in July 2008.

Shaheen Jehani, who worked at the time with Music Today, had approached me a few months earlier to work on the possibility of my performing for a concert the music label wished to host. Would I like to do something different, Jehani had asked, and I seized the opportunity to suggest that we attempt to cross borders with music, not just metaphorically, but by putting Internet technology to good use.

I suggested that two performances take place in two locations on the same date and time, one in New Delhi, the other in Karachi, but audiences at both locations be enabled via Internet to witness both performances, one in person at the location where they were present, and the other on the Net. The idea appealed and work started in right earnest to make such an event possible.

A leading Internet provider in India sponsored and co-hosted the event, which was titled “One Voice", but they wanted the recitals to be part of a pilot episode for a gala event on the same lines, to be hosted later, based on the success of the pilot event. As the idea gathered momentum, Sabeen Mahmud and Zaheer Alam Kidwai (both of whom I had met earlier through a shared passion for music, poetry and the arts) were approached as collaborators for the event in Karachi. They agreed, and also helped convince leading Pakistani qawwals Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad to perform for the Karachi event.

Weeks of exasperating emailing, telephone calls, online trials and technology-related discussions went by, with all the delays and slip-ups that are probably bound to be part of such an event. Possibly everyone involved in the exercise tore their hair apart and wondered why they had ever agreed to be involved in such madness. But finally, on 19 July 2008, it all came together magically, thanks to the many people who had persevered over a mere idea I had floated.

The photograph above shows Mahmud at T2F, Karachi (centre, on the screen to the right ) with music lovers in attendance, and Farid Ayaz and party also at the same location (left screen), while I perform with accompanying musicians Aneesh Pradhan (tabla), Sudhir Nayak (harmonium) and Shantanu Herlekar (tanpura) in Delhi, where a handful of invitees check out if we could indeed cross borders and join voices without any of the tamasha and uncertainty that accompanies visa applications and processing.

Today, less than seven years since that day, Mahmud has been murdered for her work with T2F and not-for-profit organization PeaceNiche, through which she created “a platform for social change through rich cultural activities, public discourse, and advocacy using progressive ideas and the new media". Across borders the most strident voices we hear are those raised in intolerance and bigotry. Is it not time then to try and raise our voices once again as one?

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