I spent most of the last three days writing an essay on the passing of Sara Suleri, and my fingers are just cooling down from all the furious typing. Look out for my piece tomorrow in the Dawn. In the meanwhile, I’m remembering how she came to the 2nd Karachi Literature Festival. She was already quite frail at that point, and needed assistance moving around. My friend Claire Chambers, who chaired this talk with Sara Suleri and Aamer Hussein on memories, spent an evening with her looking out for her and was very pleased to be mistaken for her daughter.
I too sat at a dinner table with her and Aamer — they were great friends, he’s heartbroken at her death — and was completely intimidated, at least until a half hour or so had gone by. In that first half hour I couldn’t believe I was actually in the same company as her, but then when she spoke she was so gracious and nice with me that I lost my nerves and by the end I felt happy and honored to be doing khidtmat for her too, getting her water, helping her with her shawl, and so on. (I love our South Asian tradition of younger people looking after elders, just out of a sense of respect and admiration, and I’m glad my background and upbringing included knowing how to do that.)
She had a reputation of being “elusive” and “mysterious” and there was an element of that when she was her public persona on stage, but on that occasion at night she was tired and vulnerable, very humane, a bit world-weary. Often times you will hear the word “brilliant” used to describe her, but to me she was a dark star, which the dictionary tells us has a gravitational pull strong enough to trap light under Newtonian gravity. Perhaps my imagining of her as a dark star is a bit more poetic than the scientific definition, but she definitely had the luminosity of night rather than the searing brightness of day.