Poppy painting by Umme Aimen Kazmi, cover picture for FB by the Kuch Khaas team.
Shayan Afzal Khan “Poppy”
April 21, 1963 – February 21, 2015
Islamabad loses a vibrant social entrepreneur
Syeda Shehrbano Kazim Published in Dawn, Feb 23, 2015 07:05am
ISLAMABAD: Born on April 21, 1966, Shayan ‘Poppy’ Afzal Khan lost her battle against cancer on Saturday in London, a er a ght of almost 14 years.
A social entrepreneur, human and political rights activist and an Islamic feminist, Poppy set up Kuch Khaas, a community space for discourse, learning, meaningful entertainment and participation, in Islamabad in May 2011.
She was an extraordinary person who was many things to many people and described herself most o en through her relationships – mother, daughter, sister, wife, niece and friend. She was a larger than life woman who managed to remain thoroughly grounded.
Poppy was a true global citizen who le a mark on the capital with her contribution to social discourse and initiatives. Kuch Khaas fast became a wonderful space which brought many broadminded people for important causes.
Originally from Karachi, the formidable Poppy was a rm believer in a progressive and liberal Pakistan.
Her amazing legacy is not just the vibrant cultural centre she founded but also the encouragement and support she gave to the many young people whose talents she fostered.
She is survived by her daughters, who are part of the generation she hoped would ful ll her dreams for her country.
Poppy’s struggle with cancer began in 2001 and in 2011 she celebrated 10 cancer-free years. en, in 2012, the demon returned and metastasized. Poppy, however, continued to live in grace through the journey.
Maryam Usman, who had known Poppy since 2010, said: “Poppy had a special charm and contagious optimism about her. She changed the cultural landscape of the capital with her brainchild, Kuch Khaas that gave so many young people a platform to nurture their creativity. I worked under her at Kuch Khaas before becoming a journalist and she was always full of encouragement, support, positive energy and sound advice. It is my privilege to have known her. May she rest in peace.”
In 2012, Poppy wrote, “As for death, no point worrying about something we have no control over – any one of us could die today or tomorrow or in decades, who knows when or how? What I do know is that I have been blessed – getting cancer has made me appreciate my life even more, it has brought me closer to the people I love and who love me. It has made it easier for me to si out negative emotions and negative forces in my life and has brought me closer to God. Being forced to face my mortality has made life even more worth living.”
In her dedication to a better world, she made life worth living for a lot of people! Caring, compassionate and a ceaseless advocate for a myriad of causes to empower individuals and preserve the environment, Poppy has le Islamabad much poorer with her passing.
Her legacy lives on, in her daughters, her Kuch Khaas family and the hundreds of people she inspired to live fuller lives.
Rest in peace, Poppy, as we mourn your passing and celebrate your life! Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2015
e announcement on the Kuch Khaas Team page
Michelle Tania Butt
February 22 at 8:05am
Dear Team, It is with the heaviest of hearts that I make this announcement. Poppy, our inspiration, our guiding light, our raison d’etre is no longer with us. We will mourn her loss as one of the most in uential people in all our lives that she touched greatly both professionally and personally, but in time we will learn to celebrate her wonderful life and spirit that brought us strength and a most progressive and enlightened vision for the future. May you rest in peace Poppy. We pray for you and the family with all of our hearts. Islamabad is not the same because of you and will never be the same without you.
e Comments were as follows:
Michelle Tania Butt
I’ll be coming to the o ce shortly and you are welcome to join me to share our grief and say a prayer.
Love you guys – just read that out to our family and we are extremely moved. You guys saying thist and feeling that means that my mother was able to succeed in her vision.
Oh no… Poppy… No… May you be smiling, pain free, dancing, right up there in highest heaven Poppy jaan… I don’t know what to say. Bano… We love you all so much.
I can’t believe what news i woke up to. Poppy was a mother to me and my sisters.
Haroon Q. Raja
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. Not being able to meet her in person will always be one of my regrets…it was something I had been looking forward to since joining Kuch Khaas. It breaks my heart to know that it will never happen now. May Allah grant peace to her departed soul, and patience to everyone she left mourning, to cope with the loss.
Inna Lillah-e-Wa Inna Elaihe Ra’ajeoon. Ma’am Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan you were and will always be in our hearts. May Allah grant you Jannah. (Ameen)
Yes Michelle Tania Butt – well said. It won’t be the same without her.
Inna Lillah e Wa Inna Elaihe Ra’jeon.
Inna Lillah e Wa Inna Elaihe Ra’jeon.
Inna Lillah-e-Wa Inna Alihe Rajio’n indeed a very very sad day for all of us, may Allah grant her soul the highest place in Jannah
Inna Lillah-e-Wa Inna Alihe Rajio’n.
Michelle Tania Butt
is is not the end Bano…she will live in us all.
Kuch Khaas was poppys third baby and it embodied all that she believed in. I was so luck to be a part of her life when she was creating this fantastic space and share her enthusiasm her aspirations and her vision. ank you Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan for enriching all our lives. You can’t besides because you will always be with us, in our hearts and minds and in our actions.. Can’t thank you enough for bringing me to kk and making those few years the most enriching and meaningful years of my life.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.
Never got to meet poppy but I guess now I will never get a chance to meet her in person. Our Kuch Khaas was truly Khaas because of you.May Allah grant her Jannat-ul- rdos….
Aashir Rayyan Khan
We knew she had been ghting severe illness, but never for a minute did the thought cross our minds that this day would come, such was the strength that she possessed.
Just like when you lose a family member, i’m lost for words.Her legacy will go on through Kuch Khaas and all of us.
Inna Lillah e Wa Inna Elaihe Ra’jeon.
So shocked to hear this very tragic news. I am in such disbelief ! e world has lost such a beautiful soul. Our beloved Poppy, you will be tremendously missed and never be replaced. May she be in the highest ranks of Jannat. Ameen. My prayers and love go to the entire family.
by Harris Khalique
Excerpt from “In mourning”
Published in “ e News” Wednesday, February 25, 2015
I lost two of my dearest friends and the city where I live lost two of its most remarkable citizens during this month. After moving to Islamabad some fourteen years ago, two of the most endearing, warm, a able and a ectionate people I came to know are no more in this world.
Rest in peace my friends Zahid Elahi and Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. Zahid Elahi worked as governance and public policy expert, social development advisor, project manager and was also a dynamic entrepreneur. He crashed his car on one of those foggy, callous nights in the capital earlier in the month and died on the spot.
Shayan Afzal Khan, who was known more from her nickname ‘Poppy’, passed away in London the other day. A formidable woman who wrote, spoke and acted in favour of the weak and the dispossessed, the wretched and the condemned, the women and the minorities, Poppy lived a short but full life. She braved an acute form of cancer for years. e two of them, Poppy and Zahid, are unrelated otherwise but what I nd common between them besides my own deeply personal relationships was their immense zest for life in their own di erent ways, their sel ess support to people around them, their desire to see Pakistan prosper as a state and society, and their dying at such an early age. […]
My dear friend Poppy came to live in Islamabad after having lived abroad for quite some years. Her most signi cant contribution was founding ‘Kuch Khaas’, an independent art and cultural centre in Islamabad upon her return. e way she enriched the cultural life of Islamabad by establishing Kuch Khaas is incomparable to any such initiative ever taken before by anyone in this city. e otherwise largely intellectually barren, politically lopsided and culturally challenged city dominated by glori ed clerks comprising superannuated bureaucrats, retired military o cers, decadent businessmen and its public spaces infested with philistine women, was thoroughly shaken up by Poppy’s inventiveness. She created a space for the young and old alike who would come together to pursue, enjoy and create art, music, drama and literature, etc with freedom from any political pressure or social censorship.
ere are other institutions in Islamabad like the Pakistan Academy of Letters, Lok Virsa and Pakistan National Council of the Arts, etc. Undoubtedly, they contribute to the cultural scene when a good person gets arbitrarily appointed by the government. But they all remain state institutions at the end of the day with seen and unseen restrictions and constraints. In the private space developed by the citizens, there are amazing art galleries like Nomad, Khaas, Gallerie 6, etc and some friends did take initiatives in the past like that of establishing cafés like Civil Junction.
But what Poppy created became the only comprehensive, vibrant and fully edged cultural space for the people of Islamabad. From regular music performances to book launches, debates and discussions, dialogues and seminars, courses for children and young people, music jam sessions and squares where new talent in art and music comes to the fore, organic food markets – what was it that was not part of the place she established. Till Poppy was in Islamabad, many civil rights campaigns and civil society actions were organised in Poppy’s o ce in Kuch Khaas.
Although her family largely came from northern Pakistan, she had spent her childhood and school years in Karachi, many of her friends were Karachiites and she identi ed strongly with the city. We found out that there was a chain of common friends and associates which linked us. But we became instant friends after she read my poems written about the shared godforsaken city of ours which we both loved from our childhoods. en for quite some time, until she left Pakistan for continuous treatment abroad, I helped her organise literary events, dialogues, poetry readings and book launches at Kuch Khaas.
Poppy was a deeply religious woman with a resolute faith in God. Her sense of giving and love for humanity were decidedly linked to her faith. She was a Muslim feminist and did phenomenal work on Muslim women during her time in Malaysia. e book came out some years ago. She believed in emancipation of women anywhere but had an intense desire to bring Muslim women at par with the rest of the world. She was not simply a bleeding heart liberal. Poppy believed in a progressive Pakistan where all citizens, irrespective of their caste, faith, ethnicity or sex, are treated justly and equally. She campaigned relentlessly for the weak and the minorities in our society.
I remember when Salmaan Taseer was assassinated after professing support to a poor Christian peasant woman, Aasiya Bibi, who was charged for blasphemy, Poppy was among the few who had the courage to come out and declare that the man was wrongly killed and the murder committed in the name of our faith had little to do with our faith. She was one of the main organisers of the memorial event held on Taseer’s chehlum in Islamabad. In the true tradition of artists and mystics, her faith in God made her faith in humanity unwavering. She was inclusive and plural to the hilt.
She said a couple of years ago that there is no point in worrying about something we have no control over. Anyone can die any time – who knows when or how. She said that her ailment had made it easier for her to sift out negative emotions and bring her closer to God. “Being forced to face my mortality has made life even more worth living”, said Poppy.
e writer is a poet and authorbased in Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
She never needed a mic, for whenever she spoke we were paying attention.
ere’s so much I learned just by being in conversation with her or more importantly, just listening to everything she had to say & share – the greatest mentors have a way of gifting you pearls wrapped in the most unassuming way, she was no di erent.
I know that till my time here is done, every time I walk into Kuch Khaas & walk by her o ce, a part of me will always expect to see her welcoming me with a smile through that translucent re ection of her o ce window – gesturing to me to come in to her o ce which would then be followed by such a warm & loving hug (or sometimes just giving me that quick endearing yet formidable look to stay put because she was heading a meeting – as in ‘just keep on walking mister’ 🙂 it’ll forever be one of my fondest memories.
What she was to us & what she’s left behind is going to unfold itself over a peiod of various lifespans through the artistic expression of the numerous lives she in uenced, just by being her nurturing & accommodating self – & I look forward to that.
Being a potent & balanced mix of understanding, guts, empathy, sarcasm, celebration & love – she left us in awe & we remain forever inspired.
Poppy! ank You…
February 23 at 1:04am
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the news of the greatest loss. Last night, our dear mentor and friend, Shayan Afzal Khan, known to everyone with much a ection as “Poppy”, left this world for a far better place. When Kuch Khaas opened in 2010, Poppy contacted us to do the soft launch. Once we met her and got to perform there, we knew we had found a home, all because she welcomed us with open arms. She was our patron, encouraging us and showing us so much love every step of the way.
We know we will never meet anyone like her again in this world. Someone so genuine, so caring, so strong, and so sel ess with her knowledge and wisdom. We hope and pray for all those reading this, if you did not meet Poppy… may you one day nd a mentor like her. Your life will change for the better. Islamabad has a huge void today. Dance in heaven, you beautiful soul.
We love you with all our hearts. e Insolent Knights
Shayan ‘Poppy’ Afzal Khan: She’s a star now Published in e Daily Times
Sta Report, February 24, 2015
LAHORE: Poppy Afzal Khan was a staple name among not just the highbrow in Islamabad but a relied upon presence when it came to standing up for the right kind of cause – she had it all: feminist, human rights activist and a social dynamic. She was the face behind Islamabad’s signature social space, Kuch Khaas, a melting pot of the city’s (and at times the country’s) most vibrant thinkers, intellectuals and artists, a centre for culture and dynamism. Such was her persona that her passing, on Saturday February 21, 2015, gave Islamabad a moment of pause to actually take in the great loss the city had su ered. She was born in April 1966 and she left her mark on all those who met her in all those years.
Women like her are a true gift to not just individuals who come into contact with them but the surroundings that mourn their loss through empty houses that once stood packed, silence where lively debate once resonated and a deep grief rarely ever healed through human contact.
“She’s left a deep impact on all those who met her. Her presence was like kindle wood – it could light up the whole room,” says Shehryar Taseer, “She was my khala and without taking that relation away from her, as a person she was everyone’s safe place. She was a pillar of strength, a foundational member of the community, the initiator of an art revolution in Islamabad and the homebody we’d all run to when we needed support, love, kindness and, well, a fun time. How many people are capable of all that?”
As a testament to her strength and perseverance, she battled cancer four times, willing it to go away and, for a while there it seemed she had just wished it away. However, it came back for the fourth time and took her away all too soon from all those who loved and cherished her.
is Karachi born, as a feisty young woman, knew that Pakistan was only meant to be a liberal, open country, a society full of colours and avours – Kuch Khaas is a reminder of that legacy, one she helped imbibe. She will be missed and she will be mourned but, above all, her e orts and strengths will be celebrated by all who loved her.
A tribute to Poppy e Express Tribune
By Maryam Usman
Published: February 24, 2015
ISLAMABAD: Islamabad has lost one of its most passionate citizens, an entrepreneur, an intellectual, a patron of arts and culture, a mentor and a friend to many.
Shayan Afzal Khan, fondly known as Poppy, lost a 14-year battle against cancer in London Saturday night.
Originally from Karachi, Poppy was based in Islamabad for the last few years. In 2007, she launched her book “Unveiling the Ideal: A New Look at Early Muslim Women.” She graduated with a degree in history at Girton College, Cambridge in 1985.
In was in 2010, however, that she realised her lifetime dream and founded Kuch Khaas (KK) — a centre for art, culture and dialogue.
Over time, KK has become a hub of cultural activity in the city, hosting concerts, recitals, workshops, music and dance classes, storytelling sessions, farmers markets and much more.
It also provided young people a platform to nurture their creativity, many of who have gone out to carve out a niche for themselves in their chosen elds. As condolences continue to pour in, friends and acquaintances of Poppy remember her for her multi-faceted personality as well as her commitment to the numerous causes she supported.
“Poppy did what few would dare do in terms of speaking, writing and acting for the weak and the vulnerable,” said Harris Khalique, poet and activist. “I don’t call her a social entrepreneur like some others do for her founding KK, I call her a dedicated patron of culture and art, of pro-people politics and civil rights campaigns. Her embrace was wide and her contribution incomparable. To me, it’s a great personal loss and the city has lost of one its most passionate citizens,” he added.
Tülin Khalid-Azim, theatre actor and core team member at KK, recounted the rst time Poppy had invited her over. “She started o by saying, “Why haven’t you started working here already? Start right away!”Poppy’s guidance in all matters was essential until you understood her vision, said Azim, adding that and once you did, there was no turning back.
“Poppy saw possibilities in our youth; in people who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten a chance. Only she could have had that much faith in someone else, and helped them restore faith in themselves,” said Azim.
On a lighter note, Azim said: “She’d put us to shame with her social media and tech savvyness, and what the “kids are into these days”, she was way ahead of all of us! She was disarming, charming, and a true lady. Poppy, you’ve left a giant void in all our hearts, which I know no one can replace,” Azim said.
To her, Poppy was full of grace, but also playful and cheeky. “She’d make you think, question, and also laugh till your belly ached. I will never meet anyone like you again, but your girls have so much of you in them, and it gives me hope. I can’t believe I was so lucky to get to know you and call you my mentor and friend. I hope I can make you proud. I love you so much.”
In an era when arts, culture and dialogue had taken a backseat, Poppy became an enduring symbol of hope. “I remember when I had my rst art exhibition as a fresh art graduate, Poppy was there and she was the rst one to buy my painting. She enriched our lives and that is how she will live on,” said Mobeen Ansari, photojournalist and artist.
“As two people from India trying to nd their feet in Islamabad, Poppy opened her home, her work and her heart to us. She went out of her way to include me to be a part of KK, which in turn changed my life for the better,” said Ruchira-Hoon Phillip, chef and food blogger, who worked at KK, while her husband was posted in Islamabad. “Engaging with her was always so much fun. She’d throw ideas at you and see what you could do with them. But most of all she loved food. Good food. Our conversations were always about the latest trends; what are the things we can resurrect and how certain things should taste. She had a vision for the food world in Islamabad, especially e Lime Tree. She wanted it to become like Ottolenghi — a bistro that would serve wholesome food. But more than all that, Poppy was someone who could talk about anything — politics, art, culture, food — and you’d still learn a thing or two from her.”
Social-media entrepreneur and TED Fellow Saad Hamid said that with the limited interaction he had with Poppy, she had been a great mentor. “She gave me the opportunity to host the rst-ever TEDx event in Islamabad and what I learned from her is that our community is a re ection of who we are and I see that in form of KK. I really hope her legacy lives on to create an inclusive society where everyone is invited to participate in intellectual and progressive discourse and dialogue. ank you, Poppy — you will be missed.”
ali CEO Zoone Hasan remembers Poppy for being big-hearted. “Her love for charity, art and culture will keep her alive for all times to come. Her endless support to ali gave us the courage to move on and stand against all odds. She taught us what passion is: continuing doing what you love and continue loving no matter what.”
Zoone’s husband, Hasan Sultan, credited Poppy for being a pioneer of instigating a change in society.“She created KK which has become a platform for ideas and dreams, giving people the opportunity and courage to speak out in the form of music, theatre, dialogue, learning and performance. ere is a renaissance of sorts, if not an actual birth of cultural scene in Islamabad.” “She will be missed immensely, but we will celebrate her life because of her spirit, which continues to inspire and encourage others to dare to dream.” Musician and songwriter Arieb Azhar said Poppy’s loss was deeply felt by the entire artist community of the city. “Poppy, despite all odds and advice of close friends, managed to create the only arts-centric cafe of Islamabad, KK, and doggedly kept working at it to keep it a oat. It would be di cult to understate Poppy’s almost single-handed contribution to the cultural scene of Islamabad.”
Activist Ali Kazmi saw Poppy as a mentor after Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated and Citizens for Democracy was formed. “Poppy encouraged me and liked my enthusiasm. She once told me she was working on a book on Islam and feminism. I had hoped to read it because Poppy was an intelligent and brave woman. She spoke out on issues few others have the courage to and devoted a lot of her time and resources into making Pakistan a better place. Poppy was a generous patron of the arts and a lot of people owe some of their success and fame to her. She was a very fearless activist who stood up for the rights of the oppressed and supported very good and noble causes. e world is a poorer place without this very good and brave woman.”
Musician and graphic designer Shahbaz Zaidi was introduced to Poppy through friends, but in a matter of days they became family. “Poppy was not just an inspiration — she was a great friend, someone you could truly trust. I cannot tell you how much I miss her.”
Poppy was an extraordinary human being who faced adversity with immense strength and fortitude, remarked journalist and author Raza Rumi. “Never in the past three years did I see her defeated or bitter about her illness. Her progressive vision and quest for a progressive Pakistan is best represented by KK, a place she lovingly built and which will her shining legacy, always.”
Irfan Ra que, an o ce boy at KK, said Poppy was extremely caring to her employers, especially the underprivileged. She had all of them medically insured, which gave them access to free medical treatment. “She loved Pashto music and would become completely entranced by it,” he added.
Poppy has been quoted for saying: “As for death, no point worrying about something we have no control over – any one of us could die today or
made life even more worth living.”
ws when or how? What I do know is that I have been blessed – getting cancer has made me appreciate my life even more, it has brought me closer to the people I love and who love me. It has made it easier for me to sift out negative emotions and negative forces in my life and has brought me closer to God. Being forced to face my mortality has
tomorrow or in decades, who kno~
February 23 at 11:36pm
Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan has left this world… But are we contemplating why for sooo many of us it seems like a personal loss… Maybe because inherently all of us crave to have amongst us such purely genuine, committed, passionate and giving souls… All of which poppy symbolised… And much more… Someone who just did things she believed in, not laying tall claims on her accomplishments, not posting FB statuses on every achievement… Not narrating stories on her bravery for battle against life itself… She just did what she felt she had to do, and she gave whatever she wanted to give to the world, and she left… And in the rarest of ways, the whole city of Islamabad is shaken… when we all feel that it’s not just a life that has ended but a phenomenon gone missing from our city…. What a way for it all to come back to you Poppy….
My Kuch Very Khaas Dost…………. Your departure has taken away a part of me …..
Devastated by the loss of a Kuch Very Khaas Dost…….. Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan…. My friend – my mentor. We started our career together at the National Assembly as Legislative Researchers. Known her since 1987. We went to work together (I, in her golden chau eur driven Mercedes for almost 6 months till I got my own car); we spent around 10 hours together at work daily on account of assembly sessions. My rst international travel was also with her when just the both of us went on an exposure visit to the House of Commons UK, USA, & ailand end of 1988. We went shopping down town Pindi together for her wedding along with my mother to get silks and pure brocades. Later when she got married, she shifted to Westridge from Morgah, and then I was her privileged chau eur to pick her up from home and drop her back…. So much of time we spent together ! We laughed together, we cried together….shared our hearts…. I learnt sooo much from her ! She opened my mind towards aspects of life that I really hadn’t thought much about before….
Oh Poppy…I miss you soo much already my dear ! Cant stop my tears after learning about your passing away from Raza Rumi’s fb post this morning ! You were a ghter! You fought battles at personal as well as social fronts that impacted the society. You were dynamic…You are one in millions ! You were always kuch khaas no doubt…. What a loss ! …My God what a loss !! Inna Lillahay wa Inna Elaihay Rajayoon !
Adding some pictures as reminder of some of the precious times we spent together …….. Will love you always….and miss you always Poppy !
February 25 at 7:18am
Something I wrote in 2012 in which I quoted Poppy, using her formal name Shayan. Remembering her wisdom, good humour and sense of justice, and sense of fun.
Fragments of thoughts beyond pain – My post in the World Shia Forum blog
Posted on August 19, 2012 by Beena Sarwar
In January 1953, Zehra Nigah, then a high school student in Karachi, wrote the following lines in response to police ring that killed several students and passers-by, during the students’ peaceful protests for their rights:
Aaj unn toofaN badoshoN ka kinara kaun hai
Jin ke piyare mar chukey unn ka piyara kaun hai
Jin pe raateiN chaa gaiyeeN unn ka sitara kaun hai
Jin ki dunya luT gayi unn ka sahara kaun hai DhoonDneiN ko apni manzil iss khash-o-khashak meiN Kitne Ghunche mil gaye haiN gulistaN ki Khak meiN
(Where lies the shore today for those storm riders/ Who will now be the love of those who lost their loved ones / Where are the stars for those on whom night has descended/ Who will support those whose world has been looted/ ey left to nd their goal in this chaos /How many owers lie trampled in the garden’s dust)
Zehra Nigah’s ode to pain and the loss of life and love can be applied with even more pathos in today’s Pakistan where bullets take not random lives but are aimed to kill those who don’t conform to a particular way of thinking or belief system. How do you counter the thinking that has been propagated through the pulpit of mosques, scrawled as gra ti on walls, embedded in school textbooks and proclaimed through the mouths of ‘national heroes’ with clay feet, criminal backgrounds and twisted minds on popular television channels? We can each do what we can.
My friend Shayan was successful in changing the mind of one of her domestic helpers who had casually mentioned one day that ‘Shias are ka r’. “In that case,” she said, “you think Farrukh Sahib (her husband) is a ka r?” “No, bibi, how could I say that,” Sher Khan answered. “He is a good Muslim.” “Well, he is Shia,” she replied. “And you think our daughters are ka r?” “No, of course not! ey are good, sweet girls.”
“But you just said Shias are ka r. And my husband and children are Shia,” she said gently. “So now tell me, why do you think Shias are ka r?”
“ e maulvi at my masjid says so.”
“Would you leave that maulvi alone with your young daughter?” she asked. “Or son?”
e conversation continued in a non-confrontational way for a while. Gradually, Sher Khan realised that he had been misled. He even began challenging the maulvi at the masjid for making such statements, and many at the masjid supported him. is is no substitute for a sustained re-education programme at the government and media level, but it shows how one person can make a di erence, how that di erence touches others. Let’s all pledge never to remain silent when faced with injustice and lies. Let these voices become a ood that sweeps away the debris of hatred and bigotry. Allah is Rab-ul-alameen, for all mankind, not just Rab-ul-muslimeen, for Muslims only.
inking of the passengers pulled o buses and killed in Gilgit recently, words are inadequate…
ose poor souls Heading home for Eid Hauled o buses Mobs shouting
“Shia ka r”
Everyone ‘else’ is ka r Masked gunmen Military uniforms
Identify them Kill them
Just because ey were born To mothers Families
In the ‘wrong’ faith Beyond Absurdistan Echoes of screams We heard
Target-killings in Balochistan Is this Talibanistan? Hellistan?
Was not meant To be like this Eid Mubarak
February 23 at 6:28pm
“As for death, no point worrying about something we have no control over – any one of us could die today or tomorrow or in decades, who knows when or how? What I do know is that I have been blessed – getting cancer has made me appreciate my life even more, it has brought me closer to the people I love and who love me. It has made it easier for me to sift out negative emotions and negative forces in my life and has brought me closer to God. Being forced to face my mortality has made life even more worth living.”
Incredible words from one of my most inspiring aunts. Many of us are sad to have lost her, but let’s not forget the great things she stood for and the memorable life she lived.
(Photographer & Artist) February 23 at 5:30pm
Rest in peace, Poppy bibi. ank you for everything you’ve done for your children, your family and your society.
is city, this country will forever remember Poppy. I still cannot believe she is no longer with us and have no words to express how guilty I feel not to have photographed her when I had countless opportunities to do so, or expressed my gratitude enough as she was the rst ever person to buy a painting from me after I graduated. She was someone who brought life into everyone’s lives and that is how she will be with us forever- and through her legacy that is Kuch Khaas. Rest in peace Poppy…
Mehak Faisal Khan
February 23 at 12:50pm
To the one who brought us up like her own kids, and whose legacy of strong and brave daughters are a source of strength for us… Poppy Aunty, you were extraordinary. You shared in all our victories and all our troubles, and we we will never forget. We love you.
February 23 at 7:06am
February 23 at 3:37am
It’s a sad day as I got the news that one of my close childhood friends from Karachi Grammar School, Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan, had nally lost her battle to cancer. I will always remember Poppy for her kindness and caring nature and how she was there for me during some tough times I went through at KGS. RIP my friend, and may god give both your daughters and Farrukh the strength to bear this loss.
e impact you’ve had on everyone’s life will be there forever. ank for being an aunt, a friend and an inspiration to us all, we can only dream to live up to your legacy, love you always
February 23 at 12:01am
A truly sad day for Islamabad. All the same, so much to be thankful for, in how Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan lived and all that she did for people: here’s a woman who breathed life into this city, and gave so many young amateur artists the chance to work their talents and follow their dreams. I know I would not have had the chance to actually do some of the things that I love and value the most, without the sanctuary for the arts that she created. For that, I will always be grateful. Poppy’s incredible generosity, kindness, and passion for building a joyous, progressive community will never be forgotten.
February 22 at 10:49pm
Still can’t believe that you’re not with us anymore. You taught us so many things in life, I’ve never seen someone as loving as you . If I’m a better person today, it’s because of you. Won’t ever stop loving Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan A big loss for so many of us.
Kuch Khaas was Poppy’s third baby and it embodied all that she believed in. I was so lucky to be a part of her life when she was creating this fantastic space and share her enthusiasm her aspirations and her vision. ank you Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan for enriching all our lives. You can’t besides because you will always be with us, in our hearts and minds and in our actions.. Can’t thank you enough for bringing me to KK and making those few years the most enriching and meaningful years of my life.
Well folks, Poppy’s gone too soon. Little did I know that some one like me would nd a friend full of wisdom and love. Pops was a rare example of a courageous life. Poppy you will live in our hearts for ever. She once recited a poem that I want to share with all of you here. It is as though this was her life story. My condolences once again Zishan Afzal Khan. Give her a hug from me. And before I forget, she left behind two most beautiful baby Poppies…may God bless you Bano and Noorie and give you everlasting happiness.
February 23 at 12:43pm
e ‘ ird Arandia’ as fondly Poppy referred me to; with a twinkle in her eye, saying “I want all the Arandias in my care”! Sadly,I haven’t had the chance to work with her, even then I have always admired her, amiably, silently. Her ‘presence’ was like an invisible magnet, full of life. With her never ending smile, laughter, humbleness and braveness even after knowing she had cancer; she was an inspiration. I remember, stumbling upon a book in Kuch Khaas, it was called ‘Unveiling the Ideal: A New Look at Early Muslim Women. Whilst reading it, little did I know that it was written by none other than our dear Poppy. Pink in cover, Poppy never failed to amuse us with her style. I searched all bookshops and asked her where I can get a copy for her to sign it; and I remember her blush and said its nothing. With all her achievements, our dearest Poppy was also modest, that forever stuck in me. I wish I had the chance to have met you during that loving invitation for tea in London, and told you in person, how inspiring you are to me and many. But I nd comfort that Allah knows best and thankful that I have had the chance to write to you, upon hearing you were ill last October. It is such an honour to have met you and thank you for sharing your life with us, and me. I pray the Angels guide you to your way to Allah, and know that we are here in this earth praying for your every step till you meet HIM. To our dearest Poppy, may you forever sleep,in eternal peace. Ameen. Xx
You will live on forever Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. In our hearts and in every single thing which makes Islamabad beautiful……!
Here’s to the ONLY true ROCK STAR I have ever known! She touched the lives of many and to me…… She will always be a constant reminder of courage and everything that’s beautiful in this world – “ e world is a poorer place without this very good and brave woman.”
I will never forget her generosity in giving me and my partners all of kuch khaas for kung fu lessons for one and a half year, free of charge because it was important r someone’s rehabilitation. I will always love the way she came out to appreciate my ancient chinese sword, she helped me be even more driven….I’m sad beyond words today. Poppy,I am certain that your kindness and empathy will lead you straight to heaven. A great loss….a great loss for more lives you would have touched </3
Poppy u touched my life in a way only few people know.You saved me from pain, literal pain. I am forever grateful. ough I am SO saddened and upset beyond words today, at the loss of the unexpected friend I found in you (for however brie y our paths crossed for), I also feel blessed to have known you in my own little way. I am certain you will live on through your many acts of kindness and the tremendous amount of lives that you touched along the way. ere is no doubt in my mind that you have a place in heaven. RIP Poppy. Your kindness will live forever in me, through me.
Can’t stop my tears after watching this, you were a gem, please recite Surah e Fateha for Poppy!
Bichra Kuch Is ada se ke Rut He Badal Gae Ik Shakhs Sare Shehr ko Veeran Ker geya
February 22 at 2:29am
A beautiful, wise, courageous and loving friend has left us forever. Remembering the good times, the love, the support, and the laughter. Love you always Poppy. You fought the good ght, and you leave a strong legacy. ank you for being you.
(Rap Artist) February 24 at 4:50pm
Poppy Afzal Khan gave me my rst ever headlining gig despite objecting to my content. It’s tough saying goodbye to a big heart like that.
How will anyone believe how much I loved you
I returned this day to the linen cabinet unlaundered. Folding it with care, I kept it apart,
to be remembered
for the words it has breathed, the tears it has gathered.
Not your standard,
wash and rinse kind of day.
(Singer and a regular performer at Kuch Khaas) February 22 at 1:36pm
Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan Great Lady of Pakistan, Patron and Mentor to all the artists and musicians of Islamabad, and Founder of Kuch Khaas where we have all perfomed and been welcomed countless times, is no more physically among us…
( Journalist) February 22 at 9:09am
Some people cannot be limited by the con nes of mortality and continue to shine like a guiding light for others from beyond the horizon of this world. So shall it be with you Poppy, though we will sorely miss you here!
To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return! Islamabad lost its touch of Kuch Khaas today. Please say a prayer for Poppy, the woman who brought much goodness and happiness in our good old islamabad. Incredibly sad day for the city.
Une forte femme qui a contribué à mettre Islamabad au diapason culturel avec le Monde, en ouvrant le centre culturel Kuch Khaas. Cette femme a eu soin de transmettre, avant de laisser emporter, sa force, son originalité et sa foi en la jeunesse pakistanaise, à ses lles qui donnent une suite magni que à son oeuvre. Dieu ait son âme, mais elle reste dans notre coeur.
(Pakistan Youth Alliance) February 22 at 3:50am
A strong lady who contributed to keep Islamabad in tune with the World, in opening Kuch Khaas Cultural Center. Before leaving us, she took care to transmit her strenght, her originality and her faith into pakistani youth, to her daughters who continue her great work. God have her soul, but she will remain dear in our heart.
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi
Just learnt of the demise of Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan – what a brave, upright, passionate, full of life and radiant soul. May you Rest in Peace aunty and brave the hereafter like you braved this world.
February 22 at 3:23am
“Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee: Within my heart they still shall dwell; And they shall cheer and comfort me.”
Adieu my friend Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan – you left us too soon! You will always be missed and loved. I learnt from you that despite adversity one must not give up and live life to the fullest. Your grace, fortitude and warmth will always be with us.
May you rest in peace, always. And keep smiling wherever you are!
Condolences Shahbano Abbas Zishan Afzal Khan Shandana Humayun Khan, Ayesha Humayun Khan Mehreen Hosain Shirin Safdar and Amina; the beautiful girls who lost their remarkable mother and the Kuch Khaas family!
Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
O, beautiful, and full of grace!
If thou hadst never met mine eye,
I had not dreamed a living face
Could fancied charms so far outvie.
If I may ne’er behold again
at form and face so dear to me,
Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain
Preserve, for aye, their memory.
at voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.
at laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; –
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.Adieu, but let me cherish, still, e hope with which I cannot part.
Contempt may wound, and coldness chill,
But still it lingers in my heart.
And who can tell but Heaven, at last,
May answer all my thousand prayers,
And bid the future pay the past
With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?
“ e More Loving One”
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well at, for all they care, I can go to hell, But on earth indi erence is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn With a passion for us we could not return? If equal a ection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn, I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky And feel its total dark sublime,
ough this might take me a little time.
Posted by Raza Rumi, via Faiza Sultan Khan
February 22 at 11:57am
Oh Poppy, the only other person who called me “Meena” here. You were so inclusive in this otherwise exclusive Islamabad – and I thank you for that. For creating Kuch Khaas and being just that. Something special. May Allah bless you with the highest darjaat in heaven and you already have duas and love from so so many.
Rest in peace Poppy, we love you so much.
February 23 at 10:59am
At the Islamabad Civic Hackathon I have seen so much talent and passion and enthusiasm in our youth! So much brilliance from young people, regardless of where they have come from, which has given me new hope that Pakistan is NOT doomed like so many would like to think. Pakistan is full of promise and crazy amazing talent and I am just blown away by it. We won rst prize and the Alif Ailaan Award for best educational app.
I want to dedicate this win to Poppy, a very dear friend and champion of the youth, who passed away Saturday night. She would’ve been so proud to see all the bright minds of Pakistan I have had the pleasure of meeting. She truly believed in Pakistan and its future and her legacy will forever live on through the people she has touched.
e platform you created Poppy,is the benchmark for a society a community of people who have zest for the ner things in life…the magic of creativity,Arts..literature and performing arts..combating extremism…so badly needed.Rest in Peace Shayan Poppy AfzalKhan.We will carry your legacy with renewed fervor.
February 22 at 12:45pm
Poppy darling, I’m going to miss you. You’ve completed your journey and touched hundreds of hearts along the way. Your courage and spirit will never be forgotten, and you will always remain in my heart. Rest in eternal peace my dearest friend.
Ayesha Humayun Khan
February 24 at 6:55pm
Creator, Desi Writers Lounge, also a Girtonian
Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan, we said goodbye to you with sadness and dignity, with beautiful orchids, with all your family and friends from all over the world, and a moving farewell prayer from Bibi. And it even rained, just how you like it. Goodbye dear Cousin.
A a Aslam
Few people leave a real legacy, and I nd myself thinking over and over how clear Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan’s legacy is.
So many of the new crop of successful performing artists and creatives from Islamabad, who are making it big nationwide and have also broken into the international market, can trace their incubation period to Kuch Khaas. It was Poppy who gave them space to experiment, grow and shine. She gave them a stage to act on, a mic to sing into, a camera to get behind. Every struggling artist dreams of a platform, and Poppy made Kuch Khaas that platform.
It’s not easy to place your bets that way: to throw your weight behind amateurs. ese people are your legacy, Poppy. ey were already doing you proud while you were alive and inshallah they will continue to do so for years to come.
(Khumariyaan – e Band), February 23 at 7:43pm · Peshawar
ank you for the seeds you planted before you left, Poppy Afzal Khan. May they grow into a beautiful garden that all of us will be proud to share and to own.
Hey guys. Due to the sad passing of a great human, our and Kuch Khaas’s mentor, who inspired many artists to follow their dreams, our previously informed gig on the 28th has been cancelled. We request all to pray for Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. May she stay a beautiful memory with those who knew her.
February 22 at 8:34pm
February 22 at 3:41pm
is is how I will remember Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan, the fighter.
My most touching Shayan Poppy moment: “you will not stop arguing with me just because I am sick. You will keep on arguing with me over this”, this was on one of our IK arguments. Made me smile with tears even then.
Omar Khalid Butt
(TV Anchor & Photographer) February 22 at 1:10pm
Hazaron Saal Nargis Apni Benoori Pe Roti Hai
Bari Mushkil Se Hota Hai Chaman Mein Didahwar Paida
Wishing you a safe journey to the Heavens above…
February 22 at 3:38pm
In loving memory of Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. With a heavy heart and discorded mind I bid you farewell but celebrate your life here on earth, knowing that your most sincere-gentle soul is free and shall be with Allah for rest in peace and nal awakening. We shall see you again in a heavenly place where there is no su ering and parting. I shall shed no tears, for I know you always hated sadness and always scolded me when I smiled less. With your kindness and bravery so great, you live in the hearts of so many and eternal shall be your memory. ank you for coming into my life, giving me rays of sunshine and endlessly believing in me when I doubt myself so often. You are my mentor and my inspiration. I will miss your presence, your kindness, your endless puns and your “sermons” immensely. Kuch Khaas was one of the best times of my life and like I always say you will always be my favorite boss lady and there’s no one above you even if you never believed me. Love you so much and will miss you in nity from the bottom of my heart,
( thank you for christening me this nickname you trendsetter you)
February 22 at 11:59pm
Been struggling with my heavy heart since I heard of Poppy’s demise this morning; I’m still in shock. Islamabad has su ered a huge loss today. is amazing woman, under whose mentorship I did the best internship of my life back in 2010, lost her battle against cancer. With her unrelenting strength, compassion, and lively disposition however, she won the hearts and spirits of so many people. Rest in peace, Poppy! Miss you!
February 22 at 11:16am
Poppy and Beena were kind of like my mentors a few years ago after Taseer was assassinated and CFD was formed. Poppy put up with my naïveté and was also very encouraging and had quite a bit of faith in me. She liked my enthusiasm and encouraged it a lot. Poppy once told me she was working on a book on Islam and feminism. I had hoped to read it because I think Poppy was an intelligent woman. And also an extremely brave woman. She spoke out on issues few others have the courage to and devoted a lot of her time and her resources to making Pakistan a better place. Poppy was a generous patron of the arts and I think a lot of people owe some of their success and fame to her. She was a very fearless activist who stood up for the rights of the oppressed and supported very good and noble causes. e world is a poorer place without this very good and brave woman.
February 22 at 12:40pm
Waking up to the worst news ever. One of the greats has left us. Poppy, I can’t believe it.
Never had I met a lady as strong and vibrant and positive as you. Always pulling my cheeks and telling me to smile more. Always so unbelievably understanding. Always up and about and ready to make things happen.
I don’t know what Kuch Khaas will be without you. Wish I had known you just a bit more.
Wish you had stayed longer.
February 22 · Edited
I have no words to express my grief, Poppy was like to so many others, a mother to me in so many ways. Sometimes you meet people in your life who not only change you for the better, but also give you a jump start using their own resources because they believe in you. In a decaying society, Poppy was the antibody that injected a survival mechanism in it by the name of Kuch Khaas. I and many others (artists and thinkers) have thrived as a result of the environment provided by it and are proof that Kuch Khaas is not just another elitist club. erefore we owe it to Poppy, and we need to preserve it and develop it further. is center for art, culture and dialogue is vital for us to survive as a society; Poppy understood that and went through great lengths and di culties to keep it strong. We indeed have lost one of our most important contemporary reformists.
Iqbal best describes the signi cance of such a breed of people for a civilization:
Hazaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai
bardi mushkil say hota hay chaman mein deedawar paida
You will be dearly missed.
(Note from Tülin: In an online conversation with him after he heard the news, he kept telling me, “I just wanted her to see me graduate”. He could not express his gratitude for the scholarship she gave him, which enabled him to attend LUMS.)
Sahibzada Abbas Ali Khan
(Musician, one of Poppy’s favorites), February 22 at 11:17am ·
Woke up to the horrible news of Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan passing away and couldnt stop my tears. I still remember how i use to give you those ying adaabs through your office window while going to lime tree and our discussions on music and urdu. Log apnay kaam ki hi wajah say yaad rakhay jaatay hain and poppy u were and always will be Kuch khaas. Gone to soon.
February 22 at 12:04pm
RIP Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan, you gave us all an amazing gift and your legacy will live on. Your visions in life never fail to include everybody. You believed in all of us, including me. You are the most humble, generous and bravest woman, I’ve ever met. I wish I had a chance to see you again which I have been planning for so many months now but I didn’t realise that you will be gone so soon. Poppy dearest, we will always love you, your presence will forever be missed, thank you for making me a part of your life.
February 22 at 7:41am · Chittagong, Bangladesh
Poppy you fought such an amazing battle – you live in our hearts:
Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled ight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
February 22 at 10:43am
You have left the world a dull place without your gorgeous smile dear Poppy apa… You were a brave lady and faced your battle head on. May Allah bless you with Jannat ul Firdous.
love – sherry
February 22 at 7:25am
Rest in peace my friend Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. You were a formidable woman. A writer, a campaigner, a patron of culture, you always stood for what was right and what was just. Creating a vibrant cultural centre – Kuch Khaas – in an otherwise mostly barren Islamabad is one of the many contributions you made.
February 22 at 9:39am
ank you Poppy aunty. I’m so blessed for having you as a part of my life. You’ll always remain. Always. Love you forever.
‘A life worth living’
February 22 at 5:34am
…and stood steadfast for all that’s right and good… Braveheart poppy…you will always be in the hearts of those who love you…these words reminded me of you…
February 22 at 8:25am
I can’t believe it, and I can’t nd the words right now… Poppy, you were the shining light in all our lives. You changed the course of my life for the better in such signi cant ways, I was always looking to you for guidance and you always sel essly gave it… I was sure I would see you again in this life, because nothing defeats you, no, nothing. And nothing ever will. You are bigger than any disease, you are bigger than a mortal physical body. Heaven just got a whole lot brighter with you there, and I know you’re dancing. I am crying, because I can’t bear to think of a world without you, but I hope you are smiling and laughing darling, wonderful Poppy. We love you so much.
I still can’t believe it.
I was about 7 months pregnant with Seleni in this picture. Poppy used to invite me over to her place and have Melinda make me all kinds of insanely delicious snacks, make me put my feet up, and we would talk and laugh, and I wouldn’t know where the hours have gone. You were trying to nalize the logo for e Lime Tree, and showing options. Everything was full of possibility, you were cancer free, and you were excited about everything that lay in store. is is how I want to remember you, Poppy, always.
“For Poppy, with Love” By Tülin Khalid-Azim
Published on the “Your Face” Blog, February 23, 2015
On Saturday night, we lost one of the greats. Shayan Afzal Khan, a ectionately known to all of us as “Poppy”, lost her long and bravely fought battle with cancer. Of the many things we learned from this remarkable lady, whom I am proud to call my mentor and friend, it was to live life with passion. Never back down. Focus on the positive. Encourage and empower those who need it, and recognize that sometimes those who don’t seem to need it actually do the most. Fight for what is right, but always with graceful words. Be inclusive. Have a big heart, and if it isn’t big, stretch it beyond its comfort zone. Smile, though your heart is breaking. Wear bright colors, they will make you feel better. Dress up! Dance to your heart’s content. Read, read, read. Ask the right questions. Ask yourself what YOU can do to help. Don’t forget your manners but don’t let them get in the way of having fun, either. Be polite. Be brave. Be loving.
A poppy is the symbol of remembrance for veterans. She was a warrior of the best kind, a warrior of thoughts and words – a Poppy to remember, always and forever. She leaves behind her two beautiful warriors, her daughters, who have inherited her grace and strength in spades. She lives on through them, and through Kuch Khaas – the Centre for Arts, Culture and Dialogue, in Islamabad. Your chair may be empty, Poppy, but your spirit lls this space. We have been sitting here for the last two days, soaking up your essence, sharing memories, remembering your perfume, your big water glass full of ice throughout the year, your red lip crayon in the pen holder on your desk, the scrunchie and puzzle ring you would always be dgeting with… by remembering these small details, by keeping them alive, we get some small comfort. When we start crying, we remind ourselves that if you were here, you’d tell us o and tell us to cheer up, chin up, smile and laugh. is life is too short to be sad.
To the bravest of them all. Here’s to you, our warrior.
We’re gathered together
With heavy hearts
Each with our memories of you.
Some here are family,
Some here are friends,
And some here you never even knew.
If you somehow can hear us
Know that we care,
And know that your memory lives on….. We loved you-
We miss you-
And we’ll always remember you.
Oh, we loved you-
We miss you-
And we’ll always remember you.
Those who are gathered
Must carry on
And we pledge to help each other through.
We’ll think of you often, and the good times we had- Once this pain has subdued.
If you somehow can hear us
Know that we care,
And know that your memory lives on…..
Farewell our dearest Poppy…you shall live forever in us!
Love, Your KK Family
In Memoriam By Moni Mohsin
Published in e Friday Times, February 27, 2015
Moni Mohsin remembers her friend, ‘Poppy’ Shayan Afzal Khan (1963- 2015), whose Kuch Khaas changed the fabric of Islamabad
If you had asked me thirty years ago when we were at college together to list Poppy’s personal qualities, I would have said that she was generous, charming, stylish and astute. It was only in the last three years as I watched her wage an epic battle against cancer that I realized I had underestimated her all along. Actually her de ning qualities were courage and dignity.
We met when we were fve. She lived in Karachi, I in Lahore. Our families knew each other. She, who remembered the meeting vividly, said that she had found me ‘difficult’. I don’t recall that first meeting. We met sporadically over the years, as children, as adolescents and as teenagers. We were cordial but didn’t really take to one other. I was shy and gauche, she outgoing, articulate and alarmingly poised. Truth to tell, I was in awe of her. Later, she told me that it was I who had been the scary one – unfriendly and standoffish.To argue over that early impression became a comedic ritual for us. Over the next three decades, every time we had a di erence of opinion, without fail we dredged it up like adolescents. ‘I’m not the scary one, okay? You are!’
We became friends at university. She had already been at Cambridge for a year when I arrived. She took me under her wing, introducing me to her friends (later she would complain that I ‘stole’ her friends), her favourite restaurants and shops. I told her she was bossy, she told me to shut up. She had a small sturdy bike and would sail over from her halls of residence to mine. ‘Oho! Bus bhi karo, Mo,’ she’d announce, sweeping my books o my desk, ‘we’re going out.’ She had a passion for eating out. She knew where to get the tastiest dim sum, the thinnest pizza, the most sinful cake. Poppy had unerring taste. Whatever she bought, be it a painting or a frying pan, it was always stylish, sometimes extravagant and often quirky. She never scrimped on anything, it wasn’t her style. But neither did she hoard. She liked nice things but was not in thrall to them. I don’t think I ever heard her mourn ruined clothes, or a broken vase or a lost earring. Occasionally imperious in her manner, Poppy had a grandness about her that I loved. Even as a student, she was an inspired hostess and threw extraordinary parties. One in particular stands out in my mind: the theme was East of Suez. She decorated a medieval room in St John’s College with Chinese kites and paper lanterns and served devilish cocktails. Everyone dressed up as maharanis and mandarins and danced late into the night.
When she wed her high school sweetheart, Farrukh Abbas, she embarked on a married life that was to take her all over the country and then to Kuala Lumpur, Beirut, Dubai. I lost count of the number of times she moved but luckily she was an instinctive homemaker. No sooner had she arrived in a new place when the household would be up and running with seemingly minimum e ort from her. Her home always had delicious food, comfy beds, deep sofas and laden bookshelves. But even more alluring than the physical comforts of her home was the spirit of generosity that su used it. Poppy and Farrukh’s home was a magnet for their many friends. Almost every evening friends would gather for food, drink, and company.
On returning from Dubai, Poppy put together a glorious proposition – Kuch Khaas, a not-for-pro t centre for arts and culture in Islamabad. She threw herself into making it a vibrant space, sparing neither her energy nor her wallet. Within two years it had become the beating heart of Islamabad’s cultural life.
She was living in Kuala Lumpur and, at 38, was the mother of two gorgeous little girls when the rst breath of an ill wind chilled their home. Poppy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Stunned by the news, initially she went to pieces. But she soon gathered her formidable resources and fought back with everything she had. Two years later when she was declared cancer free she celebrated with a huge fortieth birthday party. I wasn’t there but friends who were remember her shocking pink jora, her incandescent smile and her joyous dancing. Some years later we were having a picnic in the park when she set down her glass of iced Diet Coke – her favourite drink – and said, ‘Guess what? I’ve passed my ve year milestone. Cancer free for ve years. Yay!’
ough happy with her marriage, her children, her home, she was unful lled in herself. Blessed with a keen intelligence and a lively sense of curiosity she longed for meaningful intellectual engagement. She tried her hand at journalism – she worked brie y at e Friday Times – and authored a book on Islamic history but because she seldom stayed in one place for long, she could not commit to anything. Once, while visiting me in London, she said, ‘I envy you your work. Ever since I got married I’ve trailed Farrukh wherever he’s been posted. I’ve not made anything of my own.’ I asked her what she wanted to do. ‘I don’t know yet, but I’ll think of something. Something good.’
Her con dence was not misplaced. On returning from Dubai, Poppy put together a glorious proposition – Kuch Khaas, a not-for-pro t centre for arts and culture in Islamabad. She threw herself into making it a vibrant space, sparing neither her energy nor her wallet.Within two years it had become the beating heart of Islamabad’s cultural life. ere were photography courses, dance performances, yoga classes, storytelling, music concerts, drumming sessions, mushairas, book launches, political discussions, a library and, of course, a restaurant. Poppy was in her element. Her political views were liberal. Her commitment to her religion was strong, but she understood that in order to prosper, Pakistan needed a progressive, pluralistic, tolerant society. She did her utmost to foster it. Her engagement with Kuch Khaas propelled her into activism. Always politically interested, now she walked the talk, emerging as an active and engaged member of civil society. She joined protests, planned civic campaigns, encouraged political discourse at Kuch Khaas and fearlessly expressed her liberal views on social media. She never shied away from a good political dust-up. Fully engaged, she was alight with excitement and purpose. It was too good to last.
is time when the cancer came back it was not as a chilly breath but a howling gale. She was in her late forties. e doctors gave her three months but they reckoned without Poppy’s resolve. Tearing herself away from her beloved Kuch Khaas, she moved to London for treatment. She missed Kuch Khaas sorely and spent much time thinking about how it could sustain itself without her. Embarking on a regimen of treatment, she fought so valiantly that sometimes I forgot she was ill. She never complained, never asked for pity. She talked candidly about her illness, hoping that she would have time but acknowledging that she may not. Meanwhile she was determined to live as fully as she could in the time allotted to her. She booked tickets for plays, concerts, art shows,talks, revues. I would receive regular texts from her: ‘Mo, got tickets for a concert. Coming?’ Fearing that I may not have much time with her, I seldom refused. Our relationship had matured. We talked freely, holding back little if anything. We still argued, of course. It was an integral part of our interaction. We shared a loathing of PTI’s right wing, regressive politics. But where I was prudent she was unstinting in her ridicule. She tweeted day and night, heaping scorn on dharnas. I advised caution: PTI trolls were vicious. ‘What’s the point of having cancer if I still can’t say what I want?’ she grinned, looking up from her laptop.
One year of her treatment turned into two. As the third year dawned I began to hope foolishly for a miracle. In the summer she threw another fabulous party for her elder daughter Bano’s graduation. Her at heaved with friends and family of all ages and persuasions. ere was laughter and good cheer. It was to be her last party. Her condition worsened steadily. e visits home to Islamabad came to an end as did the stolen holidays in Italy and the Maldives with her girls. ere was a prolonged stretch in hospital. Twice she almost died but with a Herculean e ort she pulled herself back from the abyss. During autumn she grew steadily weaker. But on good days she sprang out of bed and went out with her girls. On January 17th, we had gathered outside the Pakistan High Commission in London to mark the rst month of the Peshawar school massacre. It was an icy cold evening. I stood on the pavement shivering, whining. Accompanied by Bano, Poppy seemed oblivious to the cold. A de ant gure in bright red lipstick and a yellow bobble hat, she yelled anti-Taliban slogans. at was the last time we went out together.
Poppy always described herself as a feminist. And she was. She insisted upon empowering herself, in exercising her agency to shape her life. She refused to be a victim and even when her body was ravaged by cancer, she didn’t relinquish her agency. Six days before she died she gathered her friends at her at for dinner. ough she was weak and visibly in pain,she was cheerful, chatty. She spoke of her precious daughters, her hopes for their future. She reminisced about her late mother, her childhood home in Karachi, her old ayah. She spoke matter-of-factly of her illness. She knew she was nearing the end but she was determined to eke out whatever time she had left. She remained de ant, brave to the last.
We never did settle who was the more scary, she or I. But when it came to courage, there was no argument.
In times of grief, some write. Others withdraw into themselves. ere are so many people without whom this book is incomplete. One of those people is Shahana Khan Khalil, Poppy’s con dante, the rst ever Programme Manager at Kuch Khaas, who helped Poppy shape, de ne, and bring her vision to life. eir friendship was beyond special, and none of us could quite match it, as much as we secretly wanted to. I introduced them to each other, somehow I just knew they would click when Poppy explained Kuch Khaas to me that rst time, sitting in Khaas, as we discussed the launch. And yes, I will shamelessly take credit for the introduction as long as I live! 😉
On Sunday morning, right after we had heard of Poppy’s passing, we slowly began to congregate at Kuch Khaas. Each person who walked in would break down. It was impossible not to as you walked in through the gate, and then neared her office with its big window, where so often we would look hopefully to see if she was sitting there. is was the case with all of us on this morning. Those already there would be waiting with arms wide open, ready for the breakdown about to happen. We all hugged Shahana as she walked in. en, we went into her office, and she frantically starting searching through the drawers at Poppy’s desk. I wasn’t sure what she was looking for, I thought maybe it was Poppy’s glasses or her red Nars lip crayon which was always hanging around at her desk. She finally found what she was looking for… Poppy’s perfume. Narcisso Rodriguez for her. And then we all just broke down.
You could smell Poppy coming from a mile away, as Aashir rightfully pointed out. It was her smell, the smell of her office, the smell of her warm embrace, which will forever elicit her memory in our minds. As we sat in her office, Shahana said, “I swore to myself I would never buy this perfume, ever, because no one else should be known for this scent. It’s only hers.”
After a while, with the whole team present, we asked her to spray the perfume in the air one nal time. As she did, through our tears, grins erupted on our faces, all of us nodding and saying, “Yes, that’s her alright”.
at whole day was a mix of tears, after which someone would point out that she would have kicked all of us had she seen us in that state. Never one to show her pain, never one to dwell on grief, she would have told us o right away. en we would start laughing, remembering how she would scold the boys especially, almost always over politics or feminism.
I must mention Zaidi, Osman, Aashir, Farrukh Ahmed, Mustafa, Naveed, Sheeraz, Waheed, Rizwan, Hasan – the KK boys who were so dear to Poppy, and whose lives she made such a di erence to. Wasim Mir, who always put her interests rst. And Hammad… Poppy was the only person I have ever seen who could tell Hammad o and get away with it! He loved and respected her so dearly, and she treated him like a younger brother (a very naughty younger brother, granted!). I will never forget how she always asked about him when he started farming, and speci cally about his facial hair, which she did NOT approve of at all! It always made me laugh.
Since that day, we have had time to think, to grieve, and nd ways to cope. Seeing Bano, Noorie, Mouse, uncle Afzal, TT khala… the whole family’s grace and composure, it has been an inspiration to us all. We call you the “Super Family”, and now we know where Poppy got her superpowers from.
Weallbelieveshehasnewsuperpowersnow.Wecopebyimaginingsheisfreeand happy,and can still hear us and read our messages.To accept a world without her is impossible for any of us.So we imagine her as a bright light,shining in heaven.
“Lights will guide you home And ignite your bones”
Only the brightest of lights for our Poppy.
February 24 at 2:49pm
My newsfeed is filled with people’s memories of Shayan Poppy Afzal Khan. It is amazing how one person can touch the lives of so many people, have a profound impact on who they are and who they become. All of us feel that we had a special bond with her. She took time to build this bond. She did it. We never had to work or try hard to have her make us feel special. It came naturally to her. Her smile through her o ce window, that eager gesture asking you to come and give her a hug, the talks, the daants, the love. It makes me want to be a better person, be more like her. I don’t think it is possible to be like her and yet, we can try. She would have liked that. at we all keep trying to be better, stronger, happier and more giving. She would have liked that.
Cristina von Sperling Afridi
Dear and brave Poppy . You lost your battle but you leave behind a generation in Islamabad that you have impacted your contribution to the society and to the youth will never be forgotten . RIP dear. Look after Karim.
By Shahana Khan Khalil
February 22 at 8:58am
Woke up with such a devastating news – we have lost such an inspirational person today – buy seeing her I usually said that humanity is still alive but today one of the kind and loving person left us – you will be missed ma’am
Memories = Photographs. How vibrant the images look when you see the person happy in them and then suddenly you realize that the person is no more with you, those are just now the memories. .
February 24 at 2:02am
Good night, lovely one. May the heavens have your dance music ready, and your favorite cupcakes perfectly baked, else they feel your wrath! Heh. You made me feel like a part of your family, immediately and with so much ease that Kuch Khaas always felt like home, and it always will. I’ll always remember that I’m allowed in the Boss room even when there’s a meeting, cuz the boss needs a hug NOW, heh. I’ll always remember that when I’m singing, I’m not allowed to stop, until you’re done listening. I’ll always enjoy making you laugh out loud with our Insolent Knights crazy. I’ll always be your dance partner. I’ll always make you sing even though you say you can’t, because I know how much you love it. I’ll always miss your hugs. I’ll always miss and celebrate everything that you were. Rest in peace, Pops.
February 22 at 6:57am
Gutted to hear about Poppy. Bravest soul, kindest heart and a wonderful wonderful mother. Just so so so sad. RIP you beautiful human being. RIP.
February 24 at 3:51am
For Mouse, a small tribute in very sad times.
“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another speci cally missing part.”
Words fail me as I struggle with the news
Images of days gone by ashing through my mind… Rest in Peace Brave Soul
No Coward Soul is Mine
BY EMILY BRONTË
(Dedicated to Poppy by Sumaira Khan)
No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in ee
Vain are the thousand creeds
at move men’s hearts, unutterably vain, Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy in nity,
So surely anchored on
e steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love
y spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though earth and moon were gone And suns and universes ceased to be And ou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.