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The Epitome of Diligence and Humility – Sabahat Kalim: 1956-2023

Updated 12 Aug, 2023 01:22pm
Sumera Naqvi remembers Sabahat Kalim.

Sabahat Kalim was gentle and modest. She was also generous and upright, not only in her work but in her relationships with her family and friends. It is painful to write this tribute now that she is no more. It is painful to think that a person as kind as she was had to endure a difficult time fighting a terminal disease. Although she did recover at one stage, she was later caught in a vortex of complications until she could battle no more. 

Sabahat was Dawn’s celebrated librarian. She held a Master’s in Persian from the University of Karachi. She also worked in the Library of Congress before joining the National Institute of Public Administration, where she gained valuable experience in library keeping. 

Sabahat joined Dawn in March 1990 to work with Zubeida Mustafa, who was in charge of Dawn’s library in addition to her role as Assistant Editor for the newspaper. She quickly learned what had to be done and became the most sought-after person among the writers and researchers who wanted to make use of the treasure trove that is Dawn.

No article in Dawn could be written without her help in providing the required material to back arguments, analyses and theses. From reporters to feature writers and columnists, to local and international writers and authors, she was their go-to person. Her ingrained sense of professionalism ensured authenticity in everything she provided. Under her calm demeanour, she lived a life etched in competence, honesty, sincerity and diligence.

Sabahat’s bright little room on the first floor of Haroon House, right across the Dawn library, was a sanctuary for her colleagues, who would step in for a chat before starting their hectic day. Sitting at her desk with a smile, she would have both the English and Urdu language newspapers spread all over as she circled important news items for filing. On the shelf next to her stood framed photos of her nieces and nephews.  

All this was before the onslaught of the world of the microfiche. “Sabahat saw to it that all the information she was expected to provide to everyone using the library was available when it was needed, and this meant a lot of work. She would come in early in the morning so that by the time we arrived, she had any information needed ready. Even the morning newspaper had been marked, clipped and pasted into the relevant file. This is how it was done in the good old days when there were no computers,” recalls Zubeida Mustafa. Sabahat was also known as an expert in compiling book indexes and was very much in demand for this skill. It was thanks to her that today Dawn can boast of having one of the most professionally compiled indexes of any newspaper in Pakistan.

Along with her professionalism and dedication to her work, Sabahat had a gentle and soft heart and she was always ready to help anyone who asked. “I cannot forget or be more grateful for the moral support and affection Sabahat bestowed upon me when I was severely ill,” says Khursheed Hyder, a former feature writer at Dawn. “She and her loving sisters used to come to the hospital and then to my house to keep my spirits high in that very difficult time. Many times, Sabahat would take me home after my chemo and look after me. She never hesitated if she saw someone in pain. Such people are rare these days.”

This caring streak superseded everything Sabahat did. Her sister, Nuzhat Rahman, has not gotten over the fact that her sister has left us. “Sabahat was the fifth of six siblings; she was a role model for the family. She looked after our severely sick mother the most. Whatever the problem, she was there to solve it.”

Ayesha Azfar, Assistant Editor at Dawn says “Sabahat was always concerned about her team, especially about how they had to make do with so little, and in some cases, about their health issues. Professionally, she was top-notch and meticulous. She was extremely attached to her family and always spoke about them with pride and affection.” 

Muhammad Ibrahim, who joined the Dawn library as an assistant to Sabahat in 1993 and spent the next 26 years under her guidance says, “Her professionalism was unrivalled. She worked hard to deliver on time and always stood by her team.” 

Sabahat’s sister Malahat Kalim reminisces about how Sabahat’s nieces and nephews adored her. “They used to call her ‘Satho’, fondly merging the words Sabahat and phuppo.”

When her illness resurfaced after 18 months of treatment, her doctors insisted she should have further chemo sessions. “We tried to convince her but she refused,” says Nuzhat “She said she knew she did not have long and she wanted to make good use of the time she had left with her loved ones and in peace.” 

Sabahat survived for eight more months during which she was completely immersed in the love and affection her family and friends showered upon her. Her nieces and nephews, her friends and family kept her company – some physically others virtually – never leaving her alone to feel the pain she was going through. 

Sabahat Kalim developed and structured and turned the Dawn library into an A-class one. It was a library that any advanced country would have and only Sabahat could have done this and she did, says Zubeida Mustafa. 

“Our family will never be the same without her,” concludes Nuzhat. It will not be the same for her friends and colleagues either.

Sumera Naqvi is a journalist, writer and communications consultant.