Zahra Shahid Hussain: A woman of substance

Zahra Aunty was cut down by vile cowards who silenced her forever by shooting her in the face in the city she loved.

Maheen Usmani May 20, 2013
Zahra Shahid Hussain was a tour de force. Nothing seemed impossible for her to conquer and she made it all seem so easy. Her ready smile and twinkling eyes lined with kohl will always be in my mind’s eye.

My parents counted Zahra Hussain and her husband, Shahid Hussain, as one of their closest friends. The towering Uncle Shahid, in his white kurta pajama and deep baritone, was a gentleman to the core who had a vast repertoire of stories.

As for Zahra Aunty, she was a woman of deep conviction and strength. Fearless and passionate, she was a great ally to have in your corner. She was my mother’s friend, but she was extremely fond of us kids. Many a time she would pull me aside to ask,
 “My dear lovely girl, how are you doing?”

And she would actually listen unlike most other grownups. Our chit chats would invariably end in giggles with Zahra Aunty wiping tears from her eyes.

When Shahid Uncle suddenly passed away, Zahra Aunty, though badly affected, took it in her stride. She cut a lonely figure without her beloved husband, but she soldiered on for the sake of her daughters.

Despite life’s travails, there was contentment and perception in her gaze. She loved literature, art, politics and history and could talk with authority on any topic under the sun. Her husky voice and charming demeanour was enough to grab any one’s attention and she was usually the centre of attention. A regular at art exhibitions, literature festivals and weddings, Zahra Aunty cut an imposing figure draped in beautiful shawls, flowing shalwar kameez and regal saris.

It didn’t surprise me in the least when my mother told me Zahra Aunty had joined PTI and was a leading figure in the party hierarchy in Sindh. She always had time for younger people and shared their idealism and enthusiasm for changing the world. At an age when most ladies her age were engaged in coffee parties, dars, social work or travelling the world, she had decided to contribute her bit towards making change happen in Pakistan. She threw herself heart and soul into this new adventure and enjoyed it to the hilt.

The day I realised what an impact Zahra Aunty was making was when my apolitical mother told me she was planning to attend Imran Khan’s jalsa in Karachi last year. Considering that she had never even been near a jalsa ever, I was speechless.
“Beta, Zahra convinced me to go. She said she will take me with her and will look after me.”

That was the kind of faith and trust she inspired amongst her friends.

My mother has never voted in any election, but come this election, she made a promise to Zahra Aunty to cast her vote and, despite a healing fracture of her femur, and she went hobbling on her stick to the polling station. People standing in line made way for her and thanked her for coming to vote. Despite the sizzling temperature and the exertion, she came back energised, satiated and so happy. Of course, she voted for Imran Khan because she, like Zahra Aunty, had invested all her hope for a better future in him.

When I heard the news of Zahra Aunty’s demise, I was unable to process it. How could such a wonderful, dynamic woman suddenly cease to exist?

In the prime of her life, Zahra Aunty was cut down by vile cowards who silenced her forever by shooting her in the face. Considering that she was an advocate for peace and harmony, it is ironical that her death unleashed a hailstorm of accusations and slurs.

Whoever killed her, the murderers certainly achieved what they wanted; sowing the seeds of dissension, friction and hostility in Karachi, the city Zahra Aunty loved and cherished.

What these elections have thrown up in no definite measure is the level of intolerance, partisanship and animosity amongst supporters of different political parties. I miss the drawing room discussions at my parents' dinners at which Zahra Aunty and Shahid Uncle were a staple. After tucking into sumptuous food, the friends would argue back and forth in measured tones about their different party manifestos and why theirs was better than my father's. At the end, they would embrace, exclaiming sarcastically, "good luck to your party, janab!" with a big laugh amidst cigar smoke and bonhomie.

I miss purana (old) Pakistan.

The regret I will always have is that I did not get the chance to see her in the last couple of years. Somehow, she seemed invincible as she strode along Karachi’s stage. She had so many more years of service and commitment left in her. I wish Zahra Aunty had lived to see the success of Sunday’s re polling and how Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) candidate Dr Arif Alvi trounced the opposition. How happy the result would have made her.

I will miss her endearing laugh with her bright eyes crinkling at the corners, her warm hands drawing me into a bear hug, the affectionate pat on the cheek, the interesting conversations and the  and warmth radiating from her larger than life presence.

RIP Zahra Aunty, the world is such a poorer place without your glowing presence.

Read more by Maheen here or follow her on Twitter @MaheenUsmani
Maheen Usmani A freelance writer who has covered subjects ranging from socio-political issues to women's rights to counter terrorism, sports, travel, culture and music. Maheen tweets @MaheenUsmani (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Joyce Quin | 3 years ago | Reply

What a lovely tribute to my dear friend Zahra whom I met when we were both students at the London School of Economics. I miss her hugely bu want to do my bit, too, to ensure that she is never forgotten.

Shan Haider | 11 years ago | Reply @Nezihe - My deepest condolences go out to you and the entire family. RIP Ma'am and hope one day to bring out the people who did this.
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