They say they have caught someone and he has confessed. That he killed her for this or that they still cannot decide. Those who were keen to see the narrative of her murder discussed in terms of ‘foreign hands’ and ‘sabotage’ are now more than happy to embrace this explanation. The lone gunman, a crazed nut: easy. No, better.Maybe he was the man. Maybe he held the gun. But how many fingers were on that trigger? How many men sat around and decided she should die? In what room? What did it look like? How did we get here? I do not know who did it, and there are many explanations on offer, but I cannot escape the feeling that Pakistan killed Sabeen Mahmud. A light so precious it had to be snuffed out by one or another mutant tentacle of a cannibal state that devours its best. Does it matter which one? The noblest among us was cut down and we could do nothing. Sabeen took five hits to the chest but those bullets went right through so many other hearts. Mine is broken too, but from time to time it swells with pride thinking about her courage. It was not the false courage of a politician or the self-aggrandising bluster of some megalomaniac. This was real courage, quiet and strong. A heart so big, so brave, it is almost excruciating to describe. Sabeen was fond of Che Guvera’s dictum: “The true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love.” If that is the pedigree, she herself was the greatest of all revolutionaries. More than anything else, love was her moral compass and guiding force. Those who knew her know that everything she did was based on this impulse. An effort to “tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”.The last thing I said to her a few hours before she was shot was: “Beans I did not think it was possible to love you any more than I do, and now you have gone and pulled this. You are my hero.” I had congratulated my friend on doing something that is increasingly becoming the hardest thing in our country to do: talk about the human rights catastrophe that is Balochistan, Pakistan’s great invisible elephant sitting in the drawing room where even the most feisty subversives tread carefully. Whether or not her death was linked to Balochistan, this remains true. Inevitably, Sabeen has become a cause celebre for the rights struggle in Balochistan, and beyond. In the last few weeks there has been a lot of speculation about her politics from disparate groups wanting to claim her. I and those close to her have received calls from all corners of the globe; feminists in San Francisco, Baloch students in Turbat, filmmakers in Berlin, poets from Northern Ireland, digital hackers from Toronto, people wanting to know more about her and what drove her. It was not complicated. It came down to just one thing: she knew that whatever else you do, you must never side with the great against the powerless. This was her politics. Sabeen was the kid in the playground who placed herself between the schoolyard bully and his victim, saying, “You will have to go through me first.” And that is precisely why she held the Balochistan event. The risks were not abstract; they were very real. She did it anyway. Paradoxically, it came at a time in her life when she tried to take a back seat on the activism front because “sometimes it is all too much to bear”. She needed some air, she told me. The last few weeks were the busiest of her life. She had been consumed by putting together an art installation called ‘Dil Phaink’ for the South Bank Centre, (which is going ahead in London this week). She was excited, she was happy, she was in love. Sabeen is a martyr now for so many but she had no wish to die. She was not messianic. She wanted to live; she was about life. But more than this, she believed in an examined life, an authentic life, knowing that sometimes you have to put your own head on the block. And this is what I have learned from the life and death of my friend. Our lives are not fully lived if we are not prepared to die for those we love and what we believe. Her greatest gift to me has been this courage. I know that whenever I will feel faint hearted or as if my nerve will fail me, I will think of her and do better.Among the stream of eulogies for Sabeen there are those that continue to abuse her. Ugly trolls rear their heads from the darkest reaches of the internet with hateful words like “traitor” and “anti-Pakistan”. If reality could ever be turned on its head, it is this. Sabeen loved Pakistan intensely in the way that one loves an errant child, with anger, frustration and tears. She bled for every single Pakistani who struggles for basic dignity and trembled with anger at the thought of cruelty and injustice. She did this all without being zealous or didactic, always with humour and love. Heart on sleeve but spine of steel — what a patriot should be.I know that one day I will tell my children about Sabeen and the thought makes me uneasy. How will I sum her up in a few opaque sentences long after the memory has faded? Will I say that she possessed an expansive sense of humanity that dictated every interaction she ever had with another human being? That she could sit across the aisle with anyone, engage anyone and treat them with the same dignity, attention and curiosity as anyone else? Will I say that she was particularly fascinated by the intersection between liberal arts, technology and counter-culture? That she was committed to the left but never doctrinal, liberal but steeped in tradition, that she was an international cosmopolitan with deep roots in her land, her city? That she believed life had to be lived with verve and gusto, with wonder and curiosity, and had to be experienced through art and travel? That she was a hopeless romantic? That we spent so many evenings together verse in hand, meditating on the passing of time and the frailty of love? That she loved Bruce Springsteen? That she had a child’s heart? Shall I speak of her integrity? Thinking about it now sends a shiver down my spine. There were times when she struggled very hard to keep The Second Floor (T2F) alive, periods when things became financially dire. Through all this she was approached several times with gargantuan cash offers through certain international donor agencies that are keen to appropriate cultural spaces in Pakistan as part of a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. I am witness to the fact that she turned down a seven-figure US dollar sum without the slightest flinch. “They want my soul. Besides, I will never be able to spend that much money!” she told me laughingly. It has been a whole month but the tears still come. The strangest notion now, for many of us, is the idea of ‘getting on with life’. How bizarre. Is it possible to get used to this situation, a situation where Sabeen does not exist anymore. No, this is a non-starter. How can anything go on now? Surely, everything must stop and be reconsidered. The universe must stop to acknowledge this. Sabeen was neither a politician nor a celebrity but when she died the world did stop for her. Every single Facebook post, every single tweet, every major news organisation in the world carried her picture. This was the power of an ordinary life lived well.I suppose it was comforting to know that the loss was not just ours. I am not sure. But I know that despite this Sabeen, who fought for justice for everyone else, will not receive it herself. The darkness has not only won; it is unimpeachable and unafraid. Many of our phone calls and messages consisted of sharing little tidbits of poetry, a movie gem here, a line from a novel there. One of the ones we swooned over recently was a line from Plutarch’s account of Alexander’s voyage: “Isn’t it a lovely thing to live with great courage and to die leaving an everlasting fame?”Goodbye my brave heart, my sister, my friend, my pride. Goodbye. The writer is a journalist with the BBC Urdu service.