Farewell Zishan Afzal Khan, You Were Everything 'Khaas' About Islamabad

Farewell Zishan Afzal Khan, You Were Everything 'Khaas' About Islamabad
I have just returned from the Hajj, a pilgrimage which teaches us that above all else, we must have patience, Sabr. It is easy to write and say this, but to experience loss and bear an untimely journey back is heartbreaking.

But how does one write about a person who accomplished so much so elegantly.

My dear friend Zishan Afzal Khan 'Mouse' passed away on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in London.

Our families have known one another for generations. But I only got to know Mouse when I returned to Pakistan in 2005. She inherited a social, warm, and generous personality from her paternal grandmother Baji Gul Amna and father who always maintained an open-door policy at any time of day whether it was in Peshawar, Karachi, Islamabad, or London.

Mouse and her father, Uncle Afzal Khan, had spent considerable time in Karachi. Uncle Afzal built most of his career in the coastal city. Mouse went to school there, doing her A-Levels from the Karachi Grammar School.

Like all the women in her family, Mouse was well educated. She went to the University of Cambridge, following in her mother's footsteps. Mouse’s father was at Trinity College Cambridge before her uncle, the late Dr Humayun Khan, as were her cousins Amina and Shandana Humayun Khan. Her maternal aunt Timmy was also a Cambridge scholar. Her niece Noori did not follow to her to Cambridge but went to Oxford instead, which was a source of lovely banter.

Mouse took up history there for her masters and expressed a particular interest in art.

Later, she shifted to Islamabad along with Uncle Afzal.
For someone so social, she was at pains to go out, always preferring her friends to come over to hers

In the heart of the federal capital, you would always find her gliding around in a flowing shalwar kameez with high heels, a gentle, warm smile resting on her face. For someone so social, she was at pains to go out, always preferring her friends to come over to hers. Lovely food and company at all hours, an eclectic space where you would find a room full of people discussing a play, a book, a adventurous travel story, or art. We shared the love of food. She couldn’t boil and egg as she said to me once, but Mouse was the queen of amazing gatherings. Her legendary Christmas table or the family meals or for the endless guests in their home.

It was always a pleasure to be in her company. It helped that she was always hospitable and ran an open house policy. You would find friends of all ages and with all sorts of interests surrounding her. She was a collector of interesting people - some less so, but Mouse loved life and had many interests.

In her heart, I saw her as an art curator. Everything she did was detailed, sophisticated, understated, and warm.

Her love of art motivated her to set up Islamabad's loveliest art gallery - Khaas. Always creative and innovative, she roped in her cousin, Toni Apa, and added a café in the gallery all above their beautiful home.

The Khaas Café quickly became the 'it' spot for lunch in Islamabad and remained so for years. The well-heeled and the food connoisseurs flocked to it for the art and the wonderful cuisine. Fine dining at its most understated elegance, much like Mouse.
Kuch Khaas became Islamabad's default community centre

The gallery helped introduce Islamabad to incredible artists from all over the country and the odd international artist.

When her lovely sister Poppy, returned to Pakistan and joined her in Islamabad, Mouse expanded her art community into a larger space. Kuch Khaas became Islamabad's default community centre.

It was a space where all of Islamabad was welcome to come together and enjoy open discussions.

It became the place to start the first farmers market, yoga studio, meditation space, and for artists to gather in the city.

There is an entire generation of young Islamabadis, all in their teens and then their 20s and 30s, who were able to explore and expand their passions.

Budding musicians would come and hold concerts while young artists were given several opportunities. Mouse discovered them at colleges and from all over. She also encouraged young curators and trained them.

Gradually, Kuch Khaas evolved into a space for those who needed refuge from the claustrophobia of our society. No subject, no matter how taboo - including gender issues and religion - was too sensitive to discuss and debate.

I can speak of the work I did together with Poppy for the 2013 elections. We held a series of educational seminars with all the candidates contesting elections for Islamabad's constituencies. I recorded and interviewed Islamabad's village populations, and Kuch Khaas proved to be a bridge to hold this rare dialogue.

Many of us are fortunate enough to have had progressive parents and opportunities for a good education. But few choose a path of service or giving back to their communities or even their neighbourhood.

Both Poppy and Mouse innately gave back to their community. Mouse was on the committee of many charity organizations and led organizing teams for the annual fundraising balls.
Above all else, I remember Mouse as a warm, gentle, kind, and generous person

The wonderful community of friends they built is a testament to the care and love they expressed for those around them.

Mouse demonstrated that in her home, adopting and bringing up her two nieces after losing her sister a few years ago.

Above all else, I remember Mouse as a warm, gentle, kind, and generous person.

Someone in their 30s recently told me, in shock at learning of her passing, that 'she had a vibe' where she engaged and was inviting in a way which was comfortable and familiar.

This makes the loss of these two souls more profound and will forever leave a deep void not only in our personal lives but also of Islamabad.

I can still picture Mouse seated on her lovely sofas in her drawing room, surrounded by her friends enjoying an evening together.
Mouse leaves behind too many with sadness, two beautiful nieces and her father, Uncle Afzal Khan. Rest in peace with the angels, Mouse.