Shamim Arra {1939 – 2011}

Last Saturday morning, I awoke to the heartbreaking news that my aunty Shamim, had passed away suddenly in Karachi.

Amongst our extended family, my parents – two of the eldest – are seen as role models to their siblings and cousins. But Aunty Shamim was where my mother, her first cousin, looked for her own inspiration; and she was certainly an inspirational woman.

Though she was only briefly married and had no children of her own, as a school teacher for more than four decades, she was a mother to thousands. Impacting and influencing many generations of Karachi schoolchildren as well as instilling in her own nieces and nephews, a love for the pursuit of knowledge.

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More remarkably – Aunty Shamim was the first of our family to gain a university education; the second was my Mum, also a schoolteacher. To be a woman, university educated, in Pakistan, in the 1950s made Aunty Shamim truly a pioneer, but her humility meant she never saw this as remarkable or unique.

She experienced some significant heartaches and disappointment throughout her life, but her poise, elegance, wisdom and warmth starved any resentment. In another life, I imagined her as a UNICEF ambassador or Pakistan's Minister for Education.

It is fitting that she left us as she always wished she would – on her feet, independent and without becoming a burden.

You were never a burden Phupho Shamim, you were our privilege.

The photo above was taken at Karachi's Clifton beach in January 1988 – from the left: aunty, my mum and her mother, my nani. Here's another of Mum and Aunty at the same spot, as teenagers.

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