It's that time of the year — lit fest time, to be precise.
Kicking off on February 5, the Karachi Literature Festival (held at The Beach Luxury Hotel) is now in its seventh year and going strong.
In fact, as the festival's organisers formally introduced the event's line-up to the public yesterday it was evident that 'breadth' might be KLF 2016's defining feature. With panel discussions focusing on a range of subjects, from film to translation and feminism to TV dramas, an individual with even so much as a passing interest in literary affairs might find something at KLF to entertain herself with.
Co-founder Asif Farrukhi touched on this when he said KLF desired to represent every aspect of literature in Pakistan.
But can breadth also ensure depth?
Karachi Literature Festivals of times past have often been accused of being clubbish, repetitive and non-inclusive. Of course, criticism has been matched with as much, if not more, praise. The exact nature of this year's installment remains to be seen, but a quick glance at the line-up does reveal a few details.
Here's what to look forward to and what to be wary of.
1) Books will launch and re-launch
A total of twenty one 'book launches' will take place during the course of KLF.
Many of these books have been previously 'launched', like Indian journalist Barkha Dutt's This Unquiet Land. Nevertheless, these launch events consist of the author or authors talking about the book and its making and are the perfect means to determine whether or not a title will pique your interest. Witnessing a writer talk about his or her book's inception is a rare treat, so for true book fiends these book launches should be a highlight.
On day 1 I'm looking forward to launch events for Cinema and Society: A History of Pakistani Cinema by Ali Khan and Ali Nobil Ahmad, moderated by Asif Noorani, and Cover Point: Impressions of Leadership in Pakistan by Jamsheed Marker, moderated by Aneesuddin Ahmed.
Day 2 is a doozy when it comes to launch events. What stands out for me personally is the launch discussion for Barkha Dutt's book, and also Risk by Steffen Kopetzky, in conversation with Mohammed Hanif. Interesting also is The Resourceful Fakirs by F. S. Aijazuddin in conversation with Syed Jaffar Ahmed and The Other Side of the Mountain by Salman Khurshid in conversation with Ghazi Salahuddin.
On day 3 I'm looking forward to the book launch for Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Relations Including Details of the Kashmir Framework by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who'll be on a panel with Barkha Dutt, Ishrat Husain, and Najmuddin Shaikh. Lots of ground to cover there, I'm sure!
2) Some sessions will be grossly general
One continuing criticism I have of KLF is that a few select panel discussions are — how to frame this — exceedingly random. With neither a specific book, a solid issue or a superstar author to ground them some sessions appear as though they're set up only to flounder.
Cases in point this year: a session titled 'Diversity and Dissent' (Hafeez Jamali in conversation with Ziauddin Sardar) and 'Busting Myths' (featuring Pervez Hoodbhoy and Nadeem F. Paracha moderated by Yaqoob Khan Bangash).
On the former: diversity is a hugely important issue, I won't argue on that point at all. However, it would be helpful if we knew what aspects of diversity were going to be discussed — a lack of diversity in the literary world? In the media? Without a cue like this it is only curiosity that would take me to this session, not true interest in the matter being discussed. Ditto the latter.
Other sessions that fall prey to randomness are 'Pakistan: Modernity and Postcoloniality' and 'Documentaries Workshop.' Hmmm.
3) With few international authors, Nandita Das and Laxmi Tripathi add star power
KLF 2016 doesn't feature many 'big' names — and by big I mean authors who've had books do exceedingly well internationally — and in the absence of that we'll have to rely on celebrities and activists to fill the gap. Of course, when you have Nandita Das and transgender rights activist Laxmi Tripathi to look forward to you can't complain.
From across the border we'll also see Anupam Kher, and locally, expect to see all our celebs out in full force.
But it would have been nice to see variation in the line-up. With so many exciting and relevant titles released internationally in 2015 this lack of participation seems odd. If this year's Jaipur Literature Festival could attract the likes of Marlon James and Margaret Atwood, well, I'm sure Karachiites feel they deserve an audience too.
I would've loved to see sure-fire hits like Akhil Sharma, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mindy Kaling or Aziz Ansari at KLF.
4) Cinema and TV get their due
With a multitude of films made in Pakistan last year film is something we just can't ignore. To that end panels like 'From Life to Reel' on day 2 featuring Nandita Das, Asif Noorani, Anupam Kher, Shahid Nadeem and Nimra Bucha ought to excite an eager film-going audience.
The session 'Pakistani Cinema Strikes Back' (also day 2) with Nimra Bucha, Meenu Gaur, Sania Saeed, and Ayesha Omar is not to be missed either and I personally can't wait to hear what these powerhouses have to say on the matter.
It's refreshing also to see screenwriting get due credit at KLF. On day 1 the talk 'Jilawatan Sey Jungle Tak: Short Stories and TV Dramas' featuring Asif Farrukhi in conversation with writer Noor ul Huda Shah ought to shed light on how popular Urdu novels and stories are adapted to create hugely successful dramas.
Sarmad Khoosat's Manto will be screened at KLF for those who missed it. The agenda also appears to includes a talk with Anwar Maqsood — though one can't be sure as the programme provides no information except the title 'Aik Sham Anwar Masood kay Naam.' I hope this materialises.
5) Art is a strong presence on the agenda
For those with a keen interest in art and photography KLF 2016 is a goldmine.
On day 1 I'm looking forward to a session called 'Making an Artist', which I hope will touch on issues like how to encourage creativity, how to source support both financial and moral, and will also simply serve as a conduit for artists to share how they made it in the art world. I'm also interested in a session focusing on the successful Lahore Biennale and its focus on public engagement with art.
On day 2 shutterbugs should attend 'Photography in the Age of Art' which features prominent photographers of the day like Amean J., Tapu Javeri and Arif Mahmood.
Day 3 is rounded out nicely with a look to the future in 'Art as Witness to Memory and Erasure: Karachi Biennale 2017.' Promising also for its diverse panel is 'Art and Alternate Spaces' with Ejaz Ahed, Zubair Ahmed, Riffat Alvi, Musharaf Hai and Sharmila Farooqi, moderated by Fawzia Naqvi.
6) Prizes will be awarded
Four prizes will be given out. The KLF Coca-Cola Prize and KLF–Embassy of France Prize honours the best non-fiction and fiction in English respectively, written by an author of Pakistani origin.
The books shortlisted for The KLF Coca-Cola Best Non-Fiction Book Prize are Rethinking Identities in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction by Aroosa Kanwal, A Princely Affair by Yaqoob Khan Bangash and Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani.
The KLF Urdu Fiction/Non-Fiction Prize is awarded to a poetry or prose book originally written in Urdu, published anywhere worldwide (or self-published) before December 2015. Authors shortlisted for this award are Najeeba Arif for Ma'aani sey Ziada, Imdaad Husaini for Dhoop Kiran and Nasir Abbas Nayyar for Alamgeeriyat aur Deegar Mazamin.
The KLF Peace Prize is a joint project of KLF, the Consulate General of Germany in Karachi and the Embassy of Germany in Islamabad. It goes to a fiction or non-fiction book that promotes peace, tolerance and international understanding.
7) Special performances
If you happen to tire of all that talk you can unwind with a special performance that'll close the show each night.
Day 1 signs off with a musical evening by Vidya Shah and Zoe Viccaji, day 2 closes on two events: the screening of Manto and a mushaira. Day 3 will end with a bang as Saad Haroon will be on hand to provide some comic relief via his stand-up act.
Apart from all this one can expect the usual festivities — booksellers' stalls will encourage you to part with your money for the written word, kiosks will serve chai and other goodies. As always KLF is a good time to get all the season's meetings and greetings out of the way: you know everyone will turn up, so what better time to say hello?
The Karachi Literature Festival runs from February 5-7 at The Beach Luxury Hotel. Attendance is free. The full programme can be viewed here.