Despite fears that a truncated festival would not satisfy an eager audience, day 1 at the Lahore Literary Festival was a success. Several talks were filled to capacity and crowds flooded the gardens of the Avari Hotel.
Questions remained: some wondered whether a hotel was the correct venue, others speculated on the exact nature of the festival's initial derailment. But it can't be denied that speakers were on top form. Every second statement uttered by Mona Eltahawy garnered applause, and stalwarts like Asif Farukkhi were seen beaming ear to ear.
So what will day 2 have in store for us? Live coverage commences below.
6.00pm: Day 2's verdicts
Almost all sessions on both days were packed, except for the morning sessions Sunday morning. While much of the material was repetitive, crowds were cramming rooms to capacity. And one saw people of all ages; surely with this much interest, festival organisers will give more thought to their programming and line-ups for upcoming years. Venues too, we might add!
On social media, folks have been tweeting one critique after another. The overwhelming focus on English—a feature of almost all literary festivals in Pakistan—is a shortcoming that particularly irks attendees, who come seeking a more diverse range of panelists and sessions than the festival offers.
But others have rightfully commended the organisers' ability to pull the festival off—in spite of all the odds faced—and have managed to thoroughly enjoy their experience.
Of course, not all will be generous summarising their experience of LLF.
Punjabi writer and activist Nadir had quirky reply: "LLF is entertainment of the rich."
Ali Akbar Natiq, however, had something to say that we felt got at the heart of LLF.
"Any festival is rebellion against the establishment."
5:45pm: The Ministry of Thin
We aren't sure what a panel on 'Women, Weight Loss, and the Obsession with Body Image' is doing in a literature festival, but folks are loving the “brutally honest” talk about women and society's obsession with their body image.
Emma Woolf, Virginia Woolf’s niece, asks honestly: “Why do we have to be thin? Why do we have to be smooth or silent?” Emma is sharing her experience of anorexia with a packed audience. She says it was terrifying for her to write about it.
Similar to the earlier panel on Virginia Woolf that Emma spoke at, the hall is packed to capacity— panels that speak about gender and feminism are surely gaining popularity (we approve!). Writer and academic Rafia Zakaria was supposed to accompany Emma and Ashok Ferrey on the panel, but couldn’t make it to the festival. Her comments would surely have added fire to the conversations, specifically to the sessions with Eltahawy.
Some attendees had rightfully been anticipating her presence, and had planned their own around Zakaria’s.
We can wholeheartedly empathise.
5:30pm—Selfies with the best
As always, Sherry Rehman was popular among admirers for a photo or two.
After her session on the 'Gilded memories of early Pakistan years', Pasha was surrounded by fans, none of whom she turned away.
Jacqueline Novogratz was also something of a celebrity during the weekend, constantly surrounded by attendees who were moved and inspired by her honest discussions.
And of course, how could this list be complete without Mona Eltahawy?
Even Fareiha Altaf managed to grab a photo!
5.15pm: The session on Meer Taqi Meer is packed beyond capacity. People are sitting on the ground and finding corners to cram into...
"Ameer zaadon ko Dilli ke mat mila kar keh Mir Keh hum ghareeb huay hayn inhi ki daulat se"
Amjad Islam Amjad quotes Meer to fans of all ages—Meer is more popular than one might expect. Perhaps it has to do with his subjects and themes which often invoke heretic ideas. "Meer had written poetry discarding his religion but it's strange that no mullah termed him blasphemous." Zehra Nigah notes, observing how no fatwas were ever issued against the poet.
We can't say the same for poems today—perhaps a topic to consider for next year's festival?
5:00pm: How are folks feeling about day 2?
Organisers for the most part look calmer today, though mishaps are abound (why are loudspeakers falling?). Scheduling for the morning sessions was not correctly announced, and the quality of the panels has been repeatedly questioned by many.
Specifically, folks are left wondering what some of the sessions have to do with literature.
Panelist-session assignments often feel mismatched and leave many wondering whether they should bother to attend. They also bring out the best in Twitter commentary.
But that problem isn't unique to the Lahore festival. Salman Shahid however, pinpoints the problem with this year's festival. "There are space constraints because this place isn't designed for the purpose [of a festival]," he observes. "The venue should not have been changed."
At least some of us are brutally honest! Novelist and translator Musharraf Ali Farooqiconfesses that he isn't here for any of the panels. "I am here only for gup shup this time!" he laughs.
Overheard at LLF—the day's best so far!
On literary loyalty "Do selfie fans buy books of the authors they take selfies with?" —Asif Farrukhi in the session 'Mobilising new readers'
On one's intellectual standing "LLF is a place for educated people. What are you doing here?" —Overheard
On name-dropping "I got a call from Z A Bhutto and he said, 'I heard you have black roses, I want one for my house in Larkana." —Syed Babar Ali in his session 'Unveiling the Titan'
4.30pm: So, who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Adrian A Hussain reads out an excerpt from Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, which is probably the book one should begin with if they have never picked up Woolf before— why on earth not?
On the panel of 'So, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?' is Virginia's niece, Emma Woolf, who says her aunt's writing was all about the stream of consciousness. To this, Adrian Hussain interjects: "Virginia is a lot more than feminism and stream of consciousness. She should not be read from the point of view of her life," he advises.
But conversation of course moves to her life: Emma says our stereotypes about her are wrong. She longed to have children. Another panelists adds on to similar perceptions, commenting on Virginia's androgyny.
Zareena Sayid adds her own perspective: "All women owe Virginia [their] gratitude for making them think about their space in society." We agree; perhaps every woman who has read Mrs Dalloway would. Hussain might be right in proposing that authors should not be read solely from a single lens, but given the dearth of women writers in literature, one cannot deny Virginia Woolf's contribution to feminist fiction.
As Zareena Sayid puts it fittingly: "That's what makes me unafraid of Virginia Woolf. That she gives us a room of our own."
4.15pm: A trip down memory lane with Pasha Haroon, and confronting our own complicity in the rich-poor divide
Pasha Haroon is in conversation with Hameed Haroon and Nuscie Jamil, remembering the older days of Pakistan. "Quaid-e-Azam always wore proper suits, not shalwar kameez," he remembers. "And the kind of Urdu he spoke, we also spoke."
The room is full of adoring fans, eager to receive Pasha's wisdom. As the discussion moves to the Pakistan of today, Pasha advises her audience: "Let's make it the Pakistan we fought for."
Fittingly, in another room panelists are interrogating exactly how to do that in 'Mind the Gap: Bridging the poor-rich divide'. The session is proving to be particularly poignant for many. Jacuqueline Novogratz is speaking one truth after another, and the audience's applause shows it is in agreement.
"It's not a small world; it's a small class," she states simply. She says elites across countries are more like each other rather than like the poor in their own countries. "We no longer have a world of rich countries and poor countries, but a rich world and a poor world."
It is evident from social media that attendees are loving Novogratz's honest commentary about social responsibility and human connectivity.
As she reminds us powerfully, "Trust is the rarest currency that we have."
4:00pm: Kanza Javed, author of Ashes, Wine and Dust spotted
And we managed to get a quote! "We seldom have such events with intellectuals, writers, and poets all in one place," says Kanza, whose debut novel has been incredibly well-received among critics and South Asian readers alike.
Jacqueline Novogratz tells us who her favourite Pakistani books and authors are at. Her list matches ours: Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif!
We also catch up with Anisa Helou from Acumen, who talks about her first experience of LLF.
3.30pm: Everyone loves Mona!
Eltahawy, a controversial figure for many, is loved almost as much as she is disliked. But we love this: she met up with a group of young women for lunch after her afternoon session, to discuss feminism and (if there was time for it?) literature.
How many local authors even do that? Groupies have been looking for her as much as they have for photographer Reza.
But Mona has been taking the attention in stride, taking every opportunity to engage with people both offline and online.
She even tweeted after the feminist lunch!
Is it any surprise that she is trending on Twitter?
3.15pm: Sessions in flow
The crowd has picked up at LLF as room feel more packed, and people are seen staying after to get selfies with their favourite panelists. Except for a brief visit by Zakia Shahnawaz, no representative from the Punjab government was spotted at the festival.
In 'Mobilising new readers', Alexandra Pringle, Ameena Saiyid, Ashok Ferrey and Chiki Sarkar with Asif Farrukhi discuss Pakistan's reading culture and brainstorm ideas to make books popular.
"I am intrigued by the story of Shahbaz Taseer," Chiki Sarkar says, "I want to see a book on it."
Ameena Saiyid mentions how the Harry Potter translation into Urdu flopped in Pakistan— perhaps local stories like Taseer's might resonate better?
3.00pm: Revisiting Shakespeare Wallah
"You have played Shakespeare's characters a few times in your life," Asif Noorani begins with a joke. "Your nickname should be Shakespeare wali!"
The hall is packed with people intrigued by Madhur's stories. The conversation gets even more interesting when Madhur talks about her influences. "I would have given an arm and a leg to work with my screen idol and the ultimate Dilip Kumar."
2:45pm: More books for Karachi and Lahore?
2.30pm: Critics have their say
We ask popular critics and writers how their experience of LLF2016 is going. Urdu writer Neelam Bashir has a valid question to ask: “Why is it almost everything about English literature? Why are there always the same writers at LLF?"
While similar opinions have been expressed about the festivals in Karachi and Lahore too, some of us just find the weekend a good break to get out, and are thankful that something is happening at all.
Journalist Ayaz Amir also prefers to look at the brighter side of things. This is his first time at LLF, and he feels similar festivals should take place to promote art and culture.
"When its about books and literature… what else can be better than this?"
2.15pm: Celeb spottings!
Sherry Rehman has been at festival for a while, and even posted and excited selfie when she arrived.
Our reporters also ran into Junaid from The Call, reppin his Ray Bans.
Susan Abulhawa and Antia Anand were spotted at the Liberty Books stall, holding each others' books!
Meanwhile, Kamila Shamsie and Alexandra Pringle were also there, bonding over book signings and fans.
Kamila even signed one devotee's tennis ball! Can we say we love her?
Here is another one of her, signing books with author Ahdaf Soueif.
For others, signatures suffice. Here is one reader who got her copy of Anita Anand's book signed.
Indeed, let's fight the good fight.
1.50pm: Spotted— Literary lovers from Gilgit on a book-hunt
Farmanullah and Faqir Mohammed are here at #LLF2016 from all the way from Gilgit! They're on a bookhunt for Albert Camus' The Outsider.
What books is everyone else on the hunt for? What did Mona Eltaway buy?
1.30pm: A standing ovation for photographer Reza Deghati
Deghati, the Iranian-French photojournalist who has published best-selling photo-books, has worked for The National Geographic for decades, and is known worldwide for his coverage of conflict zones and his humanitarian work, is a Joe-Stacco stature guest at this year's festival.
In the session 'The Power of Photography: The Human Imperative' with Tapu Javeri and Arif Mahmood, Reza grips the audience with his powerful, moving stories and photographs from his travels to ridiculous corners of the world.
For many, the session is proving to be the day's highlight.
Here's an example of a Reza photograph to give you an idea.
After the session, folks are still waiting for Reza to leave so they can talk to him or get a photograph.
1.00pm: How to take a break during LLF!
Option number one: challenge your friend to a quick game of Pictionary at the British Council's pop-up library.
Or, you could stop by the Liberty Books folks where authors will be signing books during different time-slots.
Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, will be signing copies of her book next, at 1.30pm.
Most excitingly, however, you can take a photo like this and indulge in some Facebook-ception.
We're not sure why this was put up, but people are loving it...
12:45pm: Everyone’s favourite, Mohsin Hamid, talks about the disillusion of the American dream and well, himself.
“I have lived in America less than in Lahore... Brown people [like me] didn't fit into American society and Pakistanis became suspects after 9/11. I gave The Reluctant Fundamentalist to my agent in 2001 and it was rejected. Some months later 9/11 happened, and the agent came back to me. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the quality version of my [own] story." —Mohsin Hamid
Hamid is certainly one of the more widely-read authors around, and he has particularly captivated the younger generation with his counter-narratives of growing up in Moth Smoke, and his tales of surviving opposite, different worlds in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
According to him, his latest book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising South Asia should be categorised as a self-help book, while The Fundamentalist as a fable.
In the same session, Tania James talks about her novel on elephants and Ned Beauman about his novel on Nazi Germany. But the discussion once again returns to Hamid, who now comments on the role of a novelist. A point of contention for many writers and readers, the argument commonly evokes the question of morality in literature. Hamid shirks this responsibility, "A novelist can show people what they can think, and what they want to think… not what they should think.”
12.30pm: What's cooking in this packed hall?
Chef and writer Madhur Jaffrey says she is a one-woman army. In ‘The woman who took curry global’ session, she says: “I have no one to cut cabbage for me, shop for me, do anything for me.”
Her cookbook of Indian recipes took five years, although she initially thought it would take her five months. It was finally published in 1982 and titled Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery. Although Jaffrey has written over a dozen other cookbooks, this one is perhaps the most known— its recipes are being used by third and fourth generations today.
Jaffrey tells the audience that every time she went to the US or the UK after learning from all over the world, she would try to bring her recipes as close as possible to the original. Of course, it was tricky, and she could not always match them to perfection. Technical issues matter; for example, vegetables turn out differently when cooked in different countries.
But she forces herself to improve in other ways: she sets tasks that are difficult to fulfill, searches new recipes constantly, and does not stop experimenting. If people do not give her recipes or refuse to teach her she says: "Okay, but don't let the recipe die!"
Her advice to aspiring cooks is this: you learn best by watching. “You might not know the exact names, but you will know exactly how it is cooked!”
Folks are tweeting about this session far more than they have been others. Everyone loves food yes, but they are especially loving Jaffery's intimate approach to it.
12.15pm: We catch up with Asma Jegangir, to get her thoughts on the change in venue...
"We pay a price for security, and have to understand that there are genuine security issues in the country. As long as the festival wasn't cancelled, it's OK." —Asma Jehangir
12.00pm: Compared to yesterday's crowd, the festival is emptier and quieter today. People have only started piling in, and even then, there is plenty of space to roam around in. When that's the case at a festival, something isn't being done right!
Or are the Lahoris just feeling lazy today...
11.45am: Women take the stage
“Writing about love and transgressive fiction is difficult,” Alexandra Pringle begins in the session 'The Passion for Love Literature', where they discuss their writing as and about women. Attendees are particularly happy to see an all-women panel.
Pringle, who is in Pakistan for the first time, says she is thrilled to be attended and will visit again. She is especially impressed by how the festival is being held despite all odds. On the panel with her are Ahdaf Soueif, Marion Molteno and Kamila Shamsie.
Shamsie shares her experience by saying more people have been outraged at her story of an upper-middle class woman running off with her cook than they have been by something she said about the 1971 war, or Zia, or anything else. Ahdaf remembers being attacked for writing about an extramarital affair.
The women discuss similar critiques and defend their writing about love and relationships. "Love is a human need, a pleasure; the kind of stuff made for fiction writing," says Marion Molteno. She says there should not be a perceived correlation between reading and writing. Her aunt, for example, read 10 Mills and Boons in a week and never married, but did not envy other married women.
"As novelists," Kamila agrees, "We have to believe various experiences in love happen." The conversation shifts to cross-cultural love, and experiencing a diverse range of love through reading. "If we have to read cross-cultural love, we don’t need to go to Mills and Boons or Fifty Shades," Kamila suggests. "We could go to Othello."
We agree with Kamila Shamsie. Anyone who dissuades us from reading Fifty Shades of Grey is allowed to give us recommendations.
11.30am: Remembering David Bowie
One might wonder what a panel on David Bowie is doing at a literature festival in Pakistan, but we are loving it. Considering that most other sessions are dry, this one is a welcome surprise, and Mona Eltahawy is once again on stage much to the delight of her groupies.
The first time she saw him she thought: he is beautiful. “For many of us David Bowie represents a sexual revolution,” Eltahawy says. “Bowie bent sexuality.”
Mona remembers the times of London: punk, Bowie, and the Sex Pistols… all of these challenged the status quo and the establishment. “David was the Brixton boy who was loved.”
“Bowie was political,” Fifi Haroon adds. “He once asked MTV when it started out: why aren’t you playing black artists?”
Kamiar Rokni talks about Bowie’s interest in the world of theatre. He drowned himself in gay subculture, and all of that influenced his performances, he says. The moderator adds that many artists are inspired by Bowie. One example is Madonna, who sang Rebel, Rebel, which ending up helping her own song Rebel.
Shahid Zahid saw him live in 1972 in Ziggy Starduat in London. He recalls Bowie having the persona of an “alien”, someone who broke out of the stereotypes that he was bound in. Zahid says he could express himself in ways humans were not allowed to express themselves. “He was an androgynous being, seemingly just stepped out of a spaceship!”
Leon Menezes recalls the 80s when people taped music from radios. Live bands were hired to play at dances and parties. Musicians didn’t wear make-up, he says, though they wore hats and played with accessories. Leon remembers feeling outlandish just wearing nailpolish—he was in a band called The In-Crowd at the time.
"In Pakistan, art was suppressed during those decades, but music made a comeback with mild pop," he continues.
But political impact on music happened much later, Fifi Haroon adds, and Menezes agrees. According to Fifi, times have changed and underground political activism in music is slowly picking up, but it doesn’t yet have the impact that Bowie did.
Everyone in the room (attendees included), it seems, worships Bowie. It is an incredible trip down memory lane for those of us who have witnessed Bowie's grip over his fans, and his larger than life persona. As clips of Bowie play in the background during this uplifting session, Kamiar Rokni pins it down perfectly: "He wasn’t just about a pop song; he was about giving a performance."
11.15am: Spotted: Zukiswa Wanner browsing through the bookstalls - wonder if she'll sign our books?
11.05am: Everyone wants a soundbyte from Asma Jehangir at LLF 2016
10.30am: Literature and the shackles of politics
Can you separate art and politics? How do art and humour subvert oppressive regimes? Mona Eltahawy, Mohsin Hamid, Sorayya Khan, Susan Abulhawa and Javed Majeed share their thoughts during a riveting session— we wish we could quote all, but we bring you the best.
On the question of ‘unpolitical writing’
“I struggle to see how you can separate politics from what human beings do. For me there is no unpolitical writing.” —Mohsin Hamid
On the power of literature to re-imagine futures
“We live in a state of collective depression in Pakistan. One of the things an artist can do is imagine alternative futures.” —Javed Majeed
“Places where human potential flourishes, is where art flourishes… art is a place that provokes thought and where people grow spiritually and psychologically, that is why fascist governments are so threatened by literature and art.” —Susan Abulhawa
On subversion through art and humour
“Literature is a vast, wonderful terrain where there are numerous possibilities from humour to sexuality… all have the power to subvert repression.” —Susan Abulhawa
"Authoritarians are scared of pleasure because pleasure does not regard authority. Humor worries [authoritarian] regimes.” —Javed Majeed
On justice through art
“Plato feels art does not clarify what justice actually is. It is not correct to say that art cannot give us justice. Writing and art creates empathy and justice without empathy is no justice at all.” —Javed Majeed
On feminism, gender and the control of women’s bodies
“The control of women’s bodies is very central to subversion because women’s bodies are central to every society, and sometimes women can be the greatest purveyors of patriarchy.” — Susan Abulhawa
“In Saudi Arabia, I discovered not just feminist journals, but also The Perfumed Garden, which is the Muslim kama surta. It was mindblowing. It was not considered haraam.” —Mona Eltahawy
"While I'd say Pakistan is problematic; having elected a woman prime minister and having beautiful sensual representation of women in literature… it has a kind of opening." —Mohsin Hamid
On the politics of language
“Choosing to write in a particular language is itself a political choice. You all write in English, so you’re transnational.” —Javed Majeed
“Can a writer be comfortable with the idea of a nation state? I don’t know. The narrative of a nation state is important, but it is also [important] what kind of a narrative it is.” —Sorayya Khan
10.15am: Discussing freedoms amidst restraints
"We are discussing freedoms at a time when we were not free to hold this festival at Al Hamra," I A Rehman remarks on point.
A G Noorani traces the subcontinent’s history, asserting that democracy was planted without respecting views. Rehman briefly touches upon Pakistan’s myth of dual sovereignty, and says, “Even now in Pakistan people don’t own the state.”
Rehman believes we should be taking into consideration individual, personal and collective freedoms. “Workers had more freedom to form unions in 1947 than they have now,” he continues. “And look at freedom of movement! Most of us aren’t allowed to go to certain areas. We don’t know what’s happening there.”
A welcome surprise to the otherwise slow morning, Asma Jehangir shows up to join the panel, and agrees with Noorani: “We have seen the deterioration of society in terms of freedom of expression,” she comments.
“Literature festivals are nice,” she points out. “But can this meeting of mind be taken to the level where India and Pakistan talk about the issues affecting their people?”
10.00am: Mismanaged affairs
There aren’t many attendees fumbling around this morning and the halls feel empty, but for those of us who are here, figuring out the schedules is a nightmare. LLF has switched halls and sessions without notifying people.