As it turns out, Karachi's Governor House is a pleasant venue for a literature festival, or at least one where the crowd is smaller than that of lit fests past.

On Friday evening the city's newest culture fest kicked off.

The Adab Festival is the brainchild of Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi, born after Saiyid departed from her longtime role as Managing Director of Oxford University Press Pakistan.

Perhaps predictably, as the duo are also responsible for founding the Karachi Literature Festival, the event more more than a passing resemblance to the scheduling and invitees of KLF.

Read on for a summary of the day.


Inaugural ceremony

The Adab Festival launched with speeches by the co-founders Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi.

Added Saiyid, "We are thankful to all of you, especially the international authors, for your presence and participation."

Asif Farrukhi followed Saiyid's speech, claiming Adab Fest to be "amazing, challenging and exciting."

"With this success story behind us, we have organised the Adab Festival this year to celebrate literature in other languages and recognise emerging voices as well. We tend to pass on nothing but cynicism to our younger generation... We have started from scratch with a small team, but are determined to make it successful because of our working relation with books, poets and writers."

Farrukhi also took out a moment to remember Fahmida Riaz, who passed away November 2018 saying, "She remained a guiding spirit for me."

Also giving speeches were Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Khalid Mahmood and Steven Winkler.

"It's great that we're focusing on art and culture," said the Sindh Governor. He added that "We have not had such events in the past decade or so but now that peace has returned to the city, Karachi's past glory is returning."

He added, "Imran Khan promised to open up public buildings for the public's use. So he is why we are here."

Academic Vali Nasr, writer Dr Arfa Sayeda Zehra and Ishrat Husain then delivered their keynote speeches.

"Adab taleem se zyada tehzeeb aur tabiyat ka hissa hai," said Arfa Sayeda Zehra, gaining nods in agreement from the audience in return.

Post speeches, Kamila Shamsie won the Adab Festival Getz Pharma prize for her novel Home Fire, which her sister accepted on her behalf.

The ceremony ended with a Sindhi folk dance on Abida Parveen's 'Mor tho Tile Rana' by Sumeira Ali's group. The dance was a celebration of the peacock's dance in the rain. The dance felt accurate for the festival, what with the peacock being the logo for Adab Fest.


Roaming around the festival

We aren't kidding about being distracted during the inaugural ceremony by all the delicious smells coming from the food vendors on our left. We took the time out to see the set up of the Adab Fest while grabbing a few bites to eat.

While the food court isn't the biggest such a festival has seen, it gave us just what we needed to keep going for the festival and the weather. Also, a lot of coffee.

Some of us may have started prioritising the wrong things at a literary festival though...

Leaving the food section and looking at the many stalls and the pavilions set up for the sessions, the resemblance to KLF was uncanny. With the only difference being the lack of indoor halls - which wasn't a problem at all due to the chilly weather - the set up, the sessions, the overall structure of the day both in terms of lay out and in arrangement was too similar to Ameena Saiyida and Asif Farrukhi's previous festival. While we understand that literature festivals over all have a certain template, we were hoping to see some for of twist.

The inaugural ceremony also took up much more time than anticipated and the sessions started much later than said to be according to the schedule.


Book launch of Nasim Zehra's From Kargil to the coup: Events that shook Pakistan

In the main pavilion a session celebrated Nasim Zehra's book From Kargil To The Coup. Moderator Mosharraf Zaidi pointed out that this was not the book's launch what with it having been released earlier, but the panel was more of a discussion on the book's impact on the state, on security, and on our understanding of the Kargil crisis.

Nasim Zehra was the only woman on the panel, and unfortunately she did not hold forth as much as one would have wished.

The panelists however were free with their praise for the book, with Hameed Haroon calling it a "radical" book at one point, and praising Nasim Zehra for her bravery in writing it.


'Contextualizing Feminism'

When we walked in, journalist Maheen Usmani was talking about how “aurat aurat ki dushman hai” while some of the other panelists were nodding their heads. We should’ve known then.

Read: I went to a women's leadership program in Pakistan and was 'trained' to internalise misogyny

If you read the blurb description of this session in Adab Fest’s programme, it’s a little all over the place, just like the actual discussion.

If you’re going to spend half a session on contextualizing feminism talking about how women are their own worst enemies at least address or dissect why that’s the case; there was no mention of internalised misogyny or how a patriarchal society functions and that’s just heartbreaking coming from a group of accomplished, intelligent women.

It was also really disappointing how some of these women spoke about the #MeToo movement, the tone was almost victim blamey.

Read more: How to respond when a sexual abuse survivor comes forward with their story

Women empowering one another and cultivating a culture of accountability was briefly mentioned while more time was spent discussing how we must not use the movement for “frivolous personal vendettas” and how a person sliding into your DMs is not exactly harassment.

Fawzia Khan, the moderator, spoke more than all the speakers combined and asked long-winded questions.

Maybe that’s why by the end of it, it just seemed like all the panelists talked at random about what’s on their mind with no real debate or conclusion.


Karachi: Encroachments and Demolitions

In 'Karachi: Encroachments and Demolitions', moderator Rumana Husain tried to make sense of the messy, mismanaged anti-encroachments drive in Karachi.

Lawyer Faisal Siddiqui shed light on the judicial machinery behind the drive, saying that the understanding of judges is limited to the law and larger issues need to be explained to them by the relevant experts. He called for the involvement of third parties - "citizens, affectees and experts" - to help remedy the situation and said that he firmly believed that the Supreme Court will rectify the issue to a great extent when properly guided. He was also unflinchingly critical of authorities like the Sindh Building Control Authority - which he said is trying to hide its decades of corruption by calling legal tenants encroachers.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani tried his best to defend the executive's role in executing the anti-encroachment drive, saying that it's "our duty and work to implement the Supreme Court order" and that they have not discriminated against the poor, pointing to the tearing down of marriage halls and the customs club as proof of their action against the rich. Urban planner/researcher M. Touheed pointed to the perfunctory compensation being offered to the affectees of the Empress Market demolitions, saying the plan is to give shops by balloting in areas like Soldier Bazar and Sultanabad where they may not be likely to run their business.

The discussion, though offering some clarity in how the anti-encroachment drive came to be, missed the insights of Marvi Mazhar (who had a prior commitment) and Arif Hasan (who was recovering from a surgery he had the day before.)


The Doors of Perception: Accessing the unseen in the Islamic Tradition

The session, moderated by Waleed Ziad, focused on the perception of the material world and the extra sensory perception.

The panelists pointed out they themselves had not had first hand experienced of the unseen or the other worldly. Francisco Jose Luis said, “As an academic my function is to look at what people have retorted about the subject.” And with that he added that “People are not philosophically trained and they think they’re special when they experience the unseen.” Secrecy is an important theme in these unseen perceptions, he concluded.

Waleed Ziad explained the “extrasensory perception from Islamic psychology,” saying that “we know the term the eye of the heart, opening up the eye of the heart. Traditionally, we exist at a broader cosmological map. The term "Ashraful Makhlookat is not understood correctly. What makes humans the finest of all beings is that we’re the bridge” between the seen and the unseen.

Unfortunately, he says that “our educational model is not based on human betterment or to become the slave of the divine or develop an intimacy with the divine.”

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