Despite challenges, the Karachi Literature Festival celebrates its 10th year

Updated 02 Mar, 2019 07:12pm

Images Staff

After the opening ceremony, attendees enjoyed sessions on Pakistani films, poetry and history

The 10th edition of the Karachi Literature kicked off Friday evening.

With recent tensions in the country, the event was expected to be called off or postponed. However, the team behind KLF did not back down. As Ahmed Shah mentioned in a session, they "debated whether we should cancel the festival but the turnout proves they made the right decision, business goes on as usual and people are in good spirits, shows that we won’t let fear dominate our lives."

That is not to say that everything went smoothly for Day 1 of KLF. Keynote speakers Deborah Baker and I.A. Rehman were not able to attend due to the cancellations of flights while the session on Ahmed Faraz has been postponed to Sunday.

Check out the full schedule here.

Nevertheless, KLF proceeded, making sure the hiccups caused by the current circumstances would not cause any problems overall to the event or the attendees.

Opening ceremony

It was difficult not to address the current circumstances of the country at KLF, especially since most expected it to be cancelled due to it. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail was the chief guest of the event and spoke about the peace that Pakistan has achieved and will continue to do so in the future.

"We have brought Karachi back to normalcy... People now realise that war is no solution to problems."

OUP Managing Director Arshad Saeed Hussain also addressed the situation, speaking about how the board pondered over postponing the event but decided it was better to go through with it. "Pakistan stands for peace and this is the message the KLF wants to get across."

He added, "The KLF which draws from the Oxford University’s vast resources of knowledge is not just an event. It is a social movement."

In place of the two keynote speakers who could not attend, Zehra Nigah and Muneeza Shamsie made the keynote speeches.

Nigah's speech was also connected to the recent events. She commented, "Pakistan has seen good and bad days. We've seen bad governments we've seen dictators and we've seen fragmented democracy. But what happened recently - what our PM did, how he advocated for peace - is something so memorable. We're hearing our general say 'No one wins in war, only humanity loses,' and this really is the Tabdeeli you’d been talking about. This step will go down in history."

Muneeza Shamsie spoke about the importance of freedom of speech and journalism without censorship.

"Freedom of creative expression is not something people stand up for... Now we can't tell the difference from free speech and free propaganda."

She added, "We have to guard against disinformation in the name of information."

Post speeches the Infaq Foundation Prize for Urdu literature was awarded to Sabir Zafar for his book, Rooh-e-Qadeem ki Qasam. Sheema Kermani and her team performed Aao Humwatno Raqs Karo as a closing to the ceremony and before the sessions kicked off.

Session on Pakistani cinema

In the main garden, a session on Pakistani cinema took place with Fahad Mustafa, Yasir Hussain, Munawar Saeed and Asif Raza Mir. Mehwish Hayat was supposed to be one of the speakers but didn’t show up so there was a lack of female representation on the panel. Fizza Ali stepped in for Nabeel Qureshi in the panel, being the only female present. She was also introduced as "yeh hamari bachi ha" by Munawar Saeed while others were introduced by their names.

The session was all over the place unfortunately. There was lots of talk about the golden era of cinema before Zia gutted the thriving film industry. They were missing young voices in the discourse; Yasir Hussain and Nabeel didn’t really say much. Fizza said that bringing female protagonists to the forefront is her duty as a woman who’s a producer which she hasn’t fulfilled yet but added that Load Wedding was a step in the right direction, which was a story women could relate to.

Asif Raza Mir said that celebrity doesn’t mean the same thing as it did back in the day: “In those times, film actors weren’t so visible, they were mysteries and stars in the true sense. Now, television has its own exposure and then of course there’s social media.

Book discussion on The Begum: A Portrait of Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan

At the discussion about this new biography of Begum Ra'ana, moderator Muneeza Shamsie was in conversation with her son Akbar and nephew Jawed Aly Khan. Airport closures resulted in the book's coauthor Tahmina Aziz and Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan Jr's absence.

Jawed Aly Khan described the book as a singular addition to the literature on Begum Ra'ana, saying that it comprises research carried out on both sides of the border. About the two authors, he said, "Both ladies did deep research on her and as they researched, they fell in love with the subject. And that love comes out in the book."

At the session, Begum Ra'ana's devotion to education and social welfare was traced back to her careful upbringing in India. Her son Akbar shared that he feels it is only due to her endeavours that Pakistani women enjoy positions at companies, the foreign office and government today. Jawed said that being the wife of Pakistan's first PM, she could have just behaved like a First Lady. But in the first three months of Pakistan's existence, she worked tirelessly for the rehabilitation of vulnerable women in the newly formed Pakistan and repatriation of abducted women to India.

It was said that she shied away from laurels and publicity, which is why her brainchild APWA enjoys little fanfare for its contributions to this day.

Akbar also described his recollection of his father's assassination: Believe it or not, every year when 16 October comes around, I feel very odd. I don't like going to the grave but I force myself. Because I remember being around 10 years old and 1000s of people pushing and shoving and that smell of death - actually it was sweat - it was a hot day and the feeling I still have in my mouth. After nearly 70 years, I still have that feeling."

Voices from Far and Near: Poetry in English

Poetry lovers enjoyed hearing different poets on the panel performing readings. The panel consisted of Adrian Husain, Arfa Ezazi, Athar Tahir, Farida Faizullah, Harris Khalique, Ilona Yusuf, Jaffar Khan, Mehvash Amin, Moeen Faruqi and Shireen Haroun. Salman Tarek Kureshi sat as moderator and called out each person turn by turn to share their work.

Ending day 1

Post the sessions, KLF ended their first day with a puppet show by Thespianz.