The second day of the Karachi Literature Festival took place at Beach Luxury Hotel with a little rain, some cancellations and a fairly diverse range of sessions.
With several panellists unable to fly in, some sessions suffered reduced panels while others were saved by a strong Skype connection.
Check out our day 1 recap here.
Day 2 brought in more people than day 1, and featured several book launches, talks and puppet shows,
Read on for a recap of the day.
Thespianz Theatre presented Pakistan's travelogue in string puppets for show Safr-E-Pakistan.
Love War and the end of the Empire switched to today instead of Sunday
Deborah Baker was in conversation with Anita Weiss and they spoke about her two books, The Convert and The Last Englishmen.
The Last Englishmen is a story of Himalayan exploration and India’s experience of the Second World War. Baker explained that from the 30s till 1942 researching on India and Britain gave her an understanding of Calcutta’s experience of the war.
“I was working for South Asian audience and the western audience. The western world’s narrative of the WWII is of us being the heroes and we don’t often understand that the people who fought in the war were not fighting Hitler or other leaders with Hitler, they were trying to get away from the British empire. The war isn’t often represented from these other parts (of the Empire) like Calcutta or Africa. They were fighting because they needed the money to support their families back home. This research helped understand the impact the militarisation had on the subcontinent till Independence rolled around. I was trying to get India’s perspective and the Empire’s perspective.”
Speaking about her other novel, The Convert which is based on a woman named Maryam Jameela.
Going through some archives at the New York Public Library she came across letters of Maryam which immediately struck her fancy. “It was a Muslim name in a sea of Jewish names, and I wondered how did that name ended up in the NY public library.”
Upon reading more letters she found that “her parents were Zionist and she had converted to Islam and was writing about Islam in the western world. She felt out of place in New York and Maulana Maudid called her to Pakistan and she moved. She arrived in Lahore then went to Karachi and then back again to Lahore. There were twists and turns and then she’s writing a letter to her parents from a mental asylum.”
Reading about her story “awakened all these questions I had about Islam. I figured it all out through her writings. Reading her books Islam vs the West. She became my vehicle to explore all of this. I found her critique of the West deeply engaging. I don’t know what happened to her but I was deeply sympathetic to her spiritually journey.”
“It’s easier to write about people who are dead because you can own them you don’t have to worry about their feelings, etc. But when she responded to my letters I was like I will have to go to Lahore and speak with her,” added the author.
Complicated Images: The Arab Woman Of Today And Tomorrow
Feminist writer and activist Mona Eltahawy was Skyped in from Egypt where she talked about hijab, modesty, patriarchy and sexual assault.
She talked about the prevalence of modesty culture in the Muslim world where women are charged with the responsibility to keep themselves safe from sexual assault while men are not questioned about their behaviour:
She said that modesty culture is so deeply entrenched that it took her eight years to make the decision to stop taking hijab even though it was her own decision to take it.
She said women are expected to not criticise "our culture" because "it makes us look bad" and asked the question who is the "our" and "us"? It's men, she said.
About the reception of her work in the Arab world she said her books her banned in many Muslim countries. "My job as a feminist is not to write what people like, but to destroy the patriarchy... While some people may hate what I say, it doesn't really matter, " Mona said.
Urdu Theatre: Kal, Aaj Aur Kal
The panelists included Zain Ahmed, Sheema Kirmani and Kulsoom Aftab and Khaled Anum was the moderator. All of them agreed that we need to give more importance to creative thinkers and the arts.
“We need to make the creative arts a part of our education system; just like you study math, you should study performing art as part of your curriculum, not just as extra-curricular,” pointed out Kirmani.
When there was talk about whether there’s such a thing as ‘good’ theatre or ‘bad’ theatre, Zain relayed that we should encourage all theatre as its subjective, as long as it moves us or has some artistic merit.
Sheema disagreed slightly, giving an example of how when she was invited as a cheif guest to judge a production: “I was shocked that they were making fun of a dark-skinned person in the play and in my opinion, that is bad theatre.”
Khaled Anum suggested that since KLF runs for three days, each day should have one theatre performance. Also left those with a passion for theatre with this little piece of advice: “Paisa kamana hai toh TV se kama lo, theatre mein toh nahi hai aur agar shauq hai toh wapis woh theatre mein laga lo.”
Then again, Zain Ahmed had earlier said, “Anyone can submit a script to NAPA and if an original script is accepted, we pay them one lakh rupees.”
Ahmed also made this very valid point about how we’ve been way too focused on urban theatre: “We have taken our musical forms and forms of theatre from our colonisers. We need to discover what our own indigenous theatre is. We haven't even scratched the surface of rural theatre.”
From Italy To Pakistan: Geography Of The Soul
Writer Elena Nicolai talked about how her writings began when she came to Pakistan. Elena was employed first as a teacher for a charity school in Kaghan and then in the corporate sector in Islamabad. Her experiences in Pakistan moved her so deeply that she was compelled to write to make sense of them.
"My career as writer began in Pakistan. Both fiction books were conceived while living there. My first novel is set in Italy but I thinking of home while living in Pakistan. My thoughts about my country were filtered by emotions I felt in Pakistan. Other novel inspired by characters I came across in Pakistan. I owe Pakistan the fact that I stated writing, she said.
Book Launch: Points Of Entry - Encounters At The Origin-Sites Of Pakistan By Nadeem Farooq Paracha
Paracha sat with George Fulton to discuss his book, which he referred to as a "Celebration of Pakistan and its diversity."
"We are exposed to multiple identities from the beginning of our lives, however there is a Pakistaniat about all of us. "
He added, "Going by what has happened with India, I am happy to be a Pakistani and I think the creation of the Pakistani state is justified. The dangers of having a monolithic idea of nationalism are immense. We can see the damage that it is causing in India. For the first time I think India can learn from us."
The author also wondered, "How to do define the left now? I gave up trying to answer the questions after the Cold War. People who call themselves leftists now I find the are still stuck in archaic ideology. I don't even know what their points of reference are."
Book Launch: Rich People, Poor Country
Syed Shabbar Zaidi didn’t mince words when he spoke about his book Rich People, Poor Country, which speaks of the foreign exchange policies of Pakistan.
“I blame the professionals for a lot of the problems we’re facing in the country. There is no independent source on the economical problems of the country.”
“The common person of Pakistan is not aware of the technicalities or is economically minded or knows about the finance and foreign exchange laws and remains confused. Which is why he decided to make his. I’m easy to understand for the layman."
“This book contains the hard reality of Pakistan, our country is $75billion in debt.”
On foreign investments, Zaidi said, “Pakistanis buy $6 billion properties in Dubai every year.”
“Pakistanis in Pakistan, as per my estimate, own more than $120 billion assets outside of Pakistan.”
After which he questioned, “Why have these Pakistanis have kept their assets outside Pakistan?”
However, he added, “There is nothing wrong with a Pakistani having assets outside of Pakistan as long as they are paying their taxes, but it would be wrong if they’re not paying their due taxes in Pakistan.”
“The foreign exchange regulations which we introduced in ‘92 were made to deregulate the Pakistani economy. In India individuals are not allowed to maintain foreign investments, while companies are allowed and in Pakistan it is vice versa.”
Book Launch: The ARZU Anthology Second Edition
Muneeza Shamsie launched the anthology, saying, "What really struck me about the stories was the use of language. The poems are modern and contemporary and in the stories, the words are precise; I feel in our culture sometimes if someone edits one’s work, people take offense. A student must be accustomed to editing, you need professional input. To actually see your work in print when you’re young is amazing and the feedback and sometimes criticism you get is instrumental. It trains students at a very early age, congrats to Sabyn for doing this."
Judicial Activism Vs Judicial Restraint
Saqib Nisar was said to be appearing for this panel. However he did not arrive, much to the dismay of the attendees.
Nayee Nasal Ki Awaaz
Moderator Ghazal Ansari spoke about the youth of this generation during session ‘Nayee Nasal Ki Awaaz’ and she was full of praise and admiration for the young people in the panel.
“They talk about choosing the path the want to [and work towards it]. Our generation doesn’t have the access to knowledge that the younger generation does because of the Internet.”
One of the panelists Mahin Baloch, who herself is a student, started a school in her locality Lyari just when she was in 9th grade.
Speaking about linking adab and education she said, “I think if we don’t teach children literature in school there will be no educational progression.
“If today we don’t teach adab in our school then tomorrow our generation will not be able to progress. Then there will be no point of education; even a parrot can rote learn.”
Ghazal then added a thought provoking message.
“We say we don’t have the likes of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmad Faraz or Parveen Shakir anymore, but why are we comparing this generation to the ones of yesteryears? Why can’t we say we have a Mahin or a Neel Ahmed? We should talk about the now, the generations of our time and write our own history and talk about our people. Our people will talk from their experience according to their time.”
Journey Into Europe
Bina Shah sat in conversation with her father, friend of the Akbar S. Ahmed whose new book is being discussed.
Said Shafqat Shah, "People in Pakistan have not valued [Akbar S Ahmed] for his work. Around the world, he is valued as ambassador of interfaith harmony. In Pakistan we don't recognise the jewels among us."
Publishing 2020 And Beyond
"This means a lot of very good books are no longer available. The solution is having electronic versions. People can access them on a subscription model or on platforms like kindle amazon etc. Pakistani publishers have not capitalised on these platforms," said Arshad Hussain OUP MD.
He added, "Availability of these books online is good for the authors because they will get royalties and the publishers will get revenue, and the people looking for these books will find them more easily. If we don't do this we will simply encourage piracy."
Hoori noorani talked about the difficulty faced by publishers. Book sellers take an enormous cut of the price of the book, eating into publishers earnings. Is the solution direct-to-reader selling?
Cultural Activism To Counter Extremism In Sindh
After a minute of silence for Javed Bhutto, NoorulHuda Shah talked about tide of religious Extremism in Sindh. "Islam has been in Sindh since before Muhammad bin Qasim's arrival... Sindh is the land whose roots are entrenched into Shah Latif's poetry... By nature Sindhis are loving people. Nothing in our heritage gives root to extremism. If you ask anyone in Sindh to introduce themselves, they will introduce themselves as Sindhi first and Muslim, Hindu second."
Sindh Minister for Education and Culture Syed Sardar Ali Shah also said its history, folklore and cultural artefacts are contrary to the current strain of extremist thoughts.
When asked to comment on the gender-based violence as a form of extremism, Shah said that she believes practices like honour killing are better described as "samaaji pressure", not extremism.
Akbar Chaudhry, Syed Kumail, Zubair Tariq, Sannan Wastani, and Ali Gul Pir take the stage to provide the audience with a few laughs.
Documentary: These Silences Are All The Words
After the screening of City By The Sea, filmmaker Mahera Omer sat down with wildlife and conservation experts to talk about Karachi's dwindling wildlife and its consequences.
Ahmer Ali Rizvi, who has been a birdwatcher and wildlife enthusiast for years, said that we could find wildlife closer to Karachi 15 years ago. "There used to be 65 species of birds along Karachi's coast. Development has scared them away and only about 25 species remain." Talking about the consequences of the fast disappearing wildlife, Ahmer said, "Every animal has value in our ecosystem. Even a dangerous animal like a snake is needed because their existence are necessary for our food crops. Ultimately we will suffer from the dwindling wildlife around us."
Adding to this, Sindh Wildlife Conservator Javed Mahar said that animals take first damage from the harmful substances in our atmosphere. "Their disappearance tells us something is wrong. 300 species have disappeared from Karachi over the years," he said.