Karachi Literature Festival came to a successful close on Sunday night after appearances by Anwar Maqsood and Zia Mohyeddin resulted in a jam-packed venue on Day 3.
At the closing ceremony, keynote speeches were made by Dr. Ishrat Husain, Deborah Baker, and I.A. Rehman.
OUP MD Arshad Saeed Khan in his closing statement described KLF as a "New Generation Literature Festival": "The 10th KLF has explored developing trends and frontiers. It has helped us, and particularly the youth who are the future of Pakistan, to grasp the Concepts of Tomorrow."
Here are the highlights of Day 3 of KLF:
Is Today's Media Informing Society Or Dumbing It Down?
In this popular session, media personalities were engaged in a riveting discussion on the state of Pakistani media today. While Pakistan's responsible coverage of the LOC conflict was applauded, it was agreed that the media industry has many challenges to surmount to effectively and ethically fulfill its duties to the public.
Journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said, "Why are we comparing ourselves with Indian media? The fight of media is internal. India's media issues are to be debated by its own liberals. When we talk about the state of the media, we must look at the state of our society - what are the ruling ideas, education level of our consumers?"
Educationist and analyst Huma Baqai shared that producers seek to bring the level of discourse down to the perceived intellectual capacities of the audience: "When I go on TV, producers tell me "bohot parhi likhi baat nahi karega aur lambi baat nahi karega."
Wusutullah Khan talked about his own predicament as co-host of talk show Zara Hat Ke: "I spend half my day thinking about who to call as guests for our show. Half of our analyst's are retired generals and bureaucrats. Our teaching faculty can give 1.5 hr lectures but can't summarise Afg-Pak history in a capsule. We have to make do with the few people who can talk in a concise way."
He also talked about how the verve to produce investigative journalism has died:"if the temperature increases over 40 degrees, investigative journalism paseenay me bhe jati hai."
Ultimately it was acknowledged that the times and technologies of journalism are changing but that shouldn't result in the giving up of traditional ethics and policies.
Book Launch — Rethinking Pakistan: A 21st Century Perspective Edited By Bilal Zahoor And Raza Rumi
During the book launch of Rethinking Pakistan: A 21st Century Perspective, Bilal Zahoor said that the aim of the book is to present the problems and solutions Pakistan is facing.
“What these pro Pakistani progressives do is present a philanthropic view of the country, while these are phenomenal works in giving a counter terrorism state of Pakistan but it also gives a view that things could easily be resolved. What I wanted to do was give an account of problems faced by Pakistan from a progressive and critical point of view and give solutions.”
IA Rehman added, “When Pakistan came into being the founding fathers had two tasks: first, create a state — we did not create a state, we were happy with a colonial government; and second, change society to bring about social revolution so that all people of Pakistan, regardless of their belief, gender, socioeconomic status, could be full members of Pakistan. That did not happen, has not taken place and we’re still rooted in feudal traditions.”
Erum Sattar carried forward IA Rehman’s argument on land ownership and said, “We are a semi arid country, there’s a lot of land, but it’s only valuable if you have water to put on it and how you govern water in an arid place is critical. Studying water and controlling land go hand in hand because. We have colonial system, we’re still functioning under the Canal and Drainage Act from 1883, this was established by the British for their benefit, they were not trying to grow or develop people or become progressive. They were trying to pacify the local government and anyone who wants to try to build a 21st century system on it can’t do that. We need an institutional and legal change.”
“Pakistan is downstream, 55% of the watershed is outside of the country’s territorial control. If we don’t fix the water in this country there can be no progression. In this country we have to fix how we manage water. Controlling water in a transparent manner is imperative,” she said.
Sorrows of Balochistan
At the outset, moderator Huma Baqai said she wished to focus on solutions rather than the sorrows of Balochistan. To set the context, economist Kaiser Bengali said that institutional neglect has caused the sorrows of Balochistan, which takes up 44% of the country's land mass and supplies natural gas to the country but its people are deprived of the most basic of facilities. Interestingly, he pointed out that development in Pakistan has been focused on the Indus Valley region. "Anything outside that has been. It is a failure of Pakistani rulers. Look at Bannu, Fata, Balochistan, Thar."
He also shed light on why Balochistan is underrepresented in the National Assembly, saying that while the senate allows for equal representation between provinces, the National Assembly allocates seats by population. Balochistan is home to just 5 percent of the population and therefore gets 17 seats. It therefore can not have much sway in the National Assembly.
The session was strongly criticised for the lack of Baloch representation on the panel, which was a glaring editorial oversight. When an audience member pointed out that the pressing issue of missing persons wasn't even discussed, Baqai admitted that noone on the panel was equipped to answer that question.
Book Launch — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: The Psychodynamics Of His Rise And Fall By Shamim Ahmad
The book launch of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: The Psychodynamics of his Rise and Fall touched upon some details of the prime minister which many might not know. Author Shamim Ahmad gave us insight into what prompted him to write on the leader: “There have been many biographies on Bhutto but non of those analysed Bhutto in a psychological manner.”
“What amazes me about him was that he had great upbringing, education, and with all that achievement how could he fall to the abyss? It could only be answered through a psychoanalysis.”
The reason why he chose to write on Bhutto was that he admired Bhutto when he stood up against Ayub Khan. “For the first time in our history, a person emphasised the fact that the basic problem of our country was economic, hence the slogan roti, kapra, makan.”
“After studying him I realised that there were a lot of psychological problems he suffered from.”
“Besides Jinnah, the only other leader of the country who had charisma was Bhutto but he suffered from many problems, one being that he was the son of a dancer - and they never made him forget that.”
Book Launch: Hijabistan by Sabyn Javeri
In Hijabistan's book discussion, the author read from her book and spoke a little about how her writing changed when she moved back to Pakistan: “When you’re writing from far away, there's always this lens of the bigger narratives, the bigger picture. When you’re present in the country, your concerns are more everyday and as a writer, you want to write about what matters to you personally. That everyday battle of living in Karachi — you need to shower and there’s no pani, you've marinated the chicken and theres no gas — my stories have become more detail-oriented and more focused on the personal ever since I moved back to Pakistan [from England]; my stories have become smaller but much more important I feel.”
Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Local Actions, Local Voices
At a discussion about her soon-to-be published book about efforts by the civil society to address extremism, researcher/professor Anita M. Weiss said that the book seeks to capture the many ways locals are trying to remind people of Pakistan's original heritage and culture. In the book, she shared she looks at Pashto and Sindhi resistance poetry, Munawar Ali Syed's wallpainting initiative in Karachi, minority leaders' efforts, innovative educational initiatives and efforts to reclaim public spaces.
She shared that she's been coming to Pakistan for 40 years and considers it her "second country" and described how she threw a pillow at her friend's TV when she heard then PM Nawaz Sharif say 'afsos hua' when the 2014 APS massacre happened.
TV Drama: Rise and Fall
Session on TV Dramas: Rise and Fall was somewhat problematic as the moderator Khaled Anam couldn’t help but continuously manterrupt the women panelists.
Here are some memorable quotes:
“I don’t think there has been a fall. We keep comparing the new content to our old dramas,” says director/actor Saifee Hasan. The audience has become vast as opposed to earlier times. TV was only in some privileged households, now every house in even rural areas has a TV, he adds.
Actor Azra Mohyeddin, who replaced Marina Khan after she was unable to attend, said, “HUM TV has revived drama, before that we would only watch Indian dramas, Pakistani dramas had ended. There are no bad dramas, content wise they may be weak, but no dramas are bad.”
“Speaking on Pakistan’s golden era, nostalgia is pretty overrated. The drama industry has also developed overtime. Content wise we’re still grappling with the same issues like gender bias, the economical crisis but there are a lot of things content wise in which the director is not held accountable for but should be,” actor Kaif Ghaznavi argues.
When the moderator asked if the media can no longer take responsibility for its content due to the mass production taking place, Saifee said, “To produce the content needed now, at least 17 dramas per year, you cannot have educational, intellectual content... Channel owners should take responsibility for the content that their channel is pushing out, but most of these are business people who have no background in media.”
Azra disagrees, says that channel owners are not entirely responsible because they are not the ones producing content. She wasn’t able to complete most of her comments on the matter because she was continuously manterrupted by the moderator.
Pakistan's Mental Health Time Bomb: Can It Be Defused?
In this session on mental well-being, three experts spoke about coping mechanisms, lack of mental health professionals in the country and how Pakistan has one of the highest prevalence of mental health illness in developing countries.
Zarrar Khuhro moderated and asked what are some figures we should be concerned about.
Dr. Murad Moosa replied, “From the few studies we’ve done, around 30% of the adult population of Pakistan is affected. WHO estimates that it’s 10-15% for common mental disorders and then serious ones, 15-20%. Even that is a huge figure if you look at the size of the population of Pakistan.”
Zarrar then asked the audience to raise their hands if they think they’ve suffered from anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. Majority of the people raises their hands: “There you go, that’s more than 30% right here,” he said.
“We think mental illness and disorders are a lifelong problem but you know, these are manageable, there is an end point, some of these are even treatable. You won’t know unless you go to a professional,” stressed Dr Uzma Ambareen.
Moosa added, “65% of the population lives in rural areas and all 400 of our psychiatrists are in big cities. There are more mental health professionals in Canada, UK and US of Pakistani origin than in all of Pakistan. Students are not taught psychiatry properly or seriously, there’s no career structure. Then there’s the taboo attached to the field of psychology and the caricature reputation of psychiatry.”
“You have the informal sector of faith healers, you have the formal sector like general physicians who are not trained in this field and then you have the psychiatrist who’s not getting a good standard of education here. Plus, we have specialists like cardiologists, neurosurgeons etc who all think they can prescribe anti depressants and tranquillisers. Lexotinal, Xanax is popped here like channas.”
Dr Ayesha Mian highlighted this very good point about lack of checks and balances: “The problem in the field of mental health is one of boundaries, the psychological space between the person and psychologist. There should be some regulating body to make sure that the therapy is being administered ethically and professionally and ensuring that boundaries are not breached. When there's a power differential like this urban and rural divide, there’s room for abuse and these sessions go on behind closed doors; there must be accountability. Patients/clients don’t always know what to expect and what their rights are, that's my concern. People who are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, they must not be exploited.”
But there’s hope: “Prevention is possible to a large extent. We have to focus on it. We have to start talking about mental health, its not a dirty word. If we start talking about mental health early, we hopefully wont have to talk about mental illness later. Your childhood has a lot to do with your psychological development. The toughest job in the world is parenting; there’s no job interview, no qualification is required but somehow, you’re just supposed to know what to do. We need better coping skills.
Murad Moosa further talked about coping skills and said there are three key things one can do for stress management: one, maintain a good diet ("we’re a meat eating country, we must restrict sugar and carbs and eat pulses, fruits and vegetables"), exercise ("know your BMI, know whether you're underweight or overweight") and sleep ("it's the body’s natural way of restoring what has been drained, get your eight hours daily"). He also advised the audience to look up emotional literacy.
While the discussion was similar to what was discussed at Adab Fest (with Dr Uzma Ambareen being a new addition to the panel), we need to normalise topics like mental health and these things should be repeated.
Kuch Bhi: A Talk by Anwar Maqsood
Anwar Maqsood proved himself to be a crowd-puller once again as his solo session was attended by hundreds of people, causing Beach Luxury's main gardens to be swamped. He recited a letter from Iqbal (written by himself, of course) and satirised the youth's reading habits:
Can Literature Survive the #Hashtag?
Writer/editor Hamna Zubair said, “We have to understand that smart phone culture has made us into a population that prizes instant validification and gratification. We’ve become very outcome oriented rather than process oriented.”
She added that literature itself is at odds with this instant gratification as it requires one to be in their own space and pause and reflect.
“I don’t think long form is going anywhere but we need to respect it and make sure it doesn’t fade out. Digital platforms are allowing it to cross genres, like books being made to Netflix series.”
However, journalist/author Sanam Maher disagreed with some of Hamna’s argument, “I think we’ve benefitted from the digital tools. When you pair them (literature and digital media) the outcome can be fantastic. We’ve had to become smarter and use these tools smartly.”
She adds, “The way we consume long form has changed. I don’t think books can be killed so easily by a new way of consuming information. My book showed me to pause and give myself the space that I needed to put everything together.”
“I don’t think it’s the attention span that is the issue, it’s the return on investment,” added Jahanzaib Haque. “There is anxiety or fomo which is connected to being online. The attention is there... The challenge is to retain the reader and to grab their attention. It’s harder with younger people.”
Then he asked, “Why read something written by a stranger when you can read your friends’ Facebook statuses?”
Sajeer Shaikh, the youngest of the lot says, “Why does short form have to have any less value than long form? It’s about how you present long form to engage audiences.”
Noorul Huda Shah And Amar Jaleel In Conversation
Writer Amar Jaleel spoke extensively about the history of Karachi and the reasons for its decline in his session. He urged its young citizens to be tolerant and accept each other's unique customs and beliefs:
The highly awaited short film Rani, directed by Hammad Rizvi and starring Kami Sid as a transgender toyseller who adopts a child, finally premiered to a packed audience: