“Providing you a glimpse of our rich culture and heritage, the Lyari Literature Festival will open a new chapter for Lyari and its people,” said Prof Dr Akhtar Baloch, Vice Chancellor of the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University, Lyari, during the inaugural session of the first two-day Lyari Literature Festival here on Saturday.

“Over the years, Lyari has been known for all the wrong reasons such as drugs and gang war, but there is so much more to the people of Lyari who come from diverse backgrounds and have a civilised heritage. We speak different languages. We enjoy literature, poetry, art, music and theatre, and we love to read,” he said.

“This literature festival gives us a chance to introduce you to all our cultures, too. You will find components of Balochi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marwari all connecting here,” he added.

The festival kicked off with short film screenings of Gwadar — The Thirst is On, which is of one-minute duration only, and Iqbal, which is of five-minute duration.

‘You will find components of Balochi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marwari all connecting here’

Gwadar has a father proudly telling his young son at the beach how the city will be changing soon. “You will see ships docking at the free port and aeroplanes taking off and landing at the new airport. There will be so many new buildings coming up too,” he tells the boy, who just blinks innocently before asking what good are all the things that he mentions when there will still not be any water in Gwadar.

Iqbal is about an old rickshaw driver in Lyari, who supplements his meagre income preparing and selling herbal medicine. But aside from the work, he is a proud and decorated former international footballer who has represented his country in Thailand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. He still coaches Lyari kids in football.

Panel discussions

A panel discussion following the screenings had drama writer and lyricist Zafar Mairaj and film director Abdullah discuss local films.

“Films are not just about entertainment now, they are also used as a medium for spreading a message and enlightening viewers,” said Mairaj.

“Real film-makers don’t make movies to make money. They use the medium of art to give a message,” said Abdullah.

There was also the launch of Tarikh-i-Balochistan, a book by Rai Bahadur Hittu Ram, first published in 1907. Dr Ramzan Bamari, assistant professor at the University of Karachi, said the book is a memoir of its writer’s travels in Balochistan. “It was initially a 230-page treatise in the Persian language which talks about all the tribes of the area and also about the people such as the Pakhtuns who came to settle there,” he said, adding that it took some six years for them to bring out its new edition.

Sharing further insight about the book, researcher Shabbir Hussain said that Hittu Ram in the book has laid bare the vested interests of the British and how they captured territory through force. “It also tells you about their policy of divide and rule and how they created divisions among tribes, something Balochistan still suffers from,” he said.

Another panel looked at the role of universities in shaping minds, and yet another looked at the participation of women in art, literature and culture. Meanwhile, there were storytelling sessions in Dastangoi, poetry readings with theatre performances and qawwali.

Outside on the university campus, one had the opportunity to visit the various stalls selling books set up by various publishers and bookshops. The stall set up by NOWPDP, an NGO, was selling pretty hand-made cloth bags. Khalid Sherwani at the stall smilingly said that people buying books were then coming to him to buy the bags.

There were also stalls set up by the Directorate of Small Industries, Government of Balochistan, that sold beautiful Baloch handicrafts in the shape of jewellery, jewellery boxes, office table sets, belts, keychains, traditional embroidered ladies suits, etc, and at very reasonable prices. Not to be left behind, there was a stall selling beautiful, colourful, Sindhi handicrafts too.

At Art Culture Society’s Artistic Works Stall there were a number of glass encased models by the President’s Pride of Performance-winning kinetic artist and sculpture Abdul Karim Solangi. “My models run on electricity. They move and sing too,” he said as visitors crowded around his pieces to admire his work. But when asked about the price of his models, Mr Solangi quickly shook his head. “No they are not for sale,” he said.

The festival concludes on Sunday.

Originally published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019