Is it not “callous” to organise a literature festival in a tumultuous city where barely a day passes by without drive-by killings and unpredictable outbreaks of violence have become its only predictable aspect? The answer – on the contrary: “that is exactly what Karachi needs”.
“It’s like a balm. A healing touch,” responded Ameena Saiyid, the managing director of Oxford University Press in Pakistan, when Asif Farrukhi, the moderator of the discussion titled “Organising Literature Festivals” asked her that very question.
She said the festival would not only project the city in a positive light but also provide the means for people to express themselves, a place where they can talk to each other.
“I think it [the event] will help improve the situation and make Karachi calmer.”
Adrienne Loftus Parkins and Jon Slack, the other speakers on the panel, concurred.
“Literature festivals are entertaining and fun. And it’s not just the literary topics that are discussed, but other issues as well,” said Parkins, who is vastly experienced in organising such events.
A literature curator, consultant and producer of live events from the UK, Parkins is the founder and director of the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature.
Parkins went on to give details about the thriving culture of such festivals in the UK, and how they help develop the society’s understanding of literary trends.
Jon Slack, the development manager for the Book Marketing Society, thinks it is all about meeting the writers in the flesh. “Readers develop an attachment with the books and wish to meet the writers,” said Slack, an Australian living in the UK who too is associated with the business of organising literature festivals.
The fascination of meeting your idols, Slack believes, is the factor that makes literary festivals special and successful.
Speaking on the events that led to the conception of the Karachi Literature Festival, Saiyid recalled how her visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, “the mother of literature festivals in South Asia” that she believes it is, inspired her to produce the same magic back home.
There, she witnessed the accolades being showered on Indian writers, the respect that was being bestowed on them, and the opportunity that their readers were availing to actually meet them.
“We wanted to give our writers a platform too. Give their readers a chance to interact with them. Forge a connection between the writers and their readers.”
Saiyid observed that television could not fill the gap that a literature festival did. Talk shows and writers’ interviews on television did not allow the intimacy to develop between a writer and reader that could become possible only through meeting in person, she added.
Besides, Saiyid further said, the festival would pave the way for Pakistani writers’ international recognition.
Parkins and Slack spoke about the South Asian influence on literature in the UK. However, they noted that the South Asian writers, whose works were showcased at festivals in the UK, were mostly that country’s residents. Introducing South Asian writers to the market there was a task they both wished to accomplish.
When asked about the difference between the literature festival in Karachi and those in the UK, Parkins laughed and replied that apart from a few thousand visitors and pounds in sponsorship, they were subtle. She noted that hundreds of literature festivals were organised in the UK every year.
On that note, Saiyid pointed out the challenges that the organisers of the Karachi Literature Festival had to face in staging the event, the biggest of them being visas for foreign participants. Then there are the writers’ busy schedules.
In comparison, these headaches are for the publishers to take care of in the UK, Parkins explained.
Asif Farrukhi later wrapped up the discussion with a few words of Ghalib about the pureness and sweetness of mangoes – an allusion towards the refreshing nature of the festival.