Days before the inauguration ceremony of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), the Pakistani people were gripped in the fear of uncertainty. The rising tensions between Pakistan and India led to the closure of the country’s airspace, leaving many people stuck in different parts of the country. Literally a few hours before the KLF officially started, the announcement regarding the opening of Karachi’s airspace provided some relief. And this started the 10th installment of the much-awaited festival.
However, this time, the festival was bereft of its founder, Ameena Saiyid, and for people who are among ‘the regulars’, the absence was felt. But for many, the festival still remained a tremendous event which brought sane, intellectual voices to one place, giving opportunity to the attendees to take part in meaningful discussions.
Perched along the shore of the Arabian Sea, the Beach Luxury Hotel is the ideal location to host an event as grand as the literature festival. Like waves which even though being part of one big ocean follow their own unique pattern dancing and smashing on the shore, the festival’s diverse sessions had a unique feature to them.
Sitting on the trimmed grass bed in the Main Garden to barely finding a spot in the packed hotel rooms, hundreds of thousands of attendees managed to make the most of the event. Amid discussions and long talks, the stalls of freshly baked appetizers gave the chance to food lovers to have a quiet time in a culturally rich environment.
Sessions like ‘Writing Fiction for the Millennial Market’ and ‘Can Literature Survive the #Hashtag’ were a good way to engage the youth who often struggle to find their place at such events. Exclusive readings conducted by writers were a good chance for readers to have their own meet and greet sessions with the authors.
In a city like Karachi where there are not many avenues that can provide a refreshing break to Karachiites, the KLF didn’t only bring book lovers to one place, but also a vast number of people with varied interests.
On the surface of it, the KLF, like its previous sessions and like other literature festivals that were held in the current year (including Ameena Saiyid’s Adab Festival), was a hit. But if we look a little deeper, the flaws that have seeped into the festival’s fabric gain visibility. The beginning of the year 2019 has marked the inauguration of more than one literature festivals and there is quite a possibility that the overflow of festivals may hurt the exchange of knowledge and intellectual conversations that are the hallmark of such events.
For most part, it seems that such festivals are being run by the same people for the same people. The panelists and topics of discussion are almost identical, so the festivals, particularly the KLF which is on the verge of losing its exclusivity, are not adding anything new to the general discourse.
With more focus on English sessions, the KLF has also inadvertently made the festival for a certain class. The question whether such events are for English-speaking section of society is swept under the carpet as soon as it is mentioned. But almost anyone can see that the language divide, within the sessions, has also made it difficult for the majority to find their place in the festival.
The carefully-thought-out sessions do not provide any chance to both panelists and people to explore different issues that don’t make to the mainstream discussion. This doesn’t mean that the festival becomes a platform on the foundation of which dissenting voices gain momentum (which, in all honesty, is not entirely wrong), but the festival can at least provide people a chance to listen to the voices that normally remained unheard.
In the recently concluded festival, a session on Balochistan was met with a justified criticism: people from Balochistan weren’t part of the panel. Talking about a region without listening to the voices of the people residing there, or who are part of the region’s domestic politics, poses a risk of presenting a manufactured narrative, which, even though is politically correct, is bereft of the right arguments.
What was even more saddening was the absolute silence over the death of a renowned scholar, Javed Bhutto, who was shot dead in Washington. The fact that we, from organisers to those in attendance, have no knowledge of our bright minds shows that such events do not play a bigger role in recognizing the country’s talent or bringing the unknown to the limelight.
With all its flaws, it was heartening that a literature festival was held in perhaps the toughest times in Pakistan’s political history. However, for keeping the festival’s essence and sanctity intact, organizers must focus on the areas that need major improvements.
People are more aware now; they know what literature festival is. While there were some who attended it for sake of selfies and hanging out with friends, I saw a lot of older people who were genuinely interested in the talks and recitations. Kuch Bhi - a talk by Anwar Maqsood - and The Master Performer Reads The Master Humorist Readings From The Work Of Mushtaq Ahmad Yusfi - a session by Zia Mohyeddin were houseful; there were people sitting and standing whereever they could find a spot. I roamed around and each session whether it was in the Main Garden or halls was all packed.
Over the years, each genre - cinema, theatre, TV, comedy - has been represented at KLF. I was surprised to note that KLF 2019 didn’t include pop culture. There were no panel discussion on, for instance, #Metoo. The organisers played it safely.
There was nothing unique and no drastic changes were made to indicate that it was the “event of the decade”. However, given current tensions at the Pak-India border, it was heartening to see that Oxford University Press pulled it off successfully. The event was well-organized and lot of visitors loved the programme.
- Buraq Shabbir
Defiance Of The Rose Selected Poems by Perveen Shakir
Translated by Naima Rashid
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