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February 11, 2017

‘KLF no longer an event but a movement now’


February 11, 2017

The 8th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), the highly-awaited event which is now the most important in Karachi’s cultural and social calendar, finally took off on Friday evening at the Beach Luxury Hotel.

Crowds of literature fans of all ages and from all segments of society, from the elite to the most simple and humble folk, turned out in numbers as the event has something – and lots of it – for all sections of the population. One could safely venture that such events are the key to intellectual refreshment of society.

The venue was ideal with the balmy Arabian Sea breeze enveloping the meticulously manicured, expansive lawns of the hotel. By one estimate from the organisers, there were well over 4,000 people.

The very first item on the opening day was a performance by musician, Asif Sinan.

Sinan, who specialises in bridging the East and the West through his musical innovations, first and foremost, presented the national anthem. It was a very unconventional presentation on the guitar. While the guitar strings were so different from the martial version that we all are accustomed to hearing, it was a nice and versatile rendition.

The next piece was an old Rafi-Lata duet, “Saavan Beeta Jai”, followed by other light Eastern and Western pieces.

This was followed by the speech of Mrs Ameena Saiyid, OBE, Managing Director, Oxford University Press (Pakistan).

Welcoming the guests, Saiyid said, “The KLF is held to celebrate the rich, ancient, and diverse cultures and literature of Pakistan so that they flourish and bloom and make an impact by becoming accessible to a wider public. We want to provide a platform and an opportunity for literary and cultural expression for the release of creative energies, while reaching out and providing a free and open access to hundreds of thousands of people.”

The KLF, she said, created spaces where cultural and intellectual energies gained release, with knowledge and understanding about today’s world, ourselves, our history, and civilisation not only being disseminated, but also debated.

In May, she said, the KLF would be taken to London and held at the Southbank Centre, a venue of cultural activity. “The KLF has become a movement,” said Saiyid.

She lauded the fact that there was sizeable Indian representation at this year’s event and hoped that this would result in creating an atmosphere of cordiality between the two countries.

Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi, the co-founder of the festival, said that kites had gone out of the sky with the ban on Basant celebrations. The spring, according to weather pundits, had been shortened. So now, he said, we’d have a “Basant of books”. 

The KLF, he said, had added another facet to city life. He referred to the KLF as “the mother of all literature festivals”.

Then came the turn of the diplomats from all the countries supporting the KLF. The first one to speak was the UK High Commissioner in Pakistan Thomas Drew. He spoke of the positive change in Pakistan’s literary landscape, comparing it to ten years ago when he was also posted in Pakistan. Drew said he was struck by the enthusiasm when he came over for the inauguration of the British Council Library in town last year.

Then came the Indian High Commissioner, Gautam Bambawale, who said that he was delighted to be there but into whose speech one could read political implications. He said India wanted to see a Pakistan which was stable and moderate; a Pakistan that was at peace with itself and the world. However, it must be made clear that the Indian diplomatic mission is in no way supporting the festival.

Then came the German Consul General in Karachi, Rainer Schmiedchen, who said that  the KLF was the most intellectual activity in Pakistan. He said that intellectuals had a bounden responsibility to be honest.

Grace Shelton, the US Consul General in town, heartily congratulated the KLF organising team. She termed the festival as Karachi’s renaissance. “The KLF will spur a meeting of minds,” she said.

The US, she said, was supporting the KLF most of all because it was aimed at spreading literacy among the less fortunate.

Gianluca Rubagotti, the Italian Consul General in Karachi, talked at length about the ‘Italy-Reads-Pakistan Award’. The cultural attaché at the French Embassy also spoke. Ali Rauf, of Pepsico (Pakistan), congratulated Saiyid for the successful holding of the festival. Ali Habib, manager, corporate affairs, United Bank Ltd, said that what struck him most was the meticulous manner in which the whole thing was organised.

Prizes were announced and Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, a former ambassador who was the jury member, announced the winner of the prize for the non-fiction book of the year. The prize went to Yasmeen Khan for her book, “The Raj At War”.

The Getz Pharma Prize for fiction went to Omar Shahid Hamid for his “The Spinner’s Tale”. The Infaq Urdu literature prize went to Nasir Abbas Nayyar and Admiral Baqir gave away the prize.

Then came the keynote address of Pakistan’s globally acclaimed academic and historian, Ayesha Jalal. In her address, she said that this year the people of Pakistan would be celebrating their 70th independence anniversary in the shadow of anxiety and uncertainty, which she put down to the way democracy had been dealt crippling blows in the country since its very existence.

She said that people in India and Pakistan, while celebrating the joy of independence, became “slaves” to extremism and bigotry. She said that there was urgent need for citizens to come together to get their rights, especially consumer rights.

Pakistan, she said, had not been able to shake off the stigma of terrorism.

Then came the other keynote speaker, noted travelogue journalist, Mustansar Hussain Tarar. He lamented that in Pakistan nobody knew anything about his own country and said that he was happy that the Oxford University Press had at least connected Karachi and Islamabad.

Finally, perhaps the best item of the evening was a captivating ‘Kathak’ performance by Shayma Saiyid. It was a treat to see her highly artistic and nimble-footed movements, coupled with a bewitching, captivating smile.  

There were a whole lot of celebrities at the opening, one of them being the heartthrob of Pakistan’s silver screen of yesteryear, Shabnam, now living in Bangladesh. She seems to have hardly been affected by the ravages of time and is as stunningly attractive as she was when she ruled over the hearts of Pakistani movie fans decades ago.

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