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February 21, 2015

Literary festival attracts huge crowd in Lahore


February 21, 2015

LAHORE: Overpowering the smell of gunpowder and fear almost still fresh in the senses of the Lahorites after the Police Lines bombing, the Lahore Literature Festival (LLF) perfumed the city atmosphere with colours of creativity, intellect and avid festivity on the first of the three-day programme.
The LLF has become of the most anticipated events of the year among the creators of literature and its readership alike. It is the third consecutive year this event is being held and has drawn larger audience with every passing year.
The Alhamra Arts Council premises was booming with colours, smiles and chatters, as if spring had come early this year, as the people as the crowd started gathering at the event.
Introductory Speech:
Despite the heavy downpour on Friday morning, the largest hall at the site (Hall No 1) was packed to capacity to listen to the keynote introductory speech of the acclaimed Indian Historian Romila Thapar. Famous writer Ayesha Jalal introduced Romila, who is widely considered as an authority on the history of ancient India, to a standing ovation.
“History is a dialogue between the present and the assumed past,” said Romila, opening her speech - ‘The Past, As Present’.
She discussed how the Partition sharpened religious identities and framed history in different perspectives. “If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented,” said Romila.
“The subcontinent knew of no concept of religious minorities or majorities until the British did a census,” she said. She went on to say that “the nationalist ideologies articulate the aspirations of particular groups in society. They then don’t hesitate to use history. This is evident from the way the anti-colonial movement internalised history in the Indian subcontinent, and the way in which religious nationalisms also sprouted.”
Talking about identities, Romila pointed out that “our concerns should be reviewing the colonial stereotypes which we still

hold on to.”The speech ended amidst deafening applause as the audience rose once again in her respect.
Session One:
The first session kicked off after the Friday prayers with the session ‘Politics, Pluralism and Khushwant Singh’s Punjab’. The session was moderated by Fakir Syed Aijazuddin while Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, Khushwant Singh’s son Rahul Singh, eminent Indian columnist Shobha De and son of
Khushwant Singh’s friend Basharat Qadir were the speakers.
The speakers shared their memories of Khushwant - a legendary Indian novelist, lawyer, politician and journalist. Aitzaz Ahsan recalled the time when Khushwant proposed his name to be invited to the Punjab Ratan Awards in his own unique way.
He talked about how he was criticised in India for being pro-Pakistan, when he was, in fact more anti-Indian government rather than pro-anyone. Aitzaz read out excerpts from the translation of Iqbal’s Shikwa by Khushwant.
Rahul said how his father always had an impetus to come back to his place of birth, Punjab, and how strongly he believed in his identity as a Punjabi. “He wasn’t anti nationalism or anything, but he would openly say that he was a Punjabi, before any other identity tag,” said Rahul.
His love for Punjab and his true roots also reflected strongly in his death wish, in accordance of which his ashes were brought to his native land and mixed with mortar to be plastered at the school he studied, he added.
Basharat said how the imprints of the inconvenient memories of the violent event of Partition never faded in his memory.Shobha De said although Khushwant was a very lively person and had self-defined love for liquor and women, yet the grim memories of the past never left him. They reflected in his work as well, although they did not totally define it, she said.
Khushwant’s son also said his father was of the view that “mother tongue should not be the language spoken by one’s mother but the language one is most comfortable with and that is why he said that his mother tongue was English.”
Session two:
The session ‘The Eccentric World of PG Wodehouse’ was originally planned with Naveed Shehzad and Richard Heller - author, journalist and editor - with Peter Oborne as the session moderator. However, Naveed could not make it and Heller was the sole speaker and what a speaker he turned out to be!
Talking about the work of Wodehouse, he started out engaging the audience with an impression from the classic comedy series ‘Faulty Towers’ and later delivered a clear and colourful speech that was no less than a saga.
He explained how Wodehouse escaped the typical English realism and took to a fantasy world of his own creation for his humorous settings. He complimented the great discipline in his writings and in managing his characters to the plot if his fantastic approach.
Sharing excerpts from his novel ‘Psmith, Journalist,’ he explained how Wodehouse would create an almost parallel world with situational humour with a class of the highest order. He used his series ‘Blandings Castle’ and ‘The Drones Club’ to highlight the expertise and rather effortless brilliance of Wodehouse in creating a masterpiece that would have his readership hook and wanting for more. Heller pointed out how many have tried copying the style of PG Wodehouse but not been able to maintain anything close to his work.

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