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February 10, 2018

‘KLF affords us a chance to speak against inequities of society’


February 10, 2018

Once again, it was time for the city’s most auspicious event, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), to get going and it sure got going with a bang.

Although it was supposed to begin at 5:30 pm, cars had started streaming into the venue an hour earlier and there were those who crowded in through other modes of conveyance, testifying to the expectancy and longing for the event that could, by far, be termed the most awaited on Karachi’s calendar of social and cultural events.

Literature buffs and intellectuals started moving into the main garden of the Beach Luxury Hotel with its meticulously manicured lawns, with a balmy Arabian Sea breeze wafting through the venue. The highly egalitarian nature of the event could be gauged from the fact that there were people from all segments of society.

They all mingled as one and there were no unpleasant instances that normally occur when such a mass of people from different backgrounds comes together. Everything was perfect. Finally, the proceedings got off to a start with the managing director of the Oxford University Press, Pakistan, Ameena Saiyid, welcoming the guests and delivering the maiden speech of the festival.

She termed the KLF the mother of all festivals as it had been instrumental in the birth of similar events in Hyderabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Islamabad and Gwadar. “The KLF is not just a festival. It is a movement. It is a mini-university as it affords Pakistanis an opportunity to broaden their horizons, to gather courage to speak out against the inequities of society and cultivates in them the courage to speak up,” said Saiyid.

She continued, “It touches every part of Pakistan. It started off as a reaction to violence. It features debates, book launches, music, and dance.” As a tribute to the success of the endeavour, she cited comparative figures, saying that while at the first festival in 2010, there had been 5,000 visitors with 25 speakers, there had been 200,000 visitors with 250 speakers in 2017.

She cited London Mayor Sadiq Khan when he said, “London is by far the greatest city in the world, most receptive to business and culture.” Saiyid said, “I would modify that statement by saying that Karachi is the greatest city in the world, with its cultural activities and a people who have a zest for intellectual nourishment.”

Co-founder of the festival, Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi, said, “Nine years of trials and upheavals have not been a hindrance to our endeavours to see the fruition of our efforts. Ameena and I have watched it grow.”

He said that we, as a society, had been nurturing terrorism and added that it was the society at large that had to be brought to book. Keynote speaker Francis Robinson, professor of South Asian history at the Royal Holloway University, London, delivered an insightful lecture outlining the history of the subcontinent and the way it impinged on the literature of the area.

“Literature mirrors the society,” he said and, in this context, lauded the convening of the literature festival. He quoted the memoirs of Mughal emperor Babar about Hindustan and his not-too-flattering views about the land or its people, the reigns of Jahangir and then Aurangzeb, and said that the driving force of latter’s tenure was the drive to hold power.

Professor Robinson’s talk was reflective of a deep insight into and study of the subcontinent. Then he quoted the British era and the by-product that emerged from it, the effect on the poetry which pivoted around the fact that a foreign power was dominant in all spheres of activity.

He discussed the formation and the role of the middle and upper-middle classes and narrated how authoritarian regimes generated satire. Novelist and playwright Noorul Huda Shah, the other keynote speaker, said that at the time of the first KLF, the city was facing suppression and as a result of the subsequent festivals people began to pick courage.

“They regained the capacity to hear and speak,” she said. The KLF, she continued, gave impetus to the languages of this soil and brought to the fore the civil society. Shah said the people who needed to be cared for most in society were people who lived in mud houses, toiled on the farms, and were just not bothered as to who was a believer and who was an infidel.

Adrian Mellor, managing director of the Oxford University Press, UK, said the OUP was one of the ways Oxford reached out to the world. “The readers of today are the writers of tomorrow,” he said.

Literature festivals, said Mellor, had a crucial role in spurring dialogue among diverse groups and foster harmony. He informed the gathering that today the United States was not the largest publisher and that China had produced over a million titles.

There were speeches by diplomats based in Karachi, namely Elin Burns, the incoming British Deputy High Commissioner in town; Rainer Schmiedchen, the Consul General of Germany; Grace Shelton, the US Consul General; Francois D’Allorso, the French Consul General; Ajay Bisaria, the Indian High Commissioner; and Anna Ruffino, the Italian Consul General.

Ruffino said the best way to know a country was by its people and in this context displayed the Italian language version of Omar Shahid Hamid’s book, ‘The Party Worker’, referring to the ‘Italy Reads Pakistan’ programme.

All the diplomats lauded the convening of the festival and said that it would go a long way to project Pakistan’s image as one of tolerance and intellect.

Among the co-sponsors who addressed the gathering was Wamiq Bukhari, managing director of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL). He hailed the festival as “a great way of bringing Karachi to the world and showing a positive face of the country”. Another representative of co-sponsors was Ali Habib, head of corporate affairs/marketing, United Bank Limited, who hailed the KLF as a passion to turn an idea into a reality.

Former ambassador Zafar Hilaly announced the first prize for Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais for his book, ‘Imagining Pakistan’. The KLF-Pepsi Non-Fiction Prize went to Omar Shahid Hamid for his book, ‘The Party Worker’. The prize was announced by Salman Tariq Kureshi. Similarly, the KLF-Getz Pharma Prize for Fiction (Urdu) went to Altaf Fatima.

The opening session was rounded off with a masterly Kathak performance by Shayma Saiyid. She synchronised her exquisite dance movements with the music of Atul Desai. Shayma has a whole lot of antecedents in the field of dance and has performed in the US, UK and Canada. Her performance was really appreciated by the audiences.

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