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February 2, 2019

First Adab Festival Pakistan off to a promising start


February 2, 2019

Within two weeks, the Sindh Governor’s House was once more humming with activity on Friday evening and the meticulously manicured lawns of the residency were host to citizens from all strata of society to participate in the first Adab Pakistan Festival.

Ameena Saiyid and Asif Aslam Farrukhi were there to receive the literature enthusiasts. The two of them have the distinction of having pioneered the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), which has certainly become the most important event in Karachi’s calendar of events.

With the same painstaking effort and managerial efficiency, they have instituted the Adab festival. These festivals have become trailblazers in intellectually stimulating literary activity. The Adab Pakistan Festival opened with speeches by luminaries in their respective fields.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail reminded the participants of the hub of cultural and literary activity Karachi once was and lamented that a dark era had descended on it around 1975. However, he was happy to say that since about the last decade things were coming back to what they were prior to 1975 and that literary and cultural activity was rapidly picking up again

He said that “a really dynamic Pakistan is emerging now” and referred to Imran Khan as the most capable head of state after Mr Jinnah. He went on to say that under Imran’s dynamic leadership, we had managed to avoid the forced conditionalities of the IMF and that terrorism had come to an end.

He stressed the importance of literature festivals, saying that Pakistan had a rich tradition of literature and that we must project it to the world. Ameena Saiyid, the co-founder of the festival, said, “We have to project our rich literary and cultural traditions. From the bards of Balochistan to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Gilgit-Baltistan, we have to build a silk route of literary and intellectual tradition.”

She said, “We would like to be inclusive and would like to see the festival spread.” She lauded Khalid Mahmood of Getz Pharma as the patron of art and literature and thanked him for sponsoring the festival. She also thanked the other sponsors of the event, as well as Governor Imran Ismail for having invited them to host the festival in this “historical mansion”.

Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi, the other co-founder of the festival, said that the programme was meant to be intellectually stimulating. He recounted how the literature festivals started off by them had spread to Lahore, Islamabad, Gwadar and Faisalabad. “We are proud of Pakistani literature,” he said. It was the spirit of books and authors that motivated the venture, he said.

Dr Ishrat Hussain, former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and former dean of the Institute of Business Administration, University of Karachi, while congratulating Saiyid and Dr Farrukhi, said that such events added to the vibrancy of the city.

In a tribute to the late poetess and intellectual, Fehmida Riaz, he said, “Let’s hope history will treat her in her real light and conserve her achievements for posterity.”

Speaking in the global perspective, Dr Hussain said, “Pakistan has been inward looking. We have not paid attention to the pushes and pulls affecting the globe.”

Among these, he said that the ideological left-right schism had disappeared, China had emerged as a totalitarian state with capitalism, and Brexit was another sharp division.

The new technological revolution will have to reorient the thinking of parents and they will have to tell their children to go in for the latest technology instead of the stereotyped career preference of medicine and engineering.

The greatest challenge, he said, was that of climate change and Pakistan was most vulnerable with the spectre of melting glaciers and the resultant floods and crop shortages. He said that instead of investing in financial projects, we should invest inhuman capital as there was no substitute for the human factor.

Arfa Syeda Zehra was as usual in her elements. Her witty and humorous, yet profound remarks sent the gathering into fits of laughter. Speaking in really chaste Urdu, she lamented that our education system did not accord the desired importance to literary and cultural activity, even though literature was an integral part of our culture and value pattern.

Referring to the talk with the IMF and the World Bank and other such mundane, stereotyped topics, she cynically remarked, “Can the IMF give us a loan of intellect?” Literature, she said, brought us all to the same pedestal, that it was an equalizer. “Civilisation is the magic of words and tolerance is the topmost teaching of civilisation.”

Stephan Winkler, director, Goethe Institut, Karachi, said, “It is our aim to bring together intellectuals from all over.” He spoke of the intellectual acumen of Allama Iqbal, who, he said, was greatly influenced by the philosophy of the German philosophers Goethe and Neitsche. He congratulated Ameena Saiyid on having so successfully organised the event which had very high intellectual value.

Khalid Mahmood of Getz Pharma, said that it was strange that very few corporate bodies had contributed to literary activity in the country. Literature, he said, was imperative to build a tolerant, vibrant, and intellectual Pakistan. “We believe in creative literature,” he said.

Vali Nasr from the Brookings Institution in Washington DC also spoke but his speech did not even remotely touch on literature. He just spoke about the US policy in the Middle East and the differences and similarities between the policies of President Obama and President Trump. The speeches were followed by the award of the Getz Pharma prize for fiction, written in English by a Pakistani author, one of the most coveted awards in the region. The prize went to London-based Kamila Shamsie. It was received on her behalf by her sister.

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