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March 2, 2019

Speakers laud repatriation of Indian pilot as 10th Karachi Literature Festival opens

Karachi

March 2, 2019

It was a glorious spring evening with the sky slightly overcast and a balmy ocean breeze gently blowing into the meticulously manicured lawns of the Beach Luxury Hotel on Friday.

People streamed in, the highly trendy, the not-so-trendy, from all strata of society. There was lots of diversity but what was common to all these otherwise diverse groups was their desire to benefit from the highly invigorating exercise that the KLF is. What marked the lot was the air of expectancy on their faces, expecting to gain so much intellectually from the festival.

At last, the proceedings got going, most astutely compered by the glamorous television personality, Sidra Iqbal, with her meticulous command over English.

The managing director of the Oxford University Press (Pakistan), Arshad Saeed Hussain, then welcomed all the diplomats to the rostrum. These diplomats were Mark Rakestraw, acting UK deputy-high commissioner; French Consul-General Didier Talpin; and Enrico Ricardi, consul-general of Italy.

Then it was the turn of the chief guest, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, to speak. “We have brought Karachi back to normalcy. We want peace, not POWs. As such, the captured Indian pilot, Abhinandan, is being repatriated to India. People now realise that war is no solution to problems.”

He talked of the PSL cricket tournament and the bike rally held recently as proof that normalcy was fast returning to Karachi. Talking of Pakistan’s demographic peculiarity with a majority of the population being under 25, he said, ”We have to do something for this generation so that they are proud of us.”

OUP Managing Director Arshad Saeed Hussain said they had thought of postponement of the event given the unusual situation prevailing along the country’s borders but said then they realised that it would be better to get on with it. “Pakistan stands for peace and this is the message the KLF wants to get across,” he said.

He traced the genesis of the Karachi Literature Festivals starting with the first one in March 2010.These festivals, he said, had been a source of intellectual harmony and “cross-pollination of ideas”. He said that while at the first festival in March 2010, there were 5,000 visitors, at the one in 2018, there were 200,000 visitors.

“The KLF which draws from the Oxford University’s vast resources of knowledge is not just an event. It is a social movement.” Mark Rakestraw, the acting UK deputy-high commissioner, said that it was always a pleasure to attend the KLF. “What I like most about the festival is the large gathering of literati from across the globe,” he said.

Didierr Talpin, the French consul-general in town, said, “How could we live without literature? Novelists, journalists, writers, we owe them so much.” He lauded the publishing houses in Pakistan, notably the Oxford University Press. The KLF, he said, was going to be a venue for education.

Rachel Good, the Group Communications director at the Oxford University Press head office in the UK, said that the enviable reputation of the KLF extended far beyond its borders. The two keynote speakers, Zehra Nigah and Muneeza Shamsie, spoke while the third, IA Rehman, could not make it from Lahore on account of the disrupted flight schedule owing to the security situation in the country.

In her highly chaste Urdu, Zehra Nigah spoke of the ups and downs seen by Pakistan, the dictatorships, fractured democracy. Then addressing Prime Minister Imran Khan and the gesture of releasing the downed Indian pilot, she said, “This really is the Tabdeeli you’d been talking about. This step will go down in history.”

Literature, she said, taught one the finer things of life. Literary critic Muneeza Shamsie said, “What we need is objective analysis.” Censorship, she said, was the greatest threat to the written and the spoken word. “We have to guard against disinformation in the name of information.” Intellectuals and artistes, she said, could be a beacon in that direction.

Citing the role of journalists in the colonial era, Shamsie quoted the oft-quoted speech of the Quaid-e-Azam on August 11, 1947, whereby he had spoken of unfettered religious freedom for all groups residing in the new state. She also cited the sneaky attempt by some elements to black the speech out and said that it was certain journalists who had resisted this move so that this part of his speech could appear in the press.

She cautioned against undue reliance on the modern innovations like the social media. The Infaq Foundation Prize for Urdu literature, worth Rs 200,000, was bagged by Sabir Zafar for his book, “Rooh-e-Qadeem ki Qasam”. The opening ceremony was rounded off with a ballet by Sheema Kermani and her pupils, based on the late Fehmida Riaz’s poem, “Ao Hum Watano Raqs Karein”.

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