Discussions at the Peshawar Literary Festival changed the sombre mood that had settled over the city
few months ago, a group of 22 recent university graduates planned an initiative to celebrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of the city. The plan came to fruition in the form of a two-day Peshawar Literary Festival.
The event included many sessions that covered literature, storytelling for children, environment, education, women, youth and minorities’ rights. Live theatre was the segment that arguably stole the limelight and drew in a sizeable audience.
Abdur Rahman Afridi, the chief organizer, and his colleagues were shocked when Peshawar was hit by a terrorist strike at the Police Lines mosque, leaving more than 100 dead and about 221 seriously injured.
The attack took place only five days before the planned date for the PLF. As the city mourned, the organisers met again to confer over whether they should go ahead with the event.
They decided not to forgo their plans. Delegates from Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including merged tribal districts, showed immense resilience and decided that the city needed a cultural event to bring back smiles to the faces of Peshawarites.
Dream comes true
Literati, scholars, civil society members, artists and rights activists attended the PLF in large numbers. The first session was about finding means to popularize folk literature among the youth.
Speaking of the youth, Gul Arbab an expert on children’s mental issues, pointed out that not much had been done to address the issues children face. “There is a gulf between what they (children) are being taught and what they experience in their day-to-day lives. This causes a dissonance in them,” she said.
The much-awaited live theatre session
Imran Iftikhar and his team were ready to train a group of more than 30 enthusiasts for a live theatre performance. Adil Yousaf shed light on the significance of live theatre and its wholesome social impact. The show was jointly organised by Theatre Wallay and Swang.
Performers stepped onto the stage to perform three stories by Manto. Directed by Usama Ahmad, each act followed a separate storyline.
This segment aimed to reclaim the glory of Peshawari theatre which was once instrumental in channelising the creative potential of the city’s performers and spreading the message of peace and inclusion.
As the city mourned, the organisers met again to confer over whether they should go ahead with the event. They decided not to deviate from their plans. Delegates from Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including merged tribal districts showed immense resilience and decided that the city needed a cultural event to bring back smiles.
Manto brought back to life
The performances centred around three of Manto’s stories titled Aao Kahani Likhein, Aao Taash Khailein and Aao Khojein. All three drew thunderous applause from the audience.
The spectators said that the performers had put up a riveting show that had kept them glued to their seats for two hours.
This was followed by an interesting session on the literary devices of humour and satire. Journalist Wusatullah Khan, veteran columnist Saadullah Jan Barq, Gule Naukhaiz Akhtar, Dr Aurangzeb Niazi, Prof Gulzar Jalal Yousafzai from Peshawar and Dr Hafeez Jamali from Quetta regaled the audience with humorous anecdotes.
Wusatullah Khan concluded the session by saying that satire can only exist in societies where the virtues of tolerance and sanity prevail.
Bursting into giggles
Adeel Afzal, the social media sensation and stand-up comedian, took the stage and had the audience rolling with laughter with his performance titled Mujhay Kiyoon Bulaya? (Why was I invited?)
Noorul Basar Aman, Afsar Afghan, and Raj Mohammad Afridi arrived at the conclusion that folk stories, indigenous folk games and nursery rhymes should be made available to all children. The speakers agreed that steps needed to be taken to improve the quality of textbooks.
Noted educationist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Nasir Jamal Khattak, Sikandar Tangi and Dr Shabana Gul shared their views on the education system in Pakistan and creativity among students. The panellists agreed that critical and creative thinking would remain a distant dream until policymakers agree to change their approach to education.
The next round featured a panel discussion on the role of mother tongue in the development of society.
The panel consisted of language activist Zubair Torwali, Mehraban Elahi, Khalid Sohail Malik and Mohammad Ali Dinakhel. They stressed the need for setting up a language authority in the province for promotion and preservation of local languages to ensure linguistic diversity and building a peace-loving society.
Abdur Rahman Afridi moderated the session on Pakhtunkhwa: Its Literary and Cultural Heritage. Dr Iqbal Shakir, Warda Shehzadi, Dr Usman Shah, Dr Abaseen Yousafzai, Adil Safi, Nasrullah Jan Wazir and Prof Yar Muhammad Maghmoom Khattak discussed various facets of life in the KP.
The panellists were of the view that people speaking different languages had enjoyed a long history of living together in peace until a foreign agenda was imposed on them.
The first day of the PLF concluded with a grand Pashto poetry recital, drawing literati from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Poets Rahmat Shah Sail, Hasena Gul Tanha and Aseer Mangal were particularly brilliant.
Several poets highlighted the message that Peshawar and the KP could not afford conflict that would bring misery, poverty, death and destruction.
Habib Nawaz, a blind poet from Swat, ended the session with a popular couplet from Khushal Khan Khattak.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets @Shinwar-9