LLF 2023 featured an array of captivating sessions that brought together writers, thinkers, and artists from around the globe
ebruary offered a bustling schedule for Lahoris, featuring a series of literary events and festivals. The final event in this series was the highly anticipated Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), celebrating its tenth year.
A grand tribute to literature, art and culture, the LLF 2023 featured an array of captivating and intellectually stimulating sessions that united the talents of writers, thinkers and artists from all corners of the globe.
In a session, titled What Constitutes a Great Novel?, writer Sabyn Javeri talked to Shehan Karunatilaka, HM Naqvi and Nadifa Mohamed about their storytelling process. Each of the panellists then shared the elements that, for them, are key components of the craft. While one noticed some overlap in what these diverse authors had to share about why literature can be an essential component in building bridges between different communities, the discussion also highlighted how there is no single formula for a successful writing career.
Responding to a question about writers being able to financially support themselves and their families, HM Naqvi said that was not the case. Others agreed readily, saying that most South Asian and Middle Eastern writers needed other day jobs. Karunatilaka said awards and prizes do help.
One of the most notable sessions that left a lasting impression was the launch of The Seven Moons of Maali Alemida by Karunatilaka, moderated by Moni Mohsin. This fiercely satirical work is set amidst the chaos of the Sri Lankan civil war. It has earned the author the prestigious 2022 Booker Prize. When he read excerpts from the book, the audience could connect with the overall premise. The writer has artfully achieved the right balance to ensure that satire doesn’t trivialise the grave subject matter. The courage that goes into writing on such topics is also admirable. On the former front, Karunatilaka agreed that during the writing process, one needs to consciously make an effort to ensure that the correct balance is maintained. As for bravery, the timelines matter; writing about something around 30 years after it happened ensures, to a large extent, that those who could take offence are no longer around.
To Mohsin’s question about whether books/writing can stop wars, the ensuing conversation between the two authors left the audience with a glass-half-full thought process. While so far, books have not stopped wars, they continue to document humanity’s experience of conflict. It can be hoped that the future generations will learn from these and avoid some of the mistakes. It’s a big ask but a necessary hope to cling to.
This year, the LLF made a nice addition encouraging amateur writers with a competition focused on folklore writing. The competition had been announced a month earlier via social media. The announcement of winners was made by a panel of judges chaired by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
Speaking of optimism, Tariq Alexander Qaiser talked to a packed room calling for the urgent preservation of Karachi’s mangrove forest. His session The Incredible Mangrove Man, Making Karachi Breathe, moderated by Zofeen Ebrahim, was a visual treat and a shock. Known as the Mangrove Man for his efforts to restore the mangrove forests in the City of Lights, Qaiser talked about the importance of mangroves in mitigating the effects of climate change and preserving the natural ecosystem. The short documentaries he introduced showed thriving trees brutally cut down.
While the on-ground facts that Qaiser shared were depressing, to put it politely, he showed the success story that he took to COP this year of efforts made to generate a section of the mangroves. This was where hope came from, as the session highlighted the critical and inspiring role that individuals can play in addressing environmental challenges in an impactful manner that regenerates not only our environment but the community as well.
Another packed session welcomed acclaimed photographer and photojournalist Raghu Rai, who talked on the subject of photography as fact. The session was introduced by Nayyar Ali Dada, highlighting Rai’s powerful images. Rai started by sharing how he became a photographer by borrowing a basic camera while visiting a friend’s village. The first image he took was that of a baby donkey. It was printed in the Times of India.
Photography can help us see the world in new ways. Rai’s insights provided a fascinating perspective on the role of photography in our lives and its power to shape our understanding of the world around us. The message he left all enthusiasts in his unique style was to put one’s heart into their images. He warned that photographs taken solely with strategic thinking or following tried and tested formulas don’t create an impact. This was visually proved by the images that he showed at the end. There was no time left for Q&A, but no one left a sense of something lacking.
This year, the LLF made a nice addition encouraging amateur writers with a competition focused on folklore writing. The competition had been announced a month earlier via social media. The announcement of winners was made by a panel of judges chaired by Musharraf Ali Farooqi. The festival, known to provide a space for people to come together and engage with ideas, will hopefully continue this tradition of giving space to budding writers that will, in the long run, prove to be a treasure trove of storytelling.
The writer is a communications, public relations and sustainability professional. She tweets @FatimaArif