Adab Festival 2023 marked the beginning of winter with books, coffee and literary discussions
iving in Karachi can be anything but a dreary experience; no two weekends are the same. The last weekend of November brought the first winter rain. Karachi’s winters are all about cosy corners, coffee, books and company.
The fifth edition of Adab Fest, founded by Ameena Saiyid and the late Asif Farrukhi, ensured the literary cosmopolitanism expected from the platform. This time it was organised at a new location - Habitt City Store. Getting to the venue was easy. However, for first-time visitors, finding the festival was slightly more challenging. One had to navigate through a maze of artsy furniture and picturesque home ware sets to get to where the event was taking place. The stage was set at three separate, though close by, places to host 48 panel discussions on diverse topics. There were book launches, mushairas and discussions on the past, present and future of economy, politics, literature, drama and media.
I went on the second day, confident that whatever session I could attend would be worth the effort. I was not mistaken. Al these sessions were enriching. However, in some sessions the attendance was remarkably sparse.
I wandered through the fancy interior of Habitt City, taking in the luxurious furniture and exquisite handicrafts perched on wooden stalls in the hallways that connected the main arena with the adjacent court, to make my way to the session on Social Media and Traditional Media. The City Garden was filled with senior writers and academicians for the launch of Dr Huma Baqai’s book titled Collected Works on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The Tree Garden was already halfway through its session on The Power of Community: Enabling Access to Higher Education. The session on social media had less than ten guests.
The panel included learned media professionals Shadab Zuberi, Sarmad Ali and Bilal Memon. The panelists shared insights on the transition from traditional media to social media and how the news landscape was changing with the rise of digital media in Pakistan. Zuberi mentioned how in India newspapers still managed to attract considerable advertisement revenue. However he said, in Pakistan the advertisement revenue of print media was on a steady decline. “It is because the print media [there], that is, the newspapers and magazines, have been able to adapt to the changing audience dynamics. They have evolved for a younger audience. In Pakistan, this is not the case,” said Zuberi. Zuberi said the media in Pakistan needed to evolve and adapt to the changing times and needs of the readers. Bilal Memon insisted on investing in high quality journalism in digital media since in the “next eight to ten years, media consumption would be entirely digital.” He lamented the slow pace of advances in the digital media landscape despite an awareness of the imminent change.
The stage was set in three separate, though close by, places to host 48-panel discussions on diverse topics.
This was the fourth session of the day. The clouds had subsided and book enthusiasts, students and teachers swarmed from stall to stall and session to session. By five in the evening, the main hall had filled to the brim for the launch of Zahid Hussain’s book, Face to Face with Benazir. Columnist Ghazi Salahuddin moderated this session. Besides the author, the panel included parliamentarians Sherry Rehman and Raza Rabbani.
Hussain said that Face to Face with Benazir comprised 14 interviews with Pakistan’s first woman prime minister conducted between 1986 and 2002. Overall the session, like the book, was a tribute to the former prime minister, exploring her political arc.
Sherry Rehman, a former editor of Herald, reminisced about Benazir’s capacity to listen to criticism and benefit from it. “To this day,” she said, “we wonder what she would do in this situation. She would listen to her harshest critics with interest and often asked them to tell her where she had gone wrong.”
“The book is a reflection on politics of the time,” said Raza Rabbani, the former Senate chairman. “No one has penned a political history of Pakistan. Those who have tried, have done it from the perspective of the state. Teaching no history in schools may be better than teaching the history texts we have now,” he said.
The panelists compared Benazir’s era with the current media censorship and political environment. “This was a period when political parties used to fight on an ideological basis. The role of the establishment was not so obvious. Today the focus has shifted away from ideology and compromises are frequent,” lamented Raza Rabbani. Rabbani also said that the influence of foreign money lending entities has grown and Pakistan can no longer draft its budget without a nod from the IMF and the World Bank. “The financial sovereignty has been bartered away. As a result, the political sovereignty has been curtailed. It sometimes appears that the state is rudderless. We are looking for our moorings, but we are not able to find those.”
Speaking of Benazir’s political maturity, Rehman commented that her identity as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter and as a politician was greater than her gender. What she had achieved with her grit, she said, was remarkable.
Sherry Rehman said Benazir was ahead of her time in terms of women’s rights and climate change.
Zahid Hussain commended her perseverance as a leader. “In the interview after her first government was dismissed, she mentioned what she thought had gone wrong. After the end of her second government, when she was in London, I, spoke at a seminar. I had some harsh criticism of her policies. She listened patiently and, in the end, said, “You have done your homework.”
The writer is an associate producer at Geo News