Lahore at LLF

March 3, 2024

The recently concluded Lahore Literary Festival celebrated the people, life, art and culture of the city in key sessions

Through a series of enlightening slides, Iftikhar Dadi offered a visual journey into the essence of LBF. — Photo: Courtesy of LLF’s Instagram page
Through a series of enlightening slides, Iftikhar Dadi offered a visual journey into the essence of LBF. — Photo: Courtesy of LLF’s Instagram page


s Lahore Literary Festival returned to the city for the 12th consecutive year, it duly celebrated the people, life, art and culture of Lahore in key sessions. Among those was Lahore Ki Deewangi, whose tagline — A kaleidoscope of Lahore through Lahore’s popular culture, cinema and music — quite succinctly summed up its theme and objectives.

It had writer and academic Asghar Nadeem Syed and actor Sheeba Alam walk the audience seated in the Alhamra hall through the cultural history of the city, introducing luminaries such as Patras Bukhari, Sahir Ludhianvi, Akhtar Sherani, Intezar Hussain, A Hameed, KK Aziz, Krishan Chandar, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Shakir Ali, Manto, Ustad Amanat Ali, Muneer Niazi, Ali Sufian Afaqi, Dr Enver Sajjad, Zia Mohyeddin, Safdar Mir, Zahid Dar, Munnoo Bhai, Habib Jalib and Mustansar Hussain Tarrar along the way.

Syed mostly spoke spontaneously, discussing the literary, theatre and film personalities who had lived in Lahore. He also talked of how after he moved to Lahore he had the chance to meet and befriend many of them at places like the Pak Tea House, Radio Pakistan, and the PTV. (For the uninitiated, Syed has compiled these anecdotes in a book, titled Phirta Hai Falak Barson, which contains 15 sketches.)

With his powerful narration, Syed captured many an unknown aspect about the city notables, to the delight of the audience. His sharp memory and strong observations never left his side. While sharing what he remembered, he remarked that that was only a “history based on memories.”

Another session, titled Dialogues on Lahore through LBF 01 Reader, brought together artists such as Attiquddin Ahmed and Farida Batool; art critic Iftikhar Dadi; Qudsia Rahim, founder of Lahore Biennale Foundation; and Nazish Attaullah, the former NCA principal. They discussed LBF’s achievements and challenges, and the way forward.

Rahim took the lead with a narrative about LBF that echoed resilience, beginning with her return to Pakistan in 2008 from the US which had presented to her a Lahore fraught with challenges. She said that the LBF had emerged as a direct response to the needs of Lahore’s citizens, and it recognised the city as a nurturing space with immense potential. What began as a modest WhatsApp chat group of four people had evolved into a monumental reality, she said. At its core, the LBF has a noble purpose: to “democratise art, establishing a platform for experimentation, fostering collaboration and engaging a broader audience.”

Rahim said that the LBF does not confine itself within Lahore; it extends its dialogue about Pakistan to the entire world.

Dadi was the next to speak. He shed light on the absence of international tourists in Pakistan, which inadvertently limits global awareness of the country’s artistic scene. In this vacuum, platforms like the LBF assume paramount importance, serving as vital conduits to showcase Pakistan’s vibrant artistic expression before the world.

Through a series of enlightening slides, Dadi offered a visual journey into the essence of the LBF.

Ahmed joined in, saying that the LBF had played a pivotal role in reclaiming narratives. Despite facing challenges similar to other cities, Lahore had embarked on a quest for innovative solutions, he added.

Donning his urban theorist’s hat, Ahmed explained the transformation of the Walled City of Lahore. Recognising its shift towards a solely commercial district, he sought ways to re-imagine the space within the walls, leading to the ambitious project of remaking the wall to create public spaces.

Batool, on the other hand, unveiled the Lahore flâneur, a collage capturing the essence of ordinary spaces. She highlighted the aftermath of the graffiti ban and drew attention to the oft-overlooked rickshaw art, saying that every rickshaw’s back had a canvas that hosted a world of artistic expression.

She was asked if she’d preserve or groom art. She responded that art should be left on its own to evolve or fade.

Architect Nayyar Ali Dada moderated a session, titled Sacred Lahore, with architect Hydr Mahmood Ibrahim and Bahawalpur AC Dr Anam Fatima on the panel. — Photo by the author
Architect Nayyar Ali Dada moderated a session, titled Sacred Lahore, with architect Hydr Mahmood Ibrahim and Bahawalpur AC Dr Anam Fatima on the panel. — Photo by the author


A session, titled Sacred Lahore — Reflections on Architects and Town Planners’ Experience of the Recent Work at Bibian Pak Daman and Other Sacred Spaces across Lahore, focused on the construction of the mausoleum, a project that recently garnered attention of the caretaker chief minister, Mohsin Naqvi.

The session was moderated by architect Nayyar Ali Dada. Architect Hydr Mahmood Ibrahim and Bahawalpur City Assistant Commissioner Dr Anam Fatima were on the panel.

Dada said that the construction of the mausoleum had been a spiritual journey for him, a project he embraced as sacred. He acknowledged the contributions of AC Anam Fatima and Deputy Commissioner Rafia Haider.

Dada also recounted past attempts at constructing the tomb that had failed due to the lack of cooperation from the local communities and some bureaucratic hurdles.

Later, he talked about the distinctive design of the shrine’s dome and said that imitation had been avoided.

Ibrahim started off with historical context. He described the emotional nature of the project and the initial opposition from local residents, compounded by court cases, how the community had objected to the expansion plans, leading the project team to engage with and eventually abandon the idea.

The shrine, spanning 2.5 kanals, now accommodates more pilgrims. Ibrahim said the most striking aspect of the shrine was its simplicity, as it was built using local materials and there were no extravagant adornments, making it uniquely beautiful.

He also highlighted labourers’ emotional involvement with the project. It engaged “170 hands,” he stated. Besides, local children participated in designing the shrine, contributing to improved streets in the vicinity. The new structure accommodates facilities for children and people with special needs, welcoming visitors of all genders and sects.

AC Fatima concluded the session, describing the project as a labour of love. She also mentioned the administrative challenges they had faced. The project, which involved shifting four graveyards, ultimately gained community support.

Fatima praised the inclusive and accessible nature of the Bibian Pak Daman shrine.

The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship 

Lahore at LLF