Celebration of a literary legacy

November 24, 2019

The three-day-long Faiz Festival ended on a high note

Every year since 2015, a three-day-long Faiz Festival provides an avenue for the people in Lahore to talk politics, poetry, and culture. But of course, owing to the nature of such festivals, these conversations take place in the form of panel discussions with moderators. There is room to ask questions when the discussion ends. But only so many questions can be answered. There are times when panels can get visibly perturbed by questions from audiences that are well-meaning but often not as knowledgeable as the participants themselves.

Then there are the obvious trappings of a festival aiming to carry on whatever it deems to be the legacy of an eminent literary figure. Positioning a festival as a cultural or literary project carrying on the legacy of a poet who wanted to create a freer society comes with its baggage too. Sessions came with pegs curated from the vocabulary of Faiz; but if there was one that people would pay to attend, it was one that came with a charge.

Of the free sessions, one titled Digital media in Pakistan: Opportunities and Challenges had panelists different from the ones promised but the discussion was rich and lively. The panel – moderated by Kashif Baloch – included journalists Wajahat Masood and Afshan Masab.

The discussion addressed the issue of online hate and abuse, in particular when it is directed towards women and marginalised communities. Wajahat Masood pointed out the ease with which abusive behaviours and vulgarities are directed towards women. He cited Malala’s example to make a point about society’s misogyny.

“If we have agreed that the Taliban are bad, then Malala should be good,” he said.

“But she smiles, still. Even though they came for her smile,” added Masab.

She said a woman who is vocal about her views and does not pander to the state narrative is perceived to be a huge problem for society, and online spaces can become extremely toxic for such people. She was responding to Baloch’s comment on digital space providing a platform to pursue a pluralistic society. At a time when mainstream journalists are agreeing with the state narrative, the digital space is a realm where the dominant narrative can be challenged, he noted. The panelists also agreed that the digital age has empowered people and given them a voice which has enabled some voices to ask for equality and rights for everyone.

One titled Rethinking Pakistan: A 21st Century Perspective was moderated by academic and political worker Aimen Bucha and drew on the title of a book by Bilal Zahoor who was also on the panel. Among the other panelists were Dr Nafisa Shah, Tariq Rehman and Tahir Kamran. The discussion was prescriptive in nature. Most prominently, Shah the PPP information secretary reminded the audience that “regular politics is not siyasat”. She said politicians and civil society need to come together.

“The places we grew out of, we have to go back to,” she said.

“Parliamentarians should look like the people they represent,” added Bucha.

The conversation veered into one around state sovereignty, as often is the case in discussions within the realm of politics. Dr Shah was quick to point out that Kartarpur and CPEC underscore a shared, negotiated sovereignty which has its own angles and context.

Outside the rooms where these sessions were being held, people were engaged in various activities ranging from browsing through books and accessories stalls to trying out food from the kiosks; and there were students, distributing pamphlets for the upcoming Student March on November 29.

In the lawn where people were sitting enjoying the food, having a chat or simply taking a break in between session, was a drum circle. As the smog descended and daylight faded away, it was gradually taken over by students chanting slogans drawing attention to the heavy-handedness of university admins, and the lack of student unions, to the beat of a drum. Leading it, was a female student chanting Bismil Azimabadi’s Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab humare dil main hay.

The writer is a member of the staff

Faiz Festival Lahore: Celebration of a literary legacy