Local meets global

March 27, 2022

Here is what some of the LLF delegates said about their experience of the festival

Local meets global

The Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) returned to the Alhamra Art Centre with customary aplomb. In its 10th iteration this year, the line-up of authors from outside of Pakistan consisted of over a dozen writers, artists, curators, journalists and thinkers who spoke in panel discussions covering a diverse array of topics and ideas. High points of the festival included the screening of short films by Spanish director Gaizka Urresti and the unveiling of a sculptural installation at the Bagh-i-Jinnah by British-based, Karachi-born veteran artist Rasheed Araeen who lives in London and was here for the occasion, in collaboration with Como Museum, Lahore and the Grosvenor Gallery, London. A fascinating lecture on Chilanum daggers of the Mughal period by Jean Baptiste Clais, French ethnologist, art historian and curator of the Asian collection at the Louvre in Paris, France, was indicative of the fact that the LLF always looks outside the box to create rich cultural content that connects our region to the rest of the world.

“This is cultural engagement at its best,” says famed Egyptian author and activist Ahdaf Soueif while talking to The News on Sunday (TNS). “Brave and varied programming, multiple languages, inspiring speakers, engaged audiences, a dedicated team, enthusiastic volunteers, wonderful music and a charming venue in a truly great city. So well done!” Ahdaf Soueif, who along with her literary successes, comments critically on her homeland’s political upheavals – spoke on contemporary Egypt at the LLF this year. She also sat down with Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, lawyer Hina Jilani, journalists Nasim Zehra and Daniel Hilton to talk about freedoms for writers and activists. “If you’re living under huge oppression, I don’t think it is possible to produce work that isn’t political,” said Ms Soueif. A significant statement since several sessions and book launches at the 2022 LLF were of a political nature.

This year’s keynote speaker, Marc David Baer, professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is all praise for the festival: “The Lahore Literary Festival is a friendly festival where Pakistani and international poets, novelists, actors, scholars and politicians come together for three exciting days of lively conversations, debates and interviews with each other before large and appreciative crowds. Between sessions participants have lots of time to engage with enthusiastic audience members. And all of this takes place in beautiful Lahore, which boasts some of the most beautiful and sublime architecture in the world. Highly recommended!” Professor Baer’s sessions were illuminating as he referred to his book The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs in which he re-examines the Ottoman dynasty’s long-lasting impact on Europe. Professor Baer challenges Western accounts of the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration and the Reformation, discussing how the Ottomans were not simply Turkish, but much like the Roman Empire, a multiethnic, multilingual, multiracial, multi-religious empire that stretched across Europe, Asia and Africa – at its height it governed a quarter of Europe’s land area. Professor Baer’s thesis also dispels the notion that the Ottomans were all Muslims, which was an aspect of great interest for the Pakistani audience in his panel discussions at the LLF.

Also visiting was Vietnamese author Nguyê n Phan Quê Mai whose book, The Mountains Sing, is her first novel in English, a moving and lyrical account of four generations of a Vietnamese family over the past 100 years as internal strife and war tear families and the country apart. Quê Mai was generous with her praise for the LLF: “I was amazed at how rich, intellectually stimulating, inspiring, and thought-provoking the festival was. I attended many panels throughout the three days of the festival and enjoyed them immensely. I am delighted and honoured to be the first Vietnamese writer featured by the festival and feel very thankful to the festival organisers who worked so hard and so passionately, to my moderators and co-panelists whose intellect and knowledge enriched our conversations. I highly recommend the festival to all writers and readers and can’t wait to be back for my next book.” In these chilling times, Quê Mai’s book is an essential read to dispel the misrepresentation of war in the 20th Century Vietnam. Quê Mai’s honest and heartwarming presentation and conversations at the LLF were illuminating for an audience that has rarely heard authentic Vietnamese accounts of war.

British editor, Alexandra Pringle was also delighted to be in Lahore this year for the LLF, “The Lahore Literary Festival is unique. Every year it brings new joys. This year’s festival had, as always, a wonderful combination of literature, politics, art, music and film. Amongst many other things I was entranced by the performance of Vanessa Muela, thrilled to see the sculpture of Rasheed Araeen and honoured to have the opportunity of talking in depth with Osman Yousefzada about his important memoir The Go-Between: A Portrait of Growing Up Between Different Worlds. It is a festival that ranges wide and digs deep. It is also intimate enough to make it possible to bump into old friends and meet exciting new people at the magnificent Alhamra Art Centre. A festival should ideally be both a mind-expanding experience and enormous fun: the LLF scores ten out of ten on both counts.”

If the above is anything to go by, the stamp of appreciation from LLF delegates and Lahore audiences was positive across the board. Simon Clark, the author of The Key Man: How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale summed it up well: “The literary festival is a very welcoming event in the heart of Lahore. It’s great that it’s free and open to all the public. Participants from around the world discussed books, culture, history and current affairs in a friendly and very engaging way. I learned a lot by being at the festival.”

The rich and diverse line-up and books selected at the LLF require everyone to reexamine the programme – like a post-festival edit to remake book choices and to try and absorb as much as possible from what was on offer.

Amna R Ali is a freelance journalist who has been editor for Hello! Pakistan and assistant editor for Newsline Magazine. She writes on arts and culture

Local meets global