I truly believe that a man is known by the company he keeps (and the books he read). To ignite the passion of reading among masses literature festivals are happening for quite a few years now. Despite being labeled as elitist event, I believe that literature festivals follow free entry policy which gives access to everyone and this claim is totally invalid. Having said that we do need more discussions in our own language including regional languages to promote literature more.
Islamabad’s 5th literature festival was the talk of the town with so many interesting sessions and packed halls of Margala hotel. The festival features a line-up of around 150 leading Pakistani and international authors, academics, journalists and artists along with exhibitions, book fair and a scrumptious food court. The 3 day long festival was organized by Oxford University Press (OUP) while this year the event was sponsored by Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), AWAAZ, Tapal, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Goethe Institute, Embassy of France and Embassy of Italy.
#IsbLF Day 1:
Addressing the inaugural session, OUP MD Ameena Saiyid said,
“Our goal is to make reading a pleasurable activity for young and old, men and women. We are aware that engaging and appealing books can entice children into the golden web of readership, promote creativity and imagination, and kindle hope for a more inspired and accomplished Pakistani generation in the future. This year popular personalities of 8 countries including Germany, France, Canada, Singapore and Italy will participate”, she said, adding ‘that this year we are celebrating 70 years of Pakistan at the 5th Islamabad Literature Festival.’
The keynote addresses on day 1 were followed by a performance by Amna Mawaz Khan, one of the few classical dancers in Pakistan who specialise in Bharatnatyam. She dedicated her performance to Mashal Khan, a student beaten to death in Mardan and talked about how no one came to his aid. She and Imran Nafees Siddiqui performed to Habib Jalib’s zulm rahe aur aman bhi ho as the tribute followed by Tillana, a Bharatnatyam piece by Indu Mitha.
After the inaugural some other sessions were held on interesting topics – Judiciary and the common man had Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, Afrasiab Khattak, and Bushra Gohar while the session was moderated by Mujahid Barelvi; a conversation between Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro and Elisa Iori was held on heritage and social mobilization in post-conflict reality; Prison Narratives, a book by Akhtar Baloch held the complete attention of the audience. Renowned writer Mohammad Hanif discussed the burden of a translator for searching appropriate words while writing.
Thousands of literature lovers throng ILF on the second day marking remarkable success for a large number of interactive sessions, dialogues, performances and literary activities.
On the second day of ILF, Fasi Zaka moderated a session “Preparing the Citizens of Tomorrow: Are we Succeeding or Failing?” The session was held to critique the current education provision in Pakistan. Featuring participants like educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Nadia Naviwala, Shahid Siddiqui, and Ishrat Husain.
Reema Abbasi moderated a session Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, a nostalgic search for historic monuments and temples eroded by time which included the author Amardeep Singh and columnist F.S. Aijazuddin. At the start of the session, Mr Singh spoke about how he came to write his book, after which the session was named. Calling himself an “accidental author”, Mr Singh said he was never destined to be in academia and spent 25 some years in the financial sector. But, he said, the history of the subcontinent was always “simmering inside” him. He credited his parents, who were from Muzaffarabad and Abbottabad but moved to Uttar Pradesh after partition, for telling him about what they had left behind in their native regions.
To discuss the core issue of water, a special session titled “Where has all the Water gone? was well attended. Experts and concerned citizens Nisar A. Memon, Kaiser Bengali, and Aaron Mulvany debated the water crisis in Pakistan which was moderated by Rina Saeed Khan”. A Performance by Nimra Bucha and Sarmad Khoosat on readings from Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry focusing on their unique vision and elusive, unspoken romance was also featured on the second day of ILF. Attendance in the hall was reflective of the people’s interest.
“Gender Violence, Law, and Power in Pakistan focusing on feminists’ struggle for justice and equal rights” was held in which Nafisa Shah, Sherry Rehman, and Ijaz Shafi Gilani participated with moderator Samar Minallah Khan. PPP MNA Sherry Rehman lamented that the state has gradually been losing its monopoly on violence, which allows others to take up arms and “lynch women and innocent students”. She said that in the 70s and 80s religion and politics were tied together, which resulted in murderous consequences for women and minorities who continue to suffer in Pakistan today. Marginalized groups have suffered from the “privatization of justice”, resulting from the Qisas and Diyat laws introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq.
‘Rail Kahaani’ presented by Zambeel Dramatic Readings was based on short stories of railway journeys written by different authors. These were presented by Shama Askari, Asma Mundrawala, Saife Hasan, and Fawad Khan.
Qasim Yaqoob moderated the session “Mohabbat aur Dehshat Gardi: Aaj ka Urdu Adab” which included Hameed Shahid, Irfan Urfi, and Ravish Nadim. A special session on poetry of Ifitkhar Arif was also held in which Iftikhar Arif had a detailed conversation with Harris Khalique and Asif Farrukhi while the session was chaired by Zehra Nigah.
To discuss the women’s issues in politics, AWAZ program presented a special session “Women and Excluded Groups in Political Parties and Legislative Bodies” in which Marvi Sirmed, Zafarullah Khan, and Bushra Gohar delved on issues along with the moderator Shirin Gul. Ms Sirmed’s study found that special wings within political parties have become the main way in which women and minorities are invited to participate. However, these special wings led to a “ghetto-isation” of these groups and do not translate into real decision-making power.
A session “English Poetry: The International Muse” was also featured on the second day which included Blaine Marchand, Harris Khalique, Waqas Khwaja, Azka Khan, and Orooj e Zafar, the session was moderated by Ilona Yusuf.
Several new books including Pakistan ki Tehzeeb o Saqafat by Kishwar Naheed, Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English by Muneeza Shamsie, Learning to Live with the Bomb: Pakistan: 1998–2016 by Naeem Salik, Hyat-e-Shayr and Sur Mandal ka Raj by Ali Akbar Natiq, How Pakistan Got Divided by Maj Gen (R) Rao Farman Ali and The Arts and Crafts of Hunza Valley in Pakistan: Living Traditions in the Karakoram by Jurgen Wasim Frembgen were also launched on the second day.
ILF also hosted an amazing Mushaira (poetry recitation) which was moderated by Shakeel Jazib. Leading poets from the twin cities and other parts of Pakistan including Kishwar Naheed, Iftikhar Arif, Imran Aami, Saeed Shaariq, Saeed Ahmad, Qamar Raza Shahzad, Harris Khalique, Ali Akbar Natiq, Manzar Naqvi, Zia ul Hassan, Akhtar Usman, Sarwat Mohiuddin, Qasim Yaqoob, Rehman Faris, and Nasira Zuberi read from their writings.
#IsbLF Day 3:
Closing ceremony of the fifth ILF held on the last day which was addressed by Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi and key note speakers including Iftikhar Arif, Omar Shahid Hamid, and Nafisa Shah. ILF will end with a classical dance performance by Shayma Saiyid.
While addressing the closing session, OUP MD Ameena Saiyid said that
“As this festival comes to its end, I hope that, each of us will have found his or her knowledge added to, or viewpoint altered, in some way or the other. This is a unique kind of event, one that does not leave anyone unaffected”. She further said that ILF will bring more and more colors in the future. This ILF has focused on Partition and Independence as this is the 70th year of Pakistan’s creation. At Oxford University Press, we are celebrating this important year by publishing 70 books on Pakistan, its literature, history, culture, sports, economics and as many disciplines and subjects as we can. We call this series the Platinum Series, she added. Before I close, I need to express my thanks to the representatives of the media for their interest and enthusiasm. My thanks are due to all our partners and co-sponsors who shared in making this occasion a success.
Renowned poet Iftikhar Arif praised the ILF organizers for a unique gathering of intellectuals, poets, writers and journalists under a roof to have detailed discussions on a variety of topics including literature, politics and current affairs. Literature could become the major tool to achieve positive societal changes, he further added.
Last day of ILF was dominated by renowned artist Anwer Maqsood as he had a session “Uljhay Suljhay Anwar” which included the author (his wife) Imrana Maqsood, Hoori Noorani and Sarmad Khoosat. A house-full at the session presented a huge tribute to the living legend.
President Azad Kashmir Sardar Mohammad Masood Khan participated in the session “Kashmir: Two Sides to a Question The future of a dispute: Is a solution possible?” along with A.G. Noorani, and Riaz H. Khokhar while the session was moderated by Harris Khalique. Nasim Zehra had a conversation with Sherry Rehman on “Can politicians and media be on the same side”.
In another session “Murder between the covers: Crime Fiction, two crime writers Omar Shahid Hamid, Sabyn Javeri discussed their creative journey” with moderator Shehryar Fazli. A writer’s job is not to provide answers but to ask questions,” explained Javeri, whose novel ‘Nobody Killed Her’ was launched earlier this year. Talking about her book, she said that it was not about one particular personality. Rather, she had crafted her story by piecing together details about women leaders in many different countries of the region. To a question whether being a police officer had benefitted or influenced his work, Hamid said each of his three books was based on themes or stories which he had come across during the course of his professional career.
Harris Khalique’s book Crimson Papers: Reflections on Struggle, Suffering, and Creativity in Pakistan was also discussed in a session with Navid Shahzad, Afrasiab Khattak, Harris Khalique, and Rasul Bakhsh Rais.
Social Media aspects were also talked about and “New strategies for creativity and change” were discussed between Adnan Khan Kakar, Leena Hashir, Moeed Pirzada, and Slimane Zeghidour while Wajahat Masood moderated the session. The speakers discussed some positive changes and challenge the social media is bringing about in our society, especially with regards to its ‘misuse’. They suggested that social media had grown to become a defining voice building an alternative narrative to the controlled conventional media. Television anchor Moeed Pirzada, while tracing the rise of social media, said that since conventional media was controlled by the ruling elite and presented a limited reflection of the public’s view, the easy access to social media had given everyone the opportunity to raise their voice.
On the ever popular Dastangoi based on Ismat Aapa aur Unki Kahanian from Ismat Chughtai’s Kaghazi hai Pairahan and her short stories ‘Chirri ki Dukki’ and ‘Amar Bail’ had the audience fighting for space. NAPA’s Fawad Khan, Syed Meesum Naqvi and Bakhtawar Mazhar had the complete attention of the audience. Ms Mazhar depicted Ismat Chugtai’s life with her vividly ingenious monologue, her expressively resounding voice that was layered with subtle innuendos. She offered variety of touching feminist, comic passages, and intensely dramatic questioning of societal customs while staying true to every detail of Ismat Chugtai’s life.
In another session on ‘70 Years of Pakistan: A Reflection on Pakistan’s History’ with Sayeed Hasan Khan and Ishrat Husain, moderated by Arfa Sayeda Zehra, Dr Arfa began the session by expanding on the topic: “70 years of Pakistan, meaning 70 years of our unawareness. In one way 70 years of remaining ignorant of our perceptiveness and sense; in another 70 years spent futilely searching for new meanings and explanations for ourselves. I believe that without the past there is no future. History is experience which teaches us to make choices, to compete, and to compare, which are invaluable skills.”
The session ‘Will Technology Influence Music?’ featured Noori’s Ali Noor, Rakae Jamil, Masuma Anwar, Akbar Yezdani and moderator Taimur Rahman. Starting off the session, Laal spokesperson Mr Rahman said technology has always impacted the arts and music. Mr Noor said technology has become paramount for live performances which are complicated, because artists need to be able to hear themselves to play well. “For me, the biggest problem was the people who were providing sound and technology in Pakistan had nothing to do with music. They were people who were doing car rentals and began new businesses renting sound equipment,” he said.
Renowned journalists Zarrar Khuhro, Wusatullah Khan and Mubashir Zaidi from the TV program Zara Hut Kay answered the questions and comments from the audience on the last day of ILF as well. Nimra Bucha moderated a session “Small Screen Intimacy and Big Screen Splendour” along with participants Samina Ahmed, Rehan Sheikh, Seema Taher Khan, and Sultana Siddiqui.
A one-man mushaira conducted by Syed Nusrat Ali, an unassuming management consultant and motivational speaker who stole the show on the final day of ILF. The jam-packed audience was treated to a side-splitting performance by the accomplished mimic, who impersonated the style of more than two dozen of the biggest names in Urdu literature. All that is, except Ahmed Faraz. “I can’t do it the way he did it, because it would ruin the beauty of the verses for you,” he told his audience when hecklers requested him to recite something by arguably the greatest of the modern Urdu poets.
On its last day, ILF also hosted many book launches including Intikhab: Khalida Hussain compiled by Asif Farrukhi, Intikhab: Masood Ashar compiled by Asif Farrukhi, The Aleph Review-Taufiq Rafat: Defining the Pakistani Idiom, Teesra Qadam by Nasira Zuberi and The Corporate Governance Landscape of Pakistan by Sadia Khan, and Kalaam e Aarifaan by Hasan Aziz.
The closing ceremony of ILF was followed by an enthralling dance performance by Shayma Saiyid which was widely acknowledged by the audience. She dedicated her performance to Mashal Khan, a student beaten to death in Mardan. The increasing number of participants in all halls, in the corridors and food-court is testimony to the fact that the ILF is a popular event now.
See you next year bookoholics.