Karachi Literature Festival opens to quench literary thirst of thousands.Friday morning was a real balmy, sunny one with the gentle Arabian Sea breeze cutting through the palm fronts and a galaxy of celebrities streaming into the venue, the seaside Beach Luxury Hotel with its well-manicured, lush lawns.Thus began the seventh Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), sponsored by the Oxford University Press and co-sponsored by the USAID, the German, French and Italian consulates-general in town and their embassies in Islamabad.Seeing the large number of Pakistani writers and authors from overseas who have made a mark for themselves in their adopted climes was a moment of real pride for all of us Pakistanis and a reassurance that Pakistan’s image overseas was not just bomb blasts or suicide bombings but also oozing talent. The Pakistani diaspora did us Pakistanis real proud.The programme got going with a guitar rendition of the national anthem by the Asif Sinan group.
This was followed by another group dance by a rural group, the Chao Dance and Theatre. At least, the dance was absolutely rural in character. This was followed by a beautiful Indo-Pakistani classical dance by Amna Mawaz Khan, a pupil of the famous classical dancer Indu Mitha.Then came Ameena Saiyid, managing director of the Oxford University Press, Pakistan, and her welcome speech. She requested a minute’s silence in memory of the late Intizar Hussain, who passed away last Tuesday.She gave a highly optimistic picture of the event. She said that while at the first literature festival in 2010, the turnout of visitors was 5,000, at the sixth one last year it was 125,000. In 2010, she said, there were 35 speakers while last year there were 250 speakers.
The Oxford University Press, she said, published school and college textbooks in 40 countries.Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi, co-founder of the festival, said, “We have come a long way in seven years, covered many milestones.” The city of Karachi, he said, offered immense opportunities for cultural and literary activities.USAID representative Barbara Toye-Welsh, thanking Saiyid for having included the USAID in the endeavour, said: “Our participation will show our commitment to literature and culture.”
Outgoing UK High Commissioner Philip Barton said that it was really heartening to see the interest the festival had elicited overseas.This, he said, showed that the negative press Pakistan had been receiving overseas was not to be believed. He praised the way democracy was becoming entrenched in the country. US Consul-General in Karachi Brian Heath said the KLF reflected Pakistan’s diversity in literature.
German Consul-General Rainer Schmiedchen termed the literature festival the most important part of Karachi’s cultural life, and felicitated Ameena Saiyid on the successful organisation of the event. Mr Debussy of the French Embassy, Islamabad, also addressed the event.Talking about the newly initiated USAID Reading Project, he said over 1.2 million grades I and II children would benefit from the project. Besides, he said, the programme would train 25,000 teachers in Sindh.
Italian Consul-General Gianluca Rubagotti hailed the KLF as a wonderful platform for the exchange of ideas.The two keynote speakers, poetess Fehmida Riaz and Internationally acclaimed nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, pleaded for tolerance and love.Riaz said the only way we could counter terrorism was through love and tolerance and these, in turn, were totally dependent on the pursuit of things literary. Condoling the deaths of Intizar Hussain and Punjabi/Urdu poetess Nasreen Anjum Bhatti in Lahore recently, she said Bhatti was a Christian, but how she had put aside her religious difference and contributed to the literary heritage of the country.Hoodbhoy, in his usual sceptical tone, cited his recent visits to India to some science institutes and the Indian Science Congress where, he said, Prime Minister Modi claimed that plastic surgery had been carried out in India thousands of years ago and that Ganesh’s elephant-like trunk was also a result of plastic surgery. He said that we the people of the subcontinent had this incorrigible habit of living in the past and feasting on our whims of pristine glory. However, he said the difference he found between Pakistan and India was the manner whereby the public spoke up when there was an incident of bigotry and religious fanaticism.
He cited the case where there had been a petition of 2,000 signatures asking for punishment for the murder of three intellectuals. Comparing the past and the present, he favoured the present and recounted all the mindboggling progress like landing on asteroids and discovering planets far beyond Pluto which was once known to be the farthest planet.He said that to overcome these aberrations in their thinking, people of the subcontinent would have to stop living in the past and keep abreast of the developed world for which cultivating the reading habit and analytical thinking were a must.He said analytical thinking would come only with impetus to literature and literary pursuits. “It is only through an enlightened society that we can hope for the intellectual advancement of society. Art and literature can bring about human oneness. As long as we have literature festivals, there’s mighty hope,” Dr Hoodbhoy said.
Literary awards were announced and the literary award for fiction went to Aamir Hussain for his “Collection of Thirty-seven short stories”.The prize for the best Urdu novel, sponsored by the Infaq Foundation, went to Najiba Arif. Aroosa Kanwal got the award for non-fiction.