Pakistan: Karachi's Third Literature Gala

The Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) was a unique event of this month. It gave an opportunity to authors and book lovers to join together and celebrate book-reading. Literature from Sindhi, Punjabi, Urdu, English, Seraiki (a fusion of Sindhi and Punjabi), English, French and German was discussed in the two day long event from 11-12 February, 2012.

The annual KLF was first launched in 2010 with a joint collaboration between British Council and Oxford University Press. The festival started with roughly 5,000 participants in 2010, but this year the number rose to a massive 15,000.

Bina Shah comments:

  The third Karachi Literature Festival is over, and by all accounts, it was an unmitigated success. Fifteen thousand people enjoyed two days of panel discussions, book launches, readings, writing workshops, theatre and musical performances; a hundred and fifty authors participated in the festival.

Karachi Literature Festival logo

Karachi Literature Festival logo

A sense of enthusiasm was observed in the participants, and likewise, in the blogger community. Madiha Ishtiaque aptly commented that the festival allowed Karachi to convert into a “litropolis” (a city of literature). Nadir Hussian calls it an “entertaining and well-organised” event.

A wide spectrum of authors from around the world visited this festival. There were many rounds of discussion, criticism and analytical (question and answer) sessions. Jahane Rumi -  an activist and also a moderator at KLF – aptly summarises:

 This year, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple, Hanif Kureishi, Shobha De, Anatol Lieven and several others attracted much attention by their readers, fans and critics. There were a few sessions on Urdu and regional languages’ literature but it was obvious that the attendees were not always the same.

Contemporary political issues were also debated. The participants broached on ‘ostensible political topics’. Umair J complains about political discussion intermingling with literature. He writes:

 There were roughly 15 sessions on ostensibly political topics like honour killings, civil war in Balochistan, minority rights, Bangladesh, and nuclear weapons. Yet almost all were conducted in the same sterile, art-for- art’s-sake context reserved for the festival’s literary discussions.

Eminent speakers also took part in a discussion pertaining to women's rights:

A session of writers signifying women’s voices through their writing captivated quite a bunch of women, with Maniza Naqvi, Bina Shah, Nafisa Haji and Marilyn Wyatt sharing their experiences as writers and also readers, evocative through their own and other literary works.

Students from schools, colleges and universities also visited this book lover paradise. Here is a photo gallery showing different aspects of the event.

But no event ends without criticism. People commented that KLF is an elite show with no space for the common people:

@saoodhasan: Zubeida Mustafa rightly called Karachi literature festival as annual gathering of English speaking elite beyond the reach of *commoners*

But tagging KLF as an ‘elite show’ would be a mistake as Muhammed Haneef – an author, journalist and political activist – says:

Reading itself is an elitist activity. In fact, any art — music, painting, theatre, literature — and most intellectual pursuits can be regarded in the same light. Does that mean we shouldn’t indulge in them at all?

There was also criticism that Urdu, Pakistan's national language, wasn't given its due share; English language overwhelmed all other languages. Bina shah aptly responded by telling such critics that this event was an international event rather than a local one. English being an international language has an intrinsic character to overwhelm other languages.

Another set of criticism, by Hamdan Malik, labelled KLF as “confused, anxious, even shivering slightly – and – Ego, anger, compassion and conclusion”. To such a criticism, Aristotle's (a Greek philosopher) likely reply is worth mentioning. He said:

To escape criticism – do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

Karachi Literature Festival was an event worth visiting by all book lovers around the world. I end by quoting Yaqoob Khan Bangash. He writes:

The KLF has shown, for the third year, that Pakistan has an amazing range of people who want to get together, talk about their work, learn from others, and help others realise their potential and hidden talents. All we now need is about a thousand KLFs.

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