KARACHI: Shobha De, Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi are just a few of the big-ticket names for the Karachi Literature Festival this year. Small wonder that the organisers were all smiles at the press conference on Thursday to announce the programme of the yearly event, which is scheduled for February 11 and 12 at Karachi’s Carlton Hotel.
The British Council’s director for programmes, Martin Fryer, said that the festival has “almost become an institution in Pakistan”. Perhaps not an institution just yet – this will be only the third year – but few will dispute that it is one of the most important events for the city. In any case, it has the power to attract people from across the country, from media barons to socialites, young academics to veteran policy makers.
A slew of writers from Pakistan and India are on the bill for this year’s festival. Oxford University Press (OUP) Managing Director Ameena Saiyid said that the festival gave authors and readers a platform to meet each other and introduce Pakistan to foreign authors and vice versa. “It is two days of celebrating writing.”
The third edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) will include a number of diverse names and promising young authors, from scholar Anatol Lieven, the author of the recently released Pakistan: A Hard Country to BBC journalist Mirza Waheed, the author of The Collaborator, which is set in Kashmir. “There are many festivals around the region that have a great reputation but what we have in Karachi is quite remarkable,” Fryer said, noting the number of sessions packed in the two-day agenda.
Several of the authors, including those moderating and participating in panel discussions at KLF, were at the press conference, including Muneeza and Kamila Shamsie, H M Naqvi, Attiya Dawood and Asif Noorani, as well as dancer and actor Omar Rahim, whose film Meherjaan is being screened at the KLF. Saiyid also announced that clips of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar-nominated short film Saving Face will be screened at the festival and Chinoy will be answering questions.
Organiser Asif Farrukhi said that the festival will be showcasing writing in regional languages, though “not as much as we would have liked”. Last year the festival was criticised for not including as many of these kind of writers. He also highlighted that 2012 is the death centenary of Nazeer Ahmed and the birth centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto. Historian Ayesha Jalal, who is also Manto’s niece, will feature in a session at KLF on his work.
The festival agenda isn’t just about writing – there are sessions on issues such as honour killings, militancy, minority rights and the role of the media.
But the festival’s organisers stressed that it was not necessarily a curatorial decision to include current news issues in the agenda, but it was a reflection of what writers were writing about, as Fryer put it. He also said that festivals were extremely important for people to freely express themselves and debate issues. Farrukhi said that while the choice of issues was not necessarily very topical, they came from the ongoing intellectual debate in literary and academic circles. He also hoped that the debate would be more intellectual and issue-oriented than the likes of what is on political television talk shows.
Saiyid also said she expects a great deal of dialogue and debate, given that the festival features sessions on Balochistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh, as well as on teaching in mother tongues. The OUP managing director also thanked the diplomatic missions of the US, UK, Germany and France for supporting the festival and sponsoring various authors to attend.
Shreela Ghosh, the director arts for British Council in South Asia, said that it was “absolutely vital” to champion the arts in the region to learn about each other. She said the agenda looked “exhausting, but glorious!”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2012.