The third iteration of the Karachi Literature Festival, to be held this weekend, promises to be even bigger and better-attended than the successful events held over the past two years. Many excellent writers and poets have been flown to Karachi and, apart from the usual suspects of Pakistani literature, include Hanif Kureishi, Mirza Waheed and William Dalrymple. The two-day weekend will be a cornucopia of reading and learning and as always, the entry will be free. For a city that is starved of entertainment, the Karachi Literature Festival is a rare oasis. Despite the pervasive threat of terrorism, security isn’t suffocating and writers mingle freely and answer questions from attendees.
The Karachi Literature Festival is also a chance for foreign correspondents to grasp that elusive ‘softer’ side of Pakistan and file feature stories on how books, not bombs are winning the day. From fashion shows to kids picking up garbage from littered streets, there is no everyday activity that cannot be framed by some journalists as a response to militancy. For once, though, it would be nice if an event is treated as just that — an educational and entertaining diversion which provides an outlet for fun that Karachi sorely lacks. There is no need to impute any bravery to Karachiites simply for turning up to a literary festival.
This is not to say that politics will be wholly absent from the Karachi Literature Festival. A good portion of the panels will be dealing with the war on terror and other geo-political matters. In a country where political books occupy most of the space on best-seller lists, this is hardly surprising. In fact, there are nearly as many journalists scheduled to appear at the festival as writers. Unfortunately, there is no escaping politics in Pakistan. Still, the Oxford University Press, the organisers of the event with support from the British Council, deserves kudos for expanding the scope and size of the Karachi Literature festival with each passing year. We may not yet able to compete with the likes of the Jaipur Literature Festival hosted in India, but we are surely getting there.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2012.