In just four years, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) has become one of the city’s, most anticipated events and this year was no exception. It was marred by a few disappointments, the most notable being the absence of arguably the festival’s most awaited guest, Indian poet Gulzar who pulled out unexpectedly, along with Indian filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, at the last minute. Indian novelist Shobha De, who participated in last year’s KLF, was unable to attend this year due to a last-minute visa issue. Nonetheless, even the thunder could not keep eager Karachiites of all ages, including children, away from the wide array of sessions (nearly 150 panels) planned in a course of three days. Judging by the topics of the sessions, it would seem that the KLF was more political than literary but perhaps, one cannot escape this
given the nature of Pakistan, and certainly Karachi, where politics is inextricably linked to life. But it was not meant to be a popularity contest; a session on satire drew just as large a crowd as did the one on the missing Baloch, to cite just one example.
This year, too, featured an impressive line-up of speakers. Speakers included Steve Inskeep, former US ambassador Cameron Munter, Attaul Haq Qasmi, Intizar Husain, Izzeldin Abuelaish and the fiction writers without whom the KLF would not be a success: Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam, and Kamila Shamsie. Perhaps, one spoiler in the otherwise noteworthy event was the fee that one had to pay for a chance to interact with authors in an intimate setting. This sum goes against the spirit of the free festival; in fact, the interaction that takes place outside the session is what makes the festival lively. One does hope the KLF organisers will reconsider this for the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2013.