In Lahore: Bridging divides through culture
As I was taking my place in the audience at the first Lahore Literary Festival, all eager and ready to report for this paper, my gaze took in around 50 or so young people milling about.
It was 9:30am on the morning of February 23 and there they all were, dressed up in their fashionable best, to hear that leftist Tariq Ali speak about all things revolutionary. And there I was, thinking it was mandatory for all young people to stay in bed past midday at the weekend.
This is not to say that the Festival was without groupies. Much love almost immediately started being spread in its name on social media platforms. Folks just could not stop congratulating each other.
Interestingly, all of this played out under the manufactured Resurgence-of-Culture-in-Lahore banner. About time, people sighed, with collective relief. Lahore was on the up. The city could do it. And certainly, Lahore is in need of such reassurances right now.
Cultural traditions and spaces, such as Basant, the kite-flying festival, and the Rafi Peer World Performing Arts Festival, have been squeezed out. And the last year has been abysmal in terms of bringing folk together in cultural spaces.
However, in no way should the success of the Lahore Literary Festival fool us into mistaking it for some grand resurgence of cultural activity. An innovative tool for marketing books n’ burgers, n coffee? For sure.
There, I’ve said it. And, really, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even we ‘burgers’ need a spot or two on which to hang our hats while we get on with the serious business of pontification.
Yet, it remains a shame that the once vibrant city of Lahore can no longer boast kites and music as its cultural offerings. A shame because such celebrations manage to cut across class divides. Though to be fair to the Punjab government, it did, this year, give us the Model Bus Service. Thus for a mere Rs20, you can buy yourself a very different type of cultural experience.
Thus, what we need today, more than ever, is a partnership between cultural groups and local government which will see events appealing to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In short, where anyone can go and feel welcome.
I remain excited about literature festivals for the next year. But, I will be way more excited if cultural spaces that cater to different classes were once again opened up in this city. Here is hoping.
Read more by Saeed here