‘Literature the soul of Pakistan, a source of guidance’

Speakers delve into issues of country’s international standing and internal class divide

While Khar focused heavily on the country’s international standing, its foreign relations woes and its way forward, Asher delved into issues of class divide and tolerance in the country. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/EXPRESS


Speakers at the 4th Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF), which commenced here on Friday, called for building a progressive, tolerant and more equal society.

Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar and writer Masood Asher were keynote speakers at the inaugural ceremony.

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While Khar focused heavily on the country’s international standing, its foreign relations woes and its way forward, Asher delved on the issues of class divide and tolerance in the country.

Their complementary takes on the issues of Pakistan resonated with the themes set by the previous speakers – of course-correcting, resilience, and building a progressive society.

On literature and culture, Khar said that it represented the soul of the country and sometimes, the mind — the government and the military — should consult the soul for guidance.

She said in Pakistan, self-criticism was considered unpatriotic, but that critical analysis was actually more patriotic as it helps make us better.

She spoke about the need to educate our children about the different historical perspectives through books.

She also said that the country needed to improve its ties with the three “hostile neighbours”; and to self analyse before scapegoating others for its problems.

She said she was optimistic about Pakistan’s future, because since the democratic transition, there had been a growing consensus on the need to challenge terrorism and not apologise for it any longer.

Masood Asher spoke about the need to break the walls that divide Pakistani society on the basis of class. He reminisced about better times, when rival contemporaries in any field could discuss their ideas without fear.

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Intizar Hussain remembered

As the 4th edition of the festival began, speakers paid tribute to Intizar Hussain, who had been part of the festival since its inception. The legendary Urdu writer passed away in February this year.

Festival co-founders Ameena Saiyid, from the Oxford University Press (OUP), and writer Asif Farrukhi gave the opening addresses. Farrukhi credited Hussain for being a long-standing supporter of the idea of lit fests.

Saiyid said that Hussain would be greatly missed this year. She said that, in his honour, the OUP had published a new volume of his works.

She said that literature festivals give an opportunity for new ideas to flourish. She was pleased that the concept of lit fests had spread to other cities too, enriching their cultures.

“These are perhaps not the most peaceful of times here, but our holding of such festivals is both an act of defiance and an act of optimism,” she said.

Echoing her sentiments, Farrukhi said that such events preserve culture and provide opportunities for diverse conversations to take place.

Remembering Intizar Hussain, he said, “You filled our lives with stories; you came from the land of stories and returned to it. We miss you and in your honour, we aspire to continue the journey through stories, books and literature.”

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French ambassador Martine Dorance also acknowledged Hussain’s contribution to literature. She said that the festival demonstrated the vibrancy of Pakistani society, and how it values debates.

British High Commissioner Thomas Drew, referring to Anatol Leiven’s book ‘Pakistan A Hard Country’, said though Pakistan was indeed a hard country, it could explore its softness by promoting arts, literature and culture.

He said literature seemed to hold a special place in the Pakistani psyche, as could be seen from their reverence for Iqbal, and that writers could help shape the discourse here.

The festival boasts a diverse group of speakers. It will conclude on Sunday.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th,  2016.


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