KARACHI: If you missed Karen Armstrong at the Aga Khan University last year, come to the Carlton Hotel on Saturday to soak up her words of wisdom and mingle with the who’s who of Pakistani literature because they will all be descending on Karachi for the second literature festival.
There is no entry fee and events will run all day long from 9:30 am to 9 pm. Fahmida Riaz, Zahida Hina and Ali Sethi will be talking about ‘Literature in the Age of Extremism’, Kamila Shamsie and Ishrat Lindblad will be talking about Karachi, today, tomorrow and yesterday and Zulfikar Ghose will be holding a creative writing workshop. Feryal Gauhar, Madeeha Gauhar, Intizar Hussain, Asif Farrukhi will also be taking part. Bina Shah and Sunil Sethi will be launching new books. There will be story telling for children, musings on art and performance and hard talk between Khaled Ahmed and Ahmed Rashid. From politics to poetry, post-colonial angst and primal rites, there promises to be something for everyone at the festival.
The event is not only meant to provide writers, authors and poets a platform, “it is also to give readers a chance to reclaim their passion [for books] and once again feel the sheer joy of being surrounded by writers and getting their books signed”, said Oxford University Press (OUP) managing director Ameena Saiyid on Monday at the press conference to announce the programme.
Aiming to diversify the festival, the organisers – Ameena Saiyid, who is also the director for the British Council, Sindh and Balochistan, Syed Mashhood Rizvi and writer Asif Farrukhi – have scheduled panel discussions, dance performances, plays, as well as a tribute to Faiz Ahmed Faiz by Lahore-based music band Laal. “We want to emphasise the pleasure of poetry rather than just narrating it in a conventional format. And through Laal, we plan to do just that,” said Farrukhi.
Farrukhi explained that the organisers “want to touch on areas that affect all of us but are not fully discussed and debated”. Giving an example of the challenges they faced, he questioned “how can we highlight and switch focus to literature in the time of extremism?” The festival also aims to promote English, Urdu, Sindhi and other regional languages of Pakistan.
“We have learnt a great deal from the festival last year and we feel the voices of the youth more this time around,” said Rizvi. He added that they plan to have a series of mini festivals over the year in various cities to keep the “passion” alive.
“One is being planned for Hyderabad but nothing is set in stone and we have not even scheduled the dates yet,” Farrukhi said but added they were very keen “to spread the celebrations countrywide”.
The organisers have also announced a prize of Rs100,000 for a non-fiction piece, written in 2010, by a writer based in Pakistan, or a Pakistani writer based abroad.
Saiyid told The Express Tribune that the festival “almost did not take place this year due to financial constraints”. OUP had approached several local companies, including those from the telecom sector, trading agencies, construction industry and a few multi-nationals for sponsorship, she said.
“We showed them a documentary of the festival from last year and the success it achieved but they still turned us down,” she said. “They all said they had no money and this was a bad year.” Finances are an issue even for the organisers who have faced an increase of 40 per cent in all their expenses. The festival is going to cost around Rs10 million this year.
It was for this reason that OUP approached the US consulate and the British Council for support. “The French consulate is also supporting us by flying down two French academics, who are scheduled to come and read at the festival,” she said.
Another problem the organisers faced was getting the visas for Indian writers, whose arrival in the country is still not confirmed. “They are scheduled to fly in on Thursday and they still have not been issued their visas,” she said. Saiyid added that her conversation with the Pakistan High Commission and the interior ministry were in vain. “One of the [Indian] writers has dropped out [of the festival] because of this visa issue.”
The festival will be held next year on February 11, 12 and 13.
For more information on the Karachi Literature Festival, click here.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2011.