KARACHI: “The role of literature has always been the same in every era — to make a human a human being,” said famed Urdu writer Intizar Hussain.
Hussain joined authors, critics, analysts and a large contingent of media personnel gathered for the opening of the Karachi Literature Festival at the lawns of Acton House at the British High Commission on Friday night. Elegant sari-clad women and men in Nehru suits formed the older crowd while the younger guests chose jeans with sports coats. Starting 9:30 am today, Saturday, over a hundred writers and moderators will be a part of the festival, which is being held at the Carlton Hotel.
At the opening, former city nazim Mustafa Kamal, Faisal Sabzwari and former information minister Javed Jabbar were in the audience, as well as writers Muneeza and Kamila Shamsie, HM Naqvi, Ayesha Siddiqa, Zahid Hussain, Alex von Tunzelmann and artists Madeeha Gauhar and Sheema Kirmani.
Ameena Saiyid, who heads Oxford University Press, said the festival’s size had been increased because of the “demand to include more authors” and make it more international. Authors from the UK, US, France and Germany are participating in this year’s edition. In her speech, Saiyid thanked the US Consulate and the ambassador of France for their support. The festival has been organised by the British Council and OUP.
Author Kamila Shamsie said she was looking forward to Sara Suleri’s session. “I was a bit obsessed with Meatless Days (Suleri’s novel) when I was 17 and she rarely does public appearances,” said the author of Burnt Shadows and Kartography.
Bilal Tanweer, a young author said he was looking forward to having conversations focused on literature away from politics.
The conversation at the opening night focused on literature though. Journalist and critic Ghazi Salahuddin bemoaned the lack of focus on a sole language. “People are neither proficient in English nor Urdu. You can’t be creative unless you have command over one language.” Events like this, he said, serve as a catalyst to inspire and become thought provoking.
Asif Farrukhi said, “for many years the news from Karachi had become predictable..(…) What we were missing out on was how Karachi was becoming the epicentre of literature.”
Even though the focus of the local and foreign press has been novelists writing in English for many years now, Intezar Hussain said, “I don’t feel Urdu readers have decreased in number. In fact, now I think more editions of our work are published. It’s a wave, but the national language has its own importance.”
Faisal Sabzwari was introduced as “someone who had given birth to the youth ministry in Pakistan”. He agreed with Farrukhi’s assessment that Karachi was the epicentre of literature and spoke about the other efforts in the city such as holding Urdu literature conferences and international book expos along with plans to celebrate Faiz Ahmed Faiz this year.
Author Alex von Tunzelmann said she was excited about the sessions with Ahmed Rashid, Kamila Shamsie and Mohammed Hanif. “There are so many exciting authors in Pakistan.” As for the festival, she believes the expansion this year has been great. “They’ve got some really good authors from abroad and if you get a few people in, next year you can get more, it becomes more desirable.”
For more information on the Karachi Literature Festival, visit their website here.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2011.