That Pakistanis are starved for entertainment was amply demonstrated at the Karachi Literature Festival this weekend. There was standing room only as Karen Armstrong launched the two-day event. The second iteration of the event was even more successful than the first, both in terms of attendance and the quality of panelists. The organisers, the British Council and the Oxford University Press, deserve plaudits for putting on a festival that did justice to literature in Pakistan, both in English and Urdu. At a time when terrorism has taken away international cricket from Pakistan and threatened cinema in many parts of the country, it is heartening to find out that it is still possible to host a large event where security isn’t suffocating. Perhaps the best thing about the literature festival was that it didn’t charge a fee for entrance, making it accessible to all. The venue of the event may be in a remote suburb of the city, but the large turnout showed that the location didn’t dissuade attendees. That the likes of Karen Armstrong, Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif showed up and willingly signed books and chatted with attendees is further testament to the hard work put in by the festival organisers.

After we’re done patting ourselves on the back, though, there are some questions we need to ask ourselves. Was the turnout at the event due to a love of literature or because the see-and-be-seen crowd had nowhere else to go? We also have to make sure that we go forward from this event and put on other events on a similar scale. The international media has an unfortunate tendency to paint such events as a liberal riposte to the Taliban and terrorism. Only by holding events of this nature on a regular basis will we be able to shoot down that ludicrous notion. The Karachi Literature Festival is not about fighting bombs with books. It is about having a good time in an intellectually stimulating setting.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2011.