KARACHI: “All these years of plotting and planning in my office in London and it’s finally happening!” exclaimed a British Council official as she entered the garden at Carlton Hotel, the venue for the dinner hosted by Oxford University Press (OUP) and the British Council to kick off the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF).
Karachi’s old-money society walked in, in their evening best, exchanging notes on the day’s politics. Snatches of conversation revealed Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif were being discussed, while others remarked on how unseasonably cold Karachi is at the moment.
The US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, and the head of the British Council, David Martin, were among the attendees along with a large smattering of authors, including Anatol Lieven, Ayesha Siddiqa, Ajmal Kamal, Ahmed Rashid, Muneeza and Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid and HM Naqvi.
And of course, there was Shobhaa De - the woman who Kamila Shamsie thinks “may bring a touch of glamour to the proceedings” - sitting at a table with director Sahira Kazmi.
The green-sari clad Shobhaa De told The Express Tribune that she’s already done quite a fair bit in her time in Karachi - including a lunch at Cafe Flo and shopping for lawn. “I need to get Multani plates but I can’t find them. I’ve been told I can get them from Itwar Bazaar.”
Shobhaa De’s friend taking her around the city is designer Shamaeel Ansari, “who’s been a friend for a long time. So it’s been interesting to see Karachi through her.”
Shobhaa De says Indian socialites are rather curious about how Pakistani women “put their outfits together” and the “long lines of the kurtas”. She said “there’s no comparison” between Pakistani and Indian women when it comes to beauty - the Pakistanis are far more beautiful. She revealed that she was also planning to attend a sangeet at a mehndi at a farmhouse on Friday night to get a good look at Karachi society.
OUP managing director Ameena Saiyid said that 5,000 people attended KLF in 2010, which doubled in 2011. How many walk through the doors of Carlton Hotel today will be a litmus test for the festival. She told The Express Tribune that she was looking forward to the young Pakistani authors such as Ayesha Salman and Shehryar Fazli.
The US consulate was called an “intellectual partner” of the festival. “Marilyn and I are excited to be at the festival,” Ambassador Munter said, referring to his wife, Dr Marilyn Wyatt. “It’s an honour for us to experience the vibrant culture here.”
There was some bad news in store - the films on the schedule are not being screened because the organisers learned at the last minute that they would need permission from the government to do so. And for those who were looking forward to fireworks between Military Inc author Ayesha Siddiqa and Pakistan: A Hard Country author Anatol Lieven, will be disappointed to learn that it has been turned into a panel discussion, tempered by the additions of Mohsin Hamid and Ghazi Salahuddin.
As the evening wore on, there were speeches by German Consul General Dr Tilo Klinner and KLF founder Asif Farrukhi. Prizes were also announced for a competition in photography and creative writing organised by the British Council in connection with the celebrations of Charles Dickens’ work. The photography prize went to Awais Ali Sheikh and the creative writing prize to Syeda Hiba Ahmad.
And then the smell of food - biryani and karhai - wafted through the air and the emcee wrapped up the proceedings so the covers on the food platters could be lifted.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2012.