LAHORE: The recently concluded two-day Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) came as a breath of fresh air to a city starved of intellectual activities. For many, it brought back memories of yesteryear, when Lahore was the fountainhead of the country’s erudite and accomplished scholars. The most extraordinary aspect of the festival was the overwhelming response of the people and their engagement with the array of distinguished luminaries. It was as if floodgates had opened at Alhamra to quench some insatiable thirst of the locals. I’m quite certain that even the organisers and the sponsors did not expect the event to be such a huge crowd-puller. Almost all sessions on both days saw auditoriums packed to capacity. While the elderly generation was conspicuous, students from universities, colleges and schools came in droves.
Tariq Ali, Ayesha Jalal, Owen Bennett Jones, Mohsin Hamid, Ahmed Rashid, William Dalrymple, Bapsi Sidhwa and Tehmina Durrani were some of the star attractions. The overpowering narratives of these distinguished writers and their responses to various questions from the audience resonated extremely well. Answering a question about whom would he vote for if allowed, Tariq Ali’s response “Imran Khan”, received deafening applause from the audience. “Islam must be discussed more and not less to counter the narrative of the conservative class”, so maintained Ayesha Jalal. “The West looked at Osama bin Laden’s Islam but they should have seen more of Edhi’s Islam, which is all about humanitarianism”, asserted Tehmina Durrani, again to a resounding round of applause. Perhaps, the finest tribute to the citizens, organisers and sponsors of the LLF was paid by Mohsin Hamid of The Reluctant Fundamentalist fame: “It gives me so much pleasure to see Lahore like this — as a writer, this is one of the happiest days of my life”. And the large gathering gave a standing ovation.
Karachi has been holding such an event for quite sometime now, but it was a new experience for Lahore. The sponsors, the city district government and the organisers have done a tremendous service in rejuvenating the literary life of Lahore. One can only hope that the memorable festival will be followed up by similar mega events more frequently.
Muhammad Azam Khan
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2013.