Despite air of uncertainty, Karachi Literature Festival begins | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Despite air of uncertainty, Karachi Literature Festival begins

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: The overcast, gloomy conditions on Friday evening seemed like a poignant reflection of the tensions on Indo-Pak borders. The arrival of guest speakers from outside of Karachi and from more than a dozen countries of the world was uncertain because airports had been closed for flight operations for the last couple of days. But, thankfully, a decent number of book lovers and the hustle and bustle that is so typical of the city by the sea made the opening ceremony of the 10th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) at a local hotel look like business as usual.

The two keynote speakers for the day, Deborah Baker and I.A. Rehman, couldn’t reach Karachi for the above-mentioned reason. They were replaced by critic Muneeza Shamsie and poet Zehra Nigah.

Ms Nigah was the first one to deliver the keynote address. She at the outset stated, with a fair degree of pride in her voice, that she in her life had seen governments come and go, but Friday was a historic day. What the present Pakistani government, led by Imran Khan, has achieved no one has. The day will be marked as the day when [Indian pilot] Abhinandan safely returned to his country and family. The example that Mr Khan has set will go down in history, mentioned in books and used as an example [of peace and harmony].

Event is celebrating its 10th year

Ms Nigah said it gave her immense pleasure to listen to an army general say that no one wins in a war; instead, only humanity suffers. “This is the real change (tabdeeli) that has occurred.”

The poet then touched on the festival which is in its tenth year. She commended the organisers for starting a trend of literary festivals in the country. “Literature reflects life. A writer or a poet has to write about truth and beauty. It is very difficult for the writer/poet to decide which one is better.” She pointed out poetry is an important genre of literature. While qaseedahs don’t last for a long time, ghazals, nazms and marsiyas written with sincerity do.

Ms Shamsie said she has been privileged to be part of the KLF since its inception. Lit fests not only give a platform to writers but also provide an opportunity to disseminate knowledge about new literary trends and books. More than that, they provide an opportunity for informed stimulating discussion in an atmosphere which is not hampered by the fear of censorship.

Ms Shamsie said we live in dangerous times as there are tensions on the borders, and our country has played a mature role. This hostility has been exacerbated by new technology in our midst with disinformation, aggressive and unthinking messages and videos disseminating on social media; whereas what we really need is an informed analysis. It is only when we can confront the reality of the present and the past that forced it that we can move towards a peaceful and amicable future.

Censorship in society

Ms Shamsie said in the 10 years of researching the development of Pakistani literature in English (that’s available in the form of the book Hybrid Tapestries published in 2017) the repetitive thread that kept jumping out at her was: censorship. One of the reasons that she’s always loved the creative arts is that they look beyond the black and white and explore the ambiguities of our world. What bothers her is that how deeply entrenched the idea of censorship has become in our society. In a sense, we all are to blame for it. Freedom of the press and creative expression is not something that ordinary citizens stand up for. Sadly, we have come to a stage where we can no longer differentiate between free speech and free propaganda.

Governor Sindh Imran Ismail, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said he has been a regular visitor to KLF. In one of the previous years he attended a session in which Anwar Maqsood entertained a jam-packed hall with his witticisms and humour. The governor went down memory lane to talk about the time when Karachi was a violence-stricken city and when fear reigned supreme. Thankfully, things have changed for the better.

Earlier, Managing Director Oxford University Press Arshad Husain, while welcoming the guests, said the idea of postponing the event was entertained because of the situation but “we have a commitment to the people of Karachi.”