Literary Festival begins in Lahore
LAHORE, Feb 22: The first Lahore Literary Festival was under way with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif declaring it open at a ceremony at Alhamra, The Mall, on Friday.
The prelude provided a sampling of what the festival is going to offer. The highlight of the ceremony was the life-time achievements given to three shining lights of literature, Intizar Husain, Bapsi Sidhwa and Zehrah Nigah, who also recited her famous ever-relevant poem that yearns for some kind of order in the country — even if the one the jungle is ruled by.
“Suna hai jangalon ka bhi koyee qanoon hota hay (We are told even the jungles are governed by some rules) William Dalrymple read out from his famous ‘Last Mughal’. The selection, just as the book itself, brought out shades which have been submerged by the general and long-held view of the British claiming the throne of Delhi as the culturally superior contestants for power.
Ghalib in Dalrymple’s excerpt was followed by rendition by Ali Sethi of Faiz and then by Haider Rehman — in the words of the chief guest, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, with a mesmerising performance on flute.
With his reputation as doer, Mr Sharif spoke about the need for action, yet pledged his support for the promotion of arts and culture. In a light vein, he compared himself to another man of steel and iron, Ratan Tata and his initiatives for the encouragement of literature.
The chief minister spoke fondly of the Lahore of 1950s and 1960s where families — including Parsis and Christians — would stroll on The Mall, and lamented how these values were trampled under the weight of occurrences around and during the 1980s. The Afghan war and vices such as the Kalashnikov culture it brought to Pakistan inevitably figured as the turning point in his speech.
Responding to the organsiers’ call for greater government-private initiative partnership in aid of culture, Mr Sharif agreed to set up a fund for writers and announced that he would be setting up a committee for the purpose.
While this fund may require some time, and some constant pursuing by the writers’ well-wishers to materialise, Mr Sharif offered writers gathered for the festival some instant reward: using the occasion to introduce the audience to the omnibus edition that he has himself proudly authored, he offered the gathering of writers a free instant ride on his flagship metro system.
He was particularly keen on taking on the bus tour writer Tariq Ali “a leftist activist of the 1960s”. “I want to show him how this bus has ended the divide between the left and the right and placed people on an equal footing (aik hi saff main kharay ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz)”.