Legend has it that Lahore was named after Lahu the son of Hindu god Rama and Kasur was named after his other son Kasu. It is believed to be more than two thousand years old. The city has its own traditions and way of life that is not to be found anywhere else on the sub-continent. For nearly a thousand years it has been the centre of gravity for art, literature and cultural activities. Home to some of the greatest personalities in the world of literature and arts like Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Sadequain, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sadat Hasan Manto, Habib Jalib and many others Lahore’s cultural significance and influence has been longstanding.
The second edition of Lahore Literary Festival was a tribute to the city’s preeminence in giving birth to new ideas, poetry and prose. It has fired imagination of thinkers and writers inspiring global literature and thought from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Kipling’s Kim to Massenet’s Opera Le Roi de Lahore to John Master’s Bhowani Junction. The festival was held at the Lahore Arts Council. This year LLF widened its scope by giving more space to Urdu and Punjabi literature. Writers, poets, novelists, intellectuals and art and literature lovers from across the globe numbering more than a hundred attended the festival.
People from across Pakistan from all the provinces and areas like Gilgit and Skardu attended the festival. More than 50,000 people attended the three-day event. It was not that there were 50,000 people at all times. This figure shows the number of people on the whole that participated in the various activities and attended the dialogue sessions in the various halls of Alhamra. More than 60 sessions on literature, art, culture and politics were held. Among the luminaries from abroad present on the various panels were Vikram Seth, Shobhaa De, Mira Nair, Michael and Rachel Dawyer, Vali Nasr, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Framji Minwalla, Shrabani Basu, Vikram Nair, Matthieu Aikins, Rajeev Sethi, Hugh Eakin, Pierre Alain Baud, John Zorobell, Gavin Francis, Maina Bhagat, Samia Mehrez, Florence Noiville, Namita Gokhale Libby Owen Edmunds and Amit Chaudhry. Top Pakistani personalities included Zia Mohyuddin, Mohsin Hamid, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Ahmed Rashid, Tehmina Durrani, Muneeza Shamsie, Fahmida Riaz, Intizar Hussain, Khaled Ahmed, K Anis Ahmed, Sherry Rehman, Aitzaz Ahsan, Maleeha Lodhi, Aysha Raja, Ayaz Amir, Ayesha Jalal, Mira Hashmi, Salima Hashmi, Rafay Alam, Dr Amjad Tufail, Bilal Tanweer and FS Ijazuddin. Punjabi writers Mushtaq Soofi, Afzal Sahir and Nasreen Anjum Bhatti were also present.
The halls in almost all the sessions were packed to the capacity. As many people as were inside the hall were outside who were unable to enter. People could be seen rushing from one hall to another to attend the sessions. Some members of the Sunday Plus team too were among the disappointed lot since the halls were filled minutes before the scheduled time of start. Such was the enthusiasm and interest of people who came from different walks of life and were of all ages ranging from teenage to octogenarians. Students of colleges and universities made the largest number of those attending the festival.
The festival was a place of get together and socialising. Food court had been set up in front of Hall I where one could eat traditional Lahori food as well as fast food. Nescafe coffee was on the house and people could be seen enjoying free coffee at all times as the weather had become cool after unexpected rain on the first day. Unlike last year this year a lot of seating arrangements had been made all over the venue especially in the gardens where colourful traditional pillows had been placed for the comfort of those who wanted to relax from the hectic sessions.
There is a speaker’s corner in Hyde Park, London as well as some other parks. LLF interestingly had a poet’s corner where anyone could recite his/her poetry or poetry of any poet whether Punjabi, English or Urdu. Young people had a heyday everyday throughout the three-day event. Some were shy and spoke in low trembling voices while others recited their own or revolutionary poetry at the top of their voices.
Another interesting activity was that of making paintings, writing poetry and short stories. Those who engaged in the activity were given prizes. A large number of young people could be seen engaged in this activity at all times during the festival. The best part of the festival was the number of book stalls set up by different publishing houses. People took keen interest and it was heartening to see the high sale of books. It shows that book reading is back in vogue. LLF 1014 was a free public event and seating at all sessions was on first-come, first served basis. This year the festival was larger and better organised. Hats off to the organisers for showcasing the best literary talent from across Pakistan and globe. Latitude PR company did a good job of promoting the event and facilitating media.
Vali Nasr talks of changing times
Vali Reza Nasr is an American academic and author specializing in the Middle East and the Islamic world. He is currently Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. His jam packed interactive sessions were held at Hall I. Following are some excerpts of the information he shared:
Iran is going to become centre of gravity in the near future. Arab Spring was a problem for Iran considering the fact that it was a state controlled by Ayatollahs and the revolutionary guards of the revolution. But it has passed through the phase. While the Arab world is on decline Iran has survived. It is the most stable country in the region and the dynamics are moving in its direction. States are losing authority and militants are getting stronger, which is not a good thing.
Analysing the reality one can safely conclude that there can be no stability in Afghanistan unless Pakistan and Iran have good close working relationship and are friendly to each other. Iran and India alliance can be dangerous for Pakistan and it should avoid that tight situation. On the other hand in terms of energy needs gas from is Iran is much cheaper and can be re-exported to the countries on the east like India and China.
Mira Nair & Mohsin Hamid on Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mira Nair is an Indian film director, actor and producer based in New York. She was educated at the prestigious Miranda House of Delhi University and then at Harvard University. Her debut feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), won the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. She has won a number of awards, including a National Film Award and various international film festival awards, and was a nominee at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards and Filmfare Awards. Her films include Vanity Fair, The Namesake, Amelia and recently the much acclaimed Relucatant Fundamentalist.
The hall was packed to the capacity with nearly a 1000 people. Mira began the discussion with explaining her affiliation with the city of Lahore where her father was educated and was based for years. She said she had always wanted to make a film about contemporary Pakistan. Excerpts of the Mira’s conversation with Mohsin Hamid are given below:
The film was always at the back of Mira’s mind, which she believes is a dialogue with USA. Some friends presented her with Mohsin Hamid’s book, which was already a bestseller. It is a monologue. Therefore, they had to invent the dialogue. Professional screen writers in Los Angeles were engaged. In all seven drafts of the scripts were made. Mohsin was engaged from the very beginning and during the making of film Mira came to Lahore many times.
The film was shot for 21 days in Delhi and only four days in Lahore. A huge set was made to show the culture of Lahore. They took props from Lahore to give it the true feel of the city to the artificial set. The cast and crew were of around 200 people from different parts of the world, which in Mohsin Hamid’s view showed that people from different backgrounds can work together to make a film. Mira explained that she would have love to shoot the film in Lahore but no insurance company was ready to insure the cast and crew in Pakistan due to security reasons. It was a huge project and funding for the film fell apart twice.
The World in Miniature
The World in Miniature was a session fully dedicated to the work of Shahzia Sikander. She works in drawing, painting, animation, large-scale installation, performance and video, addressed the session and briefed about her work and achievements and the new horizons she discovered in the form of miniature art. She is associated with miniature painting for almost three decades and for the first time she got an opportunity to show her work in Pakistan. Miniature painting has been the part of her interest and practice since her graduation which she did from NCA. She further explored this form in the early to mid 90s. She showcased her work through projector that how her interest in miniature expanded the medium from within by embracing its crafts, techniques and small details as well as its historical context. She embraced this technique when its future as a contemporary mode of expressions had not yet been laid out in any terms. The work she created from 1987 to 1991 in Lahore was important primarily because of dominant requirement of that time to produce a contemporary depiction of a traditional rich work. Her work challenge that established premises in the society, the un-translated ambiguity of youth and the flux of identity. Shahzia has also been working with different artists and communities to understand the cultural differences. These different locations and cultures have great influence on her work. Much collaboration paved her way for modern art. She also showed her work which he has made and displayed in different countries of the world including huge painting works as high as 30 feet. These works are directly done on the wall. Temporality is a reoccurring aspect of her work and ink drawings remained very fundamental to her work. She also showed some photographs which she has captured and taken inspiration from those photos. Wonderful video was also played which had infusion of different objects and wonderful sounds music related to our present.
Beyond the global novel
In this session Mohsin Hamid, Hugh Eakin, K.Anis Ahmed and Samia Mehrez with Razia Iqbal discussed how the world is becoming a global village and in what way new novels are crossing the boundaries and becoming international books. There were many aspects which came under discussion. Publishing industry is one of the major factors. This industry is changing very rapidly and becoming an enterprise. Now people and publisher have the notion that writers should cater western market also because it is a big market for reading. Then of course writers are not living in hermits; they are also the part of this society and are well-aware about the changing realties of this world. Whenever any novelist writes, its story is always about some people, place and this has been the pattern since Greek, Classic and now the contemporary. But there is one thing common that the story should always be compelling and touching to heart and this is the reason that Jain Austin and Leo Tolstoy still appeal us. Then there is another aspect that who decides that a novel is going to hit or flop. Samia Mehrez addressed this aspect and said that there are many elements which contribute in making a novel hit and language is one of them. For example there are many Arab writers who have produced wonderful pieces of literature but they may not be very famous in other countries because their work has not been translated; and if some have translated may not be reviewed. In this entire race of hit and becoming popular, the writers are losing some of their authorial skills was another point to be discussed. Mohsin Hamid said that the format of reading and writing has entirely changed in last ten to fifteen years in all over the world. Another point which came under discussion was that after 9/11 more work was produced having some political connotations and such topics which could be good for documentaries. Mohsin Hamid said that there are different imaginative spaces in a writer’s mind. That can be political imaginative space with which I deal and many other writers do. He also elaborated that when I am writing about Lahore it does not mean I am writing about Pakistan or Muslims or Islam. Rather I am writing Lahore as a city like Paris. Likewise Paris, Lahore should also be known.
Reportage on Pakistan
Reportage on Pakistan was one of the most interesting sessions of LLF. The speakers were Matthieu Aikins, Shahan Mufti and Zahid Hussain. Talking about the a report which says that Pakistan is becoming a very dangerous country, Zahid Hussain said that people living outside the country may find it so but the country is exciting for reporting as well. Most of the journalists which died are from Tribal Area and in this way Iraq is also equally dangerous for journalist. He pointed out that the best journalism come when media faces some resistance like it faced in Gen. Ziaul Haq era. He also explained that reporting about some conflict is very difficult. The conflict of Afghanistan is not yet covered fully because issue is still there. Same is the case about North Waziristan. It is also highlighted that to produce good stories one has to break some laws and this is happening in every country. This is essential for good journalism. Internationally, Wiki leaks is its example and locally during Zia era there was a complete ban on reporting any news about MRD movement, but reporters performed their duties against all odds. Shahan Mufti and Matthieu Aikins pointed out that there are many issues like labour laws which can’t be reported even in Punjab. It is the most censored topic of the province. Matthieu also said that state intervenes here in Pakistan and censors lot of news but this is not the case in Afghanistan. It may be difficult to get some news or to investigate about some issue but state does not intervene in that. Zahid Hussain added that there is lot self-censorship which is because of owners of the media houses. Then there are also many day to day affairs which are neglected because those issues may not get attraction of the readers or get rating for TV channels. Discussing how the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will affect Pakistan, Zahid Hussain replied that we have more threats from within Pakistan than from any neighbouring country. He said that the number of soldiers killed in Pakistan is more than the soldiers killed in Afghanistan and the irony is that the government is still not clear about its policy for terrorism. In future there will be a fight between moderate people and the extremist people, who are also less in number. It is more ironic that these extremist people have become successful in creating terror in the minds of the people and now every person feels threat to be killed in some bomb blast. Talking about the freedom of press he said that it is a double edge sword. He criticized media for giving air time to Maulana Abdul Aziz who have repeatedly said that he has almost 500 suicide bombers. Similarly the coverage of Malala Yousafzai was also made controversial on media. Talking about the military operation in North Waziristan he said that it is a fight of ideology. Presently we can overcome these terrorists but to avoid them we have to fight that ideology.
Crisis of education: Tagore’s meaning today
Tagore concept of education was somewhat different. He wanted practical and aesthetically accomplished graduate. He hated the idea of nationalism and what a state does to create uniformity in the minds. Education is the first victim of nationalism and under nationalism education is more dangerous than illiteracy. Its example is the syllabus of India and Pakistan which is specially designed to create hatred for each other. Pervez Hoodbhoy added that religious nationalism is more dangerous and the war of Iran and Iraq is its prime example. Quoting a local example of religious nationalism, he said that Taliban killed FC men and played football with their heads, while the Information Minister Pervez Rashid said that Taliban are bad but if India attacks us, they will be on our side. Similarly, he said that the book of Pakistan Studies even of sixth grade is a poison which we are teaching to our young generation. In that book our students read that how Muslims are different from Hindus, which was the basis of Two-Nation Theory and the separation of the sub-continent. The book also tells us about the three wars in which India used aggression against Pakistan. He was of the view that from the very initial stage the syllabus poisons the minds of the students. Amit Chaudhuri said that nationalism discourages the ambiguous ideas in the minds of people. He said that Tagore hated institutions which became a hate for nationalism. He also hated prints and publications and preferred hand writing because he was of the view there could many nuisances in hand written material.
The Suitable Duo
The session The Suitable Duo was rightly named so. Nasreen Rehman and Vikram Seth indulged into discussion which at once was amusing, informative and literary. It introduced the audiences to the Chinese and English poets and gave a peep into the literary influences on Seth and last but not least, the people had a chance to have a glimpse of writer’s relation with his parents and grandparents. What more can you have in a session of one hour!
Nasreen Rehman, who was often called Cheeni by Seth, is working on a book on Cinema of Lahore which would be published soon. However, I would not dwell on the intriguing work of Rehman, as the session was more about Seth who talked about his life, work and experiences and also read excerpts from his book in a vivacious manner.
Vikram Seth who is a Classic at heart, believes that rhyme and meter are intrinsic to poetry, so translation from one language to the other must be accompanied by the rhythm and the structure must not be lost. Seth read translated Chinese poetry when he was an undergraduate and it moved him so much that he decided to learn the language. Aside from reading his translation of Chinese poets, the writer read a chunk from “A Suitable Boy” in a melodramatic way. Mrs. Rupa Mehra who is shattered on knowing that her beloved daughter Lata is head over heals in love with a Muslim boy. The excerpt mesmerizes the audience who laugh at bewilderment of Mrs. Rupa Mehra as narrated by Seth. Seth tells that Mrs. Rupa Mehra is very much like her late grandmother. The author then moves to talk about his parents and reads a poem which he had written about his father. The poem reflects his love and emotional attachment and Seth gives an advice to youth “It may be too late for this life, but for the next time choose your parents well.”
Vikram Seth also tells that how he lived in the house of great metaphysical poet George Herbert. Though financially it bankrupted him but intellectually it enriched his experience. Seth is a versatile writer. One write-up cannot be enough to even comment on his one session what to say of his life and works!
Humaray Zaman ki Kahaniyaan
A French writer who comes to the subcontinent and listens to both Hindi and Urdu and likes Urdu so much that he leaves the language of Camus and Voltaire behind to embrace the language of Saghar, is definitely an intriguing figure. Julien Columeau, however says that he still writes French in Urdu. He is right in a way. The way he uses the phrases like “istirahat farmana” for birds, gives the clue about his French background. The session was about Columeau’s work and was conducted by Asif Farrukhi.
Farrukhi told that he wanted to keep the session informal and would not present Columeau as an exotic thing. However, this effort was neither visible and of course nor successful. Nonetheless we got to know that Columeau wrote first novel about 2005 earthquake and sent it to Farrukhi for publication. Farrukhi was surprised that how could a Frenchman write such Urdu so he kept inquiring that who wrote the novel. Finally when he came to believe Columeau, Columeau had turned to the second novel and said to him “leave that I am writing another one”.
Julian wrote about Meera Ji and Saghar. His usual subjects are poets, junkies, prostitutes and even fanatic militants. He says that normal does not exist. When asked that does he intend to write about as mysterious a character as himself, the writer told that he always writes about himself. Columeau is a shy person who sat with his side towards audience mainly facing Farrukhi. The session seemed slow however it gained pace when audience was allowed to ask the questions just after half an hour as Farrukhi seemed to be short of questions.
Barred from entering one session, I found myself rushing too “Angrezi Mushaira” session. Though I was not expecting much, yet the experience turned out to be really well. Following the introduction, Sadaf Saaz, a Bangladeshi poet recited her poems, one of which was a really disturbing account of Bangladeshi women who were shunned away by their society after being raped in 1971. Jocelyn grabbed the opportunity to celebrate Lahore and Bushra Naqi took the moment to pay her reverence to the city of lights, Karachi, in a gloomy way, saying that “a city in darkness sleep.” Muneeza Shamsi introduced the audience to the great English poets hailing from the sub-continent. Ilona Yousaf recited the poems which had strong imagery. Athar Tahir read from his new book. At the end of the session, Jocelyn recited her verses beautifully emphasizing that may be words don’t help but silences don’t help either. So use these small words to console the loved ones for you never know they might be useful when you are not around.
Musk Deer: The Contemporary in Tradition
A designer who has such reverence for ancient art and architecture that before planning renovation, he writes a poem, must take his work as seriously as his faith. No wonder Rajeev Sethi is one of the most respected designers and stenographers of the world.
Sethi has high regards for the diversity of South Asia and he claims to be a “Sasian” as he puts it. He first Asian designer to be hired by Louis Vouitton for renovation of their stores and now he is renovating Mumbai. Noorjehan Bilgrami told that after the inauguration of his work we may witness flights from Mumbai to Mumbai just to see the beauty of his work which combines contemporary with the ancient.
Print is here to Stay
A panel of five people including writer, publisher, bookstore owner and journalist sat to emphasize that nothing could replace the pleasure of reading a book. They told that culture in a bookstore alone is a pleasing experience which virtual bookstores cannot provide. Ameena Saiyid and Gavin Francis were particularly of this view. Their views were agreeable; books are more user friendly and delightful. However, their argument in the favor of the topic seemed more like wishful thinking than assertive logic. The other party sounded more realistic saying that print is being overtaken; nonetheless the age of writers, publishers and journalists is not over. They will have to adapt to serve in other capacities.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 02-Mar-2014