Pakistan is passing through difficult times. It is not the same country where we were born. Things have changed over the years and not for the better. We are in a state of war against an unseen enemy. About half mile from Alhamra Halls on The Mall in Lahore there was a suicide bomb attack in which five people were killed and many injured. Three days later holding three-day Lahore Literary Festival at Alhamra seemed a crazy thing but after success of the event one can safely conclude that resolve of Pakistanis to live their freedom is stronger than that terror which continues to haunt us. 

The festival’s third edition this year would prove to be a memorable event for more than 50,000 people who attended. For the first time policemen in uniform holding klashnikovs and heavily armed Rangers could be seen moving about among the public. It all came as a surprise on the first day when the public was frisked again and again before entering the venue. Hats off to the security people for keeping the LLF safe from any untoward incident.

The arrangements were more elaborate than last year. The number of halls increased from three to five while for those who failed to attend the session due to non-availability of space live streaming of the discussion could be seen on the screens set up in open space in front of Hall I.

The most exciting element about the event was the diversity of writers and the people attending it. Over 100 writers, intellectuals, poets, historians and thinkers from USA, UK, Australia, Palestine, Bangladesh, India, Egypt and Colombia. There were over 250 guests from other countries including Afghanistan. LLF was attended not only by Lahoris but people from across Pakistan. One could see young people from Gilgit Baltistan, Quetta, Mardan, Peshawar and Seraiki speaking areas. Majority of sessions were in English but the ones related to Urdu, Punjabi and Seraiki were in these languages.

The highlights of this year included the launch of author Mohsin Hamid’s Discontents and Its Civilizations and artist-educator Salima Hashmi’s The Eye Still Seeks, discussions with Pakistani-American author Zulfikar Ghose on his seminal 1967 book, The Murder of Aziz Khan, and Peter Oborne on Wounded Tiger, his book on Pakistani cricket. Most of the sessions were packed held in packed to the capacity halls. In fact you had to hurry while shuttling from one hall to another in order to make sure you reached in time. The discipline of the people must be mentioned as people waited for their turn to move in and there was no pushing each other.

Among the distinguished panellists were Romela Thapur, Naseeruddin Shah, Aitzaz Ahsan, Asma Jehangir, Basharat Qadir, Rahul Singh, Shobhaa De, F S Ijazuddin, Andrew Small, Roger Cohen, Salil Tripathi, Lyse Doucet, Naseeruddin Shah, Intizar Hussain, Kishwar Naheed, Mahesh Rao, Zulfikar Ghose, Muneeza Shamsie, Nukhbah Langah, Deborah Baker, Moni Mohsin, Rachel Holmes, John Zubrzycki, Romesh Gunesekera, Faiza Butt, Hari Kunzru, Barnett Rubin, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Aminatta Forna, Kamila Shamsie, Ahmed Rashid, Eve Ensler, Monique Wilson, Rabih Alameddine, Priya Kapoor, John Elliott, Yasmin El Rashid, Syeda Abida Hussain, Max Becherer, Richard Heller and Peter Oborne. They all had their star power and fan following. It was interesting to watch young people taking selfies with them or commenting about them on the social media.

The subjects chosen this year showed the range of the festival starting from literature to art, theatre, films, music, television, journalism, architecture, philosophy, history and political activism. The topics that are being mentioned here will give a glimpse into what 30 sessions each day were about. Cityscapes: writing and living in global cities, Reflections of Seraiki Literature, The Eccentric world of PG Wodehouse, The last Nizam of Hyderabad, What happens in Kabul stays in Kabul, Do all roads lead to China?, Temples of Indus, Ordered disorder of Karachi, When a woman and mountains meet, Middle East: Between a Rock and a hard place, Virtual empires, Taking South Asia to Venice, Secure again in an insecure world, Anticipating peace: India and Pakistan, Future of TV news: Journalism or mirch masala, Fifty shades of feminism and All that jazz in Bombay and Karachi. There was more to the festival then just literature. Some discussions began as bizarre talk but flared up into political debates and debates about the rising extremism in Muslim world and who was responsible for that. In the air was nostalgia about the past, criticism on the present and hope for the future.

The venue had the look of a festival as people could be seen enjoying the beautiful spring weather of Lahore. The food court served a variety of traditional food items and of course the coffee was on the house as always. The main attraction was the number of new books on display at the stalls. It was interesting to note that even those books that are not available in the market were there and at special discounts as well. PTCL had set up a promotions stall doing good business by offering its communication devices at special discount prices. Souvenirs and Tshirts of LLF and other decorative items.

Each day ended with special performances. On the first day musical band Poor Rich Boy gave an electrifying performance with mix of English and Urdu numbers. On the second day Vikram Seth with Heeba Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah present a performance Poetic Parables while traditional mushaira was also held. On the last day Eve Ensler with Rafi Peer Sufi Music Ensemble presented a performance One Billion Rising.

LLF is now a permanent feature on the calendar of events every year. Hopefully next year it will bring more people together for sharing our resolve to live peacefully and independently.