Lahore Literary Festival 2015 was a saga of manifestation in which the city dwellers from all sections of societies came forward to defeat the curse of Talibanization. It was a challenge our people have given to the hate mongers, a threat to extremist fanatics, a red signal to radicals and a green signal to the power of love. I also dared to walk the footsteps of fellow Pakistanis and attended the festival.

My experience of LLF 2015 filled me with the cheerfulness of typical Lahori society ready to celebrate their art, culture, heritage and togetherness. I saw soft sides of many stern looking personalities often appear on our television screens, sometimes bashing their opponents and sometimes playing a negative character.

I saw a dominant lawyer and human rights award winning activist, Asma Jahangir humbly requesting the nephew of a renowned editor to switch off his phone when he refused to listen the pleads of a volunteer girl in the administration. I saw police personnel tapping their feet on the song of a Siraiki singer. I saw renowned political analyst Najam Sethi attending a session on Noor Jahan and swinging his head in delight. I saw a rubbish collector looking at art collection with praise worthy eyes. I blushed after saying, “Oh gyi,” when the wall of a wooden stall collapsed due to wind pressure. I also caught off guard police guards posing for professional photographers while staying vigilant, which by the way was the cutest thing.  

This year's LLF was grander than before. In my father's words, "every educated person in Lahore knew about it." In a rikshaw driver's words, “What is exactly happening inside?”, "It must be for rich, and people like me cannot afford to attend it." In a Hindu performer’s words, “We have come all the way from Cholistan and my birth name is Bijli, do watch me performing.” In an exhibitor’s words, “I have invested a lot of time in compiling this book, do purchase it and give your feedback.” In an opportunist’s words, “Hey, how are you? Long time no sees, anyways; do arrange me an interview with your boss.”

But above all this year's LLF was about Naseer udin Shah, Asma Jahangir, Khaled Ahmed, Pervaiz Hoodbouy, Ayesha Jalal, Barnett Robin, Romila Thapar, Rashed Ahmed, Najam Sethi, Romesh Gunesekera, Arif Nizami, Fahd Hussain, Joe Sacco and several other enlightened intellectuals.

The first session I made to was of Bollywood veteran actor Naseer udin Shah, hosted by Humsafar acclaimed director Sarmad Khoosat and Mira Hashmi. It was basically about his early life struggles, movie inspirations, audience and medium. “I remembered visuals and initial movies correctly.” He accepted being a sensuous person. He admitted that “Initial choices are not the right one.” He advised filmmakers to be part of movies which cater issues of the current time. On asking about an actor’s failure, he replied, “An actor who gives up hope is a failed actor.” He shared tips and tricks of pleasing a hostile audience. He shared different comments from different fans such as “Ap tau short hain, ap movies mey tau lambay lgtay hain. filmo mey tau ap bohat badsoorat lgtay hain,” left audience laughing. He talked about the importance of audience, “Audience in a play are not optional, they are essential. Theatre is a living medium.”

The second day attracted even larger participants, the book “The Struggle for Pakistan,” by Ayesha Jalal was about a global homeland and politics. She discussed the demand of Pakistan and acknowledged the publishers’ demands of saleable books. It took her 21 years to write her first book on Pakistan. Moreover, she left it on critics to decide whether it was her best book or not. She enlightened that the two-nation theory was ideologically driven rather than historical. She stressed that the theory has mutated a lot since its inception. She emphasized that during the time of struggle for Pakistan there was not a single nation. It was a discourse of different nations and the greatest error in power sharing arrangement was when the nation was neatly equated with religion. She took a hard line against military dictators and said various actors played a parochial role in Dhaka fall. She said Pakistan's alliance with America rose military to power. She lamented that the diplomatic negotiations between Pakistan and India were broken down rather than a brake down. She criticized the determination of boundaries in colonial way. She complained about the borders being considered sacred and questioned why they are not negotiable. Ayesha also shared her views on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and said, “She did not realise how Pakistan has changed. Asif Ali Zardari is more pragmatic than Benazir Bhutto. He just tried to survive.”

Ayesha was of the view that trade alone cannot improve Pakistan and India bilateral relations. She also addressed language issues and was of the view that it is the need of the hour that Pakistanis must be proficient in both languages English and Urdu because “I don't see eliminating one in Pakistan.”

The moderator of “Footnotes from the Frontline” barked up a wrong tree. The moderator came unprepared and panelists seemed confused everyone elaborated their version of the topic, as a result the audience started leaving the once jam packed hall. Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lankan born British author, said, “I wanted to be a writer but I had to write about controversial topics while staying Sri Lanka.” Joe Sacco, Maltese-American cartoonist and journalist was drawing since the age of five or six had never thought of becoming a cartoonist. “My initial comics were about my girl friend and rock bands.” In troubled lands, he said, “Comics are doing something serious in a relatively opposite theory.”

Human Rights activist, Asma Jahangir started her conversation by saying, “You have invited a talker amongst writers.” She highlighted the threats faced by reporters or neutral agents at the conflicted areas, “I have been to Congo, Palestine, Afghanistan, Cosovo. I have seen parallels and differences. Stated reports to UN but the kind of vacant looks in Afghanistan are not found in Sri Lanka or any other war hit zones.” She emphasized on the realization that we are in middle of a conflict and revenge tactics i.e. killing because they killed us, will not do any good to anyone.”

Yasmine El Rashidi, author of “The Battle for Egypt” complained about United States and western media’s hypocrisies and said, “Editors in US had preconceived notions. They would want a story ABC and I would say reality is X,Y,Z.” She continued saying, “On January 5th the uprising happened. I was witnessing something to unfold.” She said what was happening there was conceived 60 years ago. Romesh endorsed her and said, “In most of the conflicts in Sri Lanka most of the people never come to know what happened.”  

Virtual Empires was moderated by renowned editor Rashed Rehman. The session was catered issues regarding virtual reality of the world out there and how much do you want, how much is allowed and controlled. Andrew Small, a policy researcher in US, said Chinese cyber warfare believes in a total defensiveness realm around the fear especially after the Snowden episode. Privacy is an empirical technology. Will there be any privacy in the world in next 20 years is a question mark.”Whereas Pakistan’s nuclear physicist and national security analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy emphasized on the domain of influence. He talked about the power of ideas which he referred to as “memes”. He said, “Innovation of ideas cannot be stopped whose time has come.” He questioned, “Why explosion of religious fundamentalism captured minds of lay people."

The story is incomplete without mentioning LEU 16598, an unknown lover of God, a rikshaw driver, who rejuvenated the spirit of unconditional love for humanity and God, on my way back home.