I am so happy to have made the effort of dropping everything for three days and heeding the pull of Lahore and its literature festival over the last weekend. (As it turned out there were quite a few other Islooites too who had been unable to resist the pull either). It was Lahore at its glorious and hospitable best in every way, including the weather. Open for all at the Alhamra Arts Council, it offered discussion panels, dialogue, performances, book launches – the works. In fact, because different sessions were being held simultaneously every hour in three or four separate halls, one was spoilt for choice over what to attend and what to pass up.
For three days so many of us lived in a sort of bubble, so removed from the realities of extremism that surround us. There were the literati and the glitterati, with a whole lot of just plain arty, all of whom could be witnessed soaking in the experience. The song sung by Tina Sani  kabhi hum khubsoorat thai – could have applied but by changing kabhi to abhi and thai to hain. Visitors from across the border like author Vikram Seth, film maker Mira Nair and famous columnist Shobaa De added to the event with their interesting and uninhibited discussions. “Dumb is the new brilliant” said Shobhaa De when questioned about Rahul Gandhi’s recent interview. “No, twitter did not kill her,” was her definite opinion on the recent death of Shashi Tharur’s wife. Such people to people interactions make it easy to relate to similar issues on both sides of the border and to wish/work for the normalization of ties. To date, the uncertainty of getting visas remains the biggest preventive. Mohsin Hamid and Zia Mohyeddin were among the biggest crowd attracters. And Jugnu Mohsin and Ali Aftab Saeed of Bayghairat Brigade fame brought the house down with their mimicry and humour while talking about political satire. It has now come to light that Jugnu Mohsin is not just an accomplished editor but a mimic par excellence too.
The festival was a huge success due, in no small measure, to the students who were tasked to assist the guests. They were polite, forthcoming and extremely helpful and went out of their way to manage the sessions smoothly. The hundreds of young people on the premises, some as participants and others as facilitators, kept the energy and excitement at a palpable high throughout. There was no incident of rudeness or misbehavior or high handedness. There were no chief guests at sessions and seating was on first come first served basis with long queues and no fuss made at all. Much like anywhere else in the civilized world or even in our own forgotten world depicted by Iqbal, (“aik hee suf mai kharey ho gai mehmood o ayaz”); the young and the uninitiated could stand in line with the renowned and the hoi polloi and take seats as they got in.
Both the evening performances were enthralling. One showcased Naheed Siddiqui performing classical dance with four of her students (while having her son Hasan Mohyeddin doing sangat on the tabla). The second night was a performance by the Sacchal Orchestra whom I had never had the chance to hear live before. They were comparable to any good orchestra the world over. A voice from behind the curtains introduced each track before it was played. As an introduction to the fifth track the announcer said, “We called this one, ‘She ditched me,’ while performing in New York but you will recognize it as ‘Sanu nehr waaley pul tai bula kai!’”
If only we could have this way of life for more than three days, if only we could have it on an ongoing basis; reigning in all this material to stimulate the young enquiring minds of this country, and to encourage them to be part of a progressive and inclusive world. The Taliban are not responsible for not fixing our system of education or the other basic issues which nobody has bothered to put right in all these years.
Post Script: Lo and behold! Just when the National Assembly finally saw the unveiling of the much awaited National Security Policy and should have been taken up by debating it heart and soul, it got diverted by Jamshed Dasti. Dasti, the independent MNA from Muzzafargarh, chose this particular time to unveil instead the personal lifestyles of his fellow MNAs. He has lived in the Parliament Lodges for about six years but his conscience pricked him badly overnight and at once, and he just had to accuse the MNAs residing there of consuming bottles and bottles of alcohol and, as would have been portrayed in Pakistani movie of yore, everything else  associated with the bad and the debauch. Im sure you get the drift. The Speaker has said that he will have an inquiry done. While there are good and not so good across all segments of society, Jamshed Dasti hardly has the credentials to speak out about morality (having been found by the court to be guilty of lying under oath and possessing a fake degree). We need to focus on the bigger issues that confront and divide us, like a more egalitarian system of education, so that events like the Lahore Literature Festival are relished by everyone across the board. Morality will fall into place automatically.

 The writer is a public relations and event management professional  based in Islamabad.

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