As this year’s literature festivals in Pakistan are approaching, I will reflect on a few aspects of thoughts, words and literature. As always, Pakistan and Norway are my favorite countries.

Words can be as powerful and as lethal as swords and guns, or as powerful as miracles. And behind the words there can be God’s inspiration, even ‘God’s finger’. There can also be ignorance, prejudice and ill will. We must be careful about what we say and write, because the smallest word or the biggest can have enormous consequences, even if those consequences are just at an individual level in the home or at the workplace. A child may remember for the rest of his or her life what a teacher or a parent said in a thoughtless moment.

Behind our words, there are our thoughts, opinions, values, knowledge, and more. Sometimes, we say that you can see the soul of a person in his or her eyes. Yes, perhaps, at least some of it, but far from all. We may share most things with family and close friends. Yet, our thoughts are our own, we say. It is when thoughts are formulated into spoken or written words that we can relate to them; we can respond to them; we can learn and listen; and we can disagree and discuss.

Sometimes I make my written contributions, without being a writer in a literary sense, yet, I write scholarly books. But I have friends who are specialists in the art of writing; one of Norway’s must productive writers of fiction, memoirs and other books is Tor Edvin Dahl (born 1943). He has written more than 150 books by now. I am glad such people exist, and I am glad he carries out the role of a writer; he puts words to his thoughts, and those thoughts are sometimes quite like my own, and at other times not at all. Whether I agree or not, his words add to my understanding of the world, its people, places, and structures.

Like one of Norway’s, and the world’s greatest writers, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), Dahl has also sought warmers shores for his residence, notably France. Ibsen chose Italy, and also Germany, for close to thirty years – eventually to return to Norway a literary hero as many of his works had already be published and performed at home and abroad.

Maybe distance and peacefulness is a prerequisite for making thoughts into words, putting pen to paper, as we say, for many thinkers and writers? And for others, it is essential to be in the midst of the current debates, actions and ‘storms’, to be more creative. And Ibsen was that, too, in earlier years, with politicians and writers. The feuds, the wars of words, with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903, was central in Norway’s public debate, long before CNN and BBC set the agenda.

But Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), who was the Nobel literature laureate in 1928, lived a more secluded life, although not as sheltered as I used to think. She wasn’t into the big issues, in the same way as the men were. Had she lived later, she might well have been, because she was a typical intellectual .

In Pakistan, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) and Mohsin Hamid (born 1971) are two top writers, different and unique, who have drawn from trends and thoughts in their time. Controversial issues must be written about, and they contribute to debate and change, even if they may not move mountains.

Hamid’s book ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ (also made into film) is as elegant and deeply analytical as any learned dissertation. That is indeed what writers can do; they can describe and analyze the world with words, using their insight into peoples’ minds, social injustices, and more. Writers can show us things that might otherwise remain blurred and unclear to us; they can coin phrases and sentences that will make people understand and remember. Writers can hold up mirrors and show us who we are, and perhaps, too, what we should be.

But what writers do can also be controversial, as many of the works of those I mentioned above. Like social scientists, writers will often disagree with the establishment and conventional thinking. Bjørnson, said; “Fred er ei det Beste, men at man Noget vil”. In English, Peace is not the best, but that one wants to do something. It was coined in a poem called ‘Jeg vælger mig April!” I chose April, which is the month when the spring comes, when everything wakes up and changes; and that may cause some “rabalder”, turbulence, the writer said, with indirect reference to all the debates he had engaged in.

When I earlier taught at university, and when I nowadays sometimes supervise students, I always recommend that they write. I used to say the same when I was a bureaucrat, diplomat and international civil servant; I thought it was too easy just to talk and write letters and memos, not longer papers. Researchers must always do that, of course, and journalists, too. We must analyze the world around us to be able to move mountains, or imply shed light on issues.

I don’t like absolutes, categorical statements and rigid conclusions. I would not endorse many of Bjørnson’s idealistic words, sometimes harsh. Often, he might be wrong. I also don’t like that we are so fast at judging and ranking people, their values and qualities, including their written works. Of course, certain things are better than others, but it may also be a matter of taste, time and place. Perhaps we will be better at moving mountains if we put a question mark behind our opinions.

Above I have picked out some great writers. I am sure, not all of their works are good either. The status they were given had to do with many contemporary and cultural things. For example, most writers were men, yes, sometimes, men with more female qualities than average. Today, in my home country Norway, it seems many of the popular writers are women, and many readers are also women.

Yet, we should be careful using gender as a variable to describe and define literature. Perhaps writers should only use an initial for first name, or a pseudonym? J.K. Rowling did that when she wrote her Harry Potter books. She also used a male pen name, Robert Galbraith, on the title page of a later book; alas, her real first names of Joanne Kathleen, and surname Rowling, came out before she would know if her book would have been successful even without her famous name. Yes, she wanted to test that. That means that maybe even top writers are not as self-confident as we think. Creative people are not born famous they always have to earn their place, and what they do is often soul-searching and revealing of their own inner thoughts.

I look forward to the upcoming Literature Festival in Karachi next week, yes, based on talks about written books, novels, short stories, poems, and more - about issues in society. Later, in February and in April, there will be large festivals in Lahore and Islamabad, organized by Oxford University Press and other publishers, supported by embassies and organizations who believe in the power of the written word.

We are a privileged lot who can attend and harvest from such great events in Pakistan!

I have said that words can move mountains – and faith can indeed do so. And I believe that words are more powerful than swords and guns. So, let us use them with care; not saying more than we can justify, and indeed not describe others harshly and maliciously, either they are seen as the villains or heroes of our time. We should not always side with power; rather, writers and thinkers should help us understand the world and side with the downtrodden. Then they can help to move mountains.

There is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. Then, little can be more important than how we define our faith and foundation, and how we formulate our thoughts and communicate with each other, in spoken and written words.