A heartwarming development last year involved the holding of literary festivals for both adults and children across the country, especially in politically tense places like Kabal and Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Seven children’s literature festivals attracted around 130,000 attendees; these gatherings were implemented in schools in different cities which helped teachers and students in cultivating more of a healthy reading habit. The most endearing sight was when students in Swat gathered in the chilling weather to attend literary festivals in two government secondary schools for boys. Despite the constant turmoil and challenges faced in Swat, their enthusiasm was more than wonderful.

In Pakistan, literary festivals take on a different and even more important meaning for the public. For adults, it is a platform to engage in intellectual thought and exchange with writers and literary figures on a set of social, political and religious issues. Although some argue – with good reason – that these events are suitable for a certain class only, one can hope that the format of these gatherings becomes more inclusive in the future. For children, these literary festivals encourage the habit of reading and critical thinking, something that we as a people need more inculcated in our daily habits. And the number – 130,000 – suggests we have quite a big lot of interested little bookworms.

Instilling a love of literature and a zest for more knowledge will equip our children with tools that can dismantle ignorance from our society while limiting them to dry textbook material inhibits their potential to think beyond convention. The resounding success of these literary festivals should be viewed as an opportunity to hold more events like this that include all children from all backgrounds so that we can sharpen thinking skills among our children without leaving anyone behind.