All over the world, the perception about Pakistan is that it is a country full of surprises, good and bad. It comes with its own set of challenges and ample amount of unpredictability. We live one day at a time and no one knows what might happen in the blink of an eye.

It is perhaps this lack of stability and sense of insecurity in Pakistan which has resulted in decline in tourism and cultural activities. The challenges posed by the current economic and political atmosphere are not new for the citizens as the country appears to be stuck in a limbo.

When I evaluate the current conditions, I think it is safe to say that Pakistan is a country which is locally underrated and globally misunderstood. As ridiculous as it may sound, a foreign friend of mine once asked me if there are roads in Pakistan. This was, perhaps, because Pakistan has the image of being so backward and uncivilized that the world believes we lack basic infrastructure.

Contrary to the popular belief, Pakistan once was quite developed than what an average outsider might think. A few years ago, a number of foreigners used to vacation in Pakistan and even used to study and work here. There are some examples such as George Fulton, a British journalist, who came to Pakistan on a project and decided to stay here. The country then was progressing at a far better pace than it is now and safety was not that big of a concern. However, we cannot keep reminiscing about the good old days and not do anything for a better future.

In a country where the literacy rate is somewhere around 58% and which is at a brink of declaring an education emergency, it seems far more formidable to successfully pull off literary activities promoting education, literature, culture, and tourism. However, in the span of the last decade, we have indeed seen a surge in such activities and literature festivals in Pakistan. At first, the festivals were confined to major cities such as Karachi and Lahore, but ten years down the lane these literary activities are being organized across the country. Annual festivals in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad have paved the way for other literary events in Pakistan, giving the general public a much-needed literary respite. In marginalized communities and cities where security was at minimal and explosions were common, it seemed unfathomable to even hold a book fair. Yet, Quetta, too, saw its very first literature festival in 2018. Moreover, it was not even a one-off activity as they were able to hold the second edition of their festival in 2019 as well. Other literary activities in Balochistan over the last year include literary events for children in Turbat and a book festival in Gwadar.

All such activities are open to public and gives them a chance to interact with their favourite authors, artists and intellectual personalities. The perception around such literature festivals was that it is for the elite segment of the society only. However, if we evaluate the audience profile over the years, we discover that these festivals are in fact targeting the masses and not the upper echelons of the society only. The festivals are usually free of charge and planned over weekends, which allows the youth and families to attend and enjoy being a part of an intellectual space.

One might question the need for holding such events every year while the grave issues of illiteracy, decline in reading habits, and out-of-school children remain unaddressed. Perhaps, a bunch of intellectuals and literati sitting on a stage and talking about these issues does not really solve the problem, or does it? Are these literature festivals actually conducive in promoting a love for the written word and instilling reading habits?

In my opinion, literature festivals provide more benefits to society than disadvantages. We are so lax in highlighting issues related to education and cultural activities that if we stop discussing these at public forums, they will soon diminish from the minds of people as important issues. These literary activities are a celebration of the written word and promote indigenous languages of Pakistan along with English and Urdu. These events bring forth a sense of hope and inclusion in the society while awakening intellectual curiosity, political awareness, and most importantly the willingness by a young audience to engage in discourses. Hence, this kind of engagement should be positively nurtured rather than neglected.

Every country needs to emerge out of its ugly realities and take steps towards stable and sustainable change. We are a nation eager to learn and recognize issues, especially those affecting us at a national level. This is why, perhaps, despite all odds, we are always keen to come forward to celebrate what makes us an alive and vibrant community.