By Tayiba Ahmed
On the 20th of Feb, Lahore Literary Festival was held in Avari Hotel. Due to a failure of security clearance, the shift of location as well as the cut down of the duration from three to two days was a disappointment. However, despite this shortcoming – the festival was a huge success.
The exquisite hotel was a little small for such a large event, which is perhaps why some of the events were cut down. Yet, some of the significant events were still on the itinerary. Discussions on specific author’s works, certain genres, controversial issues and book launches peppered the day, with a play, Love Letters, ending the festival for the day.
Along with the sometimes serious, sometimes humorous talks, the festival had much more to offer. There were artworks lining the staircase and corridors all over the place. In the outdoor area, there were several book stalls, including one from Readings and Liberty books, food and coffee stalls, and even a small paan stall. A performance stage was setup as well where people sang and played guitar.
The turnout was huge. And even though all the events had a big crowd, there were two in particular which got so overcrowded that the staff had to close the doors. Zia Mohyeddin’s book launch and Ghalib recital were absolutely beautiful, and so was the play Love Letters – a perfect end to a perfect day.
Talking more specifically about the talks, I was able to attend only three out of so many due to a large attendance and limited space. The first, Feminism and Global Politics, was held in an outdoor setup, Marquee. The session opened up with EU Ambassador to Pakistan, Jean Cautain and Salima Hashmi presenting Musarrat Misbah with a Life-Time Achievement Award. The discussion panel, which included Anita Anand, Dina Siddiqi, Mona Eltahawy and Rafia Zakaria, was then introduced by the moderator Rachel Holmes and the session began. The discussion opened up with a sharp criticism of state structure which allowed for oppression of women and male-dominated patriarchy. There was a focus on transnational feminism, mobilizing women through language first and foremost. There was a debate on whether a having a female head meant empowerment, to which Anita Anand brought to attention the Victorian era, where even during Queen Victoria’s reign, women were subject to sexual assault by the police. Several of these serious issues cropped up during this session, every viewpoint was considered and the session ended with Eltahawy pointing out that there are plenty of panels wherein men discuss female issues already, which is why no men were on this panel.
The second session, Satire as Self-Defence, was moderated by Rachel Holmes once again, featuring Ashok Ferrey, Mohammad Hanif and Ned Beauman. This session was more humorous than serious, with each panelist discussing reasons for their pursuit of satire. The panelists agreed on sensitivity to satire as a natural talent, which was one of the reasons why they were satirists. They also elaborated on which media form is more sensitive to satire: performing media or literature. However, this debate was inconclusive, as there were conflicting viewpoints. The session ended with questions from the audience, one of which was whether satirists believed themselves to be superior since their humor implied so. An excellent question, as responded to by one of the panelists, who went on to elaborate on the truth of the statement. “However, you have to introduce an element of self-deprecating humor to cloak the superiority” he responded, and with this, the session concluded.
The third session was more artistic, Aik Naya Pehlu: Poetry in Translation. It included various established poets such as Afshan Sajjad, Ali Akbar, Gerry Cambridge, Jim Carruth, Javaid Jan, Kishwar Naheed and Vicki Husband. It was a collaborative setup wherein poets were exposed to each other’s poetry and had to translate them in their own languages. All these poets came up and recited their poetry, along with accompanying translations in English and Urdu. The poems were beautiful with topics ranging from love poetry to poems on father/son relationships. This session was particularly beautiful.
After attending all these sessions, the true meaning of the literary festival was truly brought into spotlight. It was all about awareness and education and sharing opinions. All in all, it was a day well spent.
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