The Karachi literature festival has been held in this city for the last three years. It has now become a galvanizing point for a collection of writers showcasing their latest books and literature enthusiasts flocking to learn and bask in the glory of these wordsmiths. This year the event was held on the 11th and 12th of February in a shortened format in comparison to last year, perhaps to account for the situation around it. However, unlike last year when the invited Indian authors could not make it due to visa issues, this year they were present in their finery with Shobha De and Vikram Seth leading the pack. There were three other very prominent English authors in William Darymple, Hanif Kureishi and Anatol Lieven. We have the UK high commission to thank for organizing and bringing them here. Local talent was aptly represented by Mohammad Hanif and Kamila Shamsie as well as ‘Sufisal’, known to ordinary folk as rock band Junoon’s Salman Ahmed.
Perhaps next year’s KLF can be held at the expo center so that more people in the city can enjoy the event rather than the privileged few who don’t have to worry about trivial things like “public transport”
I heard about this event only two days prior to it happening and got there at about 11 am the first day to attend Shobha De’s session. As per Karachi custom the opening ceremony had overshot its mark and the ballroom at the Carlton Hotel gradually filled up by about 11:30am to welcome our visitor from India. A firecracker would be a more suitable description. For this 64-year old mother of six and author of fearsome repute in her unabashed portrayal of all subjects taboo positively sizzled on stage. Yet Shobha De seemed very much like she was a part of Karachi as she spoke of the mehndi-sangeet event she had attended last night and took us on the journey that was her life, a restless spirit as is found in most people who call this city home. She also surprised me when she answered my question about writer’s block with sheer discipline as she revealed she wrote 2500 words every single day. “You don’t have to go to a mountain and wait for lightning to strike you,” she said. “You have no excuse but to perform and you must do it daily.”
Shobha De revealed she wrote 2500 words every single day. “You don’t have to go to a mountain and wait for lightning to strike you,” she said
Ali Akbar Husain, William Dalrymple and Raza Rumi
Then there was mingling with the different people attending this event as we waited for Ali Akbar Hossain’s book launch with William Darymple and our own Raza Rumi as moderator to begin. Ali Akbar’s book is both an ode and a study of the Deccan courts. It is titled ‘Scent in an Islamic Garden’, referring to the pleasure gardens that were filled with flowers and used for entertainment and amorous purposes. Each scent bestowing its experience upon the people strolling and perhaps retiring in some of its more shaded corners for more intimacy. As he read out some excerpts from the book, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to an era where symbology and intricacy meant more than the physical self. William Dalrymple of course added to the delight of the audience as he cajoled Akbar again and again to read out some of the more “erotic” passages from the book. He also read out a passage from his own ‘White Mughals’ which is about an affair between and English diplomat and a local princess through the eyes of a historian, a book which is now on my must-read list.
William Dalrymple cajoled Akbar to read out some of the more “erotic” passages from his book
This ended well into the lunchtime recess and the next session I attended was another Book Launch and Conversation with Michel Boivin (‘Artefacts of God’) and Jurgen Frembgen (‘Nocturnal Music’). Frembgen in this session illustrated to us his various experiences with the matters of the soul at various Sufi shrines around Pakistan and the complexities of chewing a paan wrapped in silver foil at a proper poetic mehfil. Quite an eye-opener for anyone interested remotely in Sufism, as here was a man grown up in the West, speaking of the delights of our culture with an almost childlike awe, the same culture many of us choose to dump in the corner in favor of more wannabe lifestyles.
My last experience at KLF was on the late hours of the second day, as me and the wife again made the long trip to attend Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s session in the theatre. Chinoy is both eloquent and inspiring yet rooted to the ground that is her nation. She proves this by making films that make a difference and picking subjects that no one else wants to talk about. She has also been nominated for an Oscar now, and there were quite a few ovations as she showed us six clips from her various documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated ‘Saving Face’.
Naturally, while such brilliant memories were created at KLF, there were some rather distasteful ones as well. The following are a few hints about improvements that could be made to next year’s program.
The attendees seemed the outcome of a bus touring the posher parts of this great metropolis, picking up socialites and aunties from outside overpriced lawn exhibitions
Audience at the Karachi Literature Festival
After visiting KLF for two years now, one would think that by this year the organizers would have realized the futility of the location they had chosen. Literature is not only to be enjoyed by a “certain class” of people and so it would be really appreciated if the next KLF could be held in the center of Karachi at perhaps the expo center so that more people in the city can enjoy the event rather than the privileged few who don’t have to worry about trivial things like “public transport”.
It would also benefit the event greatly if things started on time.
The volunteers who worked tirelessly to set up the festival had little or no clue about the subject matter of the sessions. I was witness to several gaffes, particularly in Ali Akbar Hossain’s session. It creates a bad taste when the announcer doesn’t know what he is speaking about.
The attendees at KLF this year seemed the outcome of a bus touring the posher parts of this great metropolis, picking up socialites and aunties from outside overpriced lawn exhibitions. The gaps in the crowd were of course filled by twitterati of all sizes and shapes. People who, let’s just say, know a litter less about books and writing and more about posing for the right picture. Last year we had a smattering of delightful poets and people from the Urdu side of our literatary divide. This year they seemed to have given the event a miss, maybe because the PR for this event didn’t seem to go too far past the Clifton Bridge.