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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recap and Lessons from KLF 2013

This past weekend saw the conclusion of yet another hugely successful annual Karachi Literature Festival which was staged at the Beach Luxury hotel. This was the fourth year that this event took place in the city by the sea and it has created a road map for other cities to follow. Very soon the city of Lahore will be having it's first literary festival, we can hope it will also transform into a regularly held annual event. This year's Karachi Literature Festival was not as good as the ones held during the previous year, even though this year the choice of venue for staging the event was far more spacious and accessible to a greater number of people. Reason being a lot of writers, poets and intellects cancelled on the very last minute, especially from across the border. I did get to meet one of India's most famous female journalists Barkha Dutt from NDTV. Apparently I didn't have an idea of how famous she was in India, I just recognised her from a few random political talk. Also present at the festival from the journalism community were veterens Nadeem F Paracha, Javed Jabbar as well as the young business desk editor of the Express Tribune Farooq Tirmizi.

There were a fair few book launches as well. I had the fortune of attending a few, one of which was Aquilla Ismail's book 'Of Martyrs and Marigold'. Coincidentially I have already had the book on my Kindle for quite some time, it was only launched in Pakistan at the fair. The book is from a mainly Bihari speaking Urdu narrative, its a fictional account of what the writer's family and people they knew had to endure in post 71 Bangladesh. How they became soft targets for the nationalists because they were civilians and because they were not natives, could easily occupy the blame.

Even with all the cancellations, there were some outstanding events at the Karachi Literature Festival. For me  personally the highlights were 'Aapas ki Baat, Najam Sethi ke Saath live', it wa sort of like watching Najam Sethi's 11 pm show from GEO TV live. He did end up making analytical comments of the type also which he  would normally not make on live TV, I am guessing due to the policy of the Jang Group and Geo TV. Mohsin Hamid, the writer of 'Moth Smoke' and 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', along with other Pakistani writers Nadeem Aslam (writer of Maps for Lost Lovers) and Kamila Shamsi the writer of Kartography were part of a panel discussing the role of politics in modern South Asian Literature. In the panel they pointed out that major global political events such as the Cold War and 9/11 has had a profound effect on the world, and hence they are used as back drops for fictional writers even from developing nations. They argued for any writer, be it a fictional or non fictional writer, it is very difficult keep politics completely independent of their writing, citing it is natural for any good writer to write politically or think politically while executing their writing. Mohsin went on to add that politics in novelization is not just about what your government is upto, but it extends to include politics of class, politics of gender and also a socioeconomic divide.

For me, other than personally getting the opportunity to chat with Mohsin Hamid and Najam Sethi, what really stood out in the event was the talk on Satire in Media which featured Bushra Ansari and Ali Gul Pir on the panel with Nadeem Farooq Paracha (NFP). During the talk, they talked about how most of our society and television audiences are not mature enough to entirely understand or appreciate satire and it will be a while before it is properly understood. They did give a lot of credit to Dr Younis Butt for his work in taking on current affairs in Pakistani politics and producing satire for cable television. For those unfamiliar with Dr Younis Butt, he is the man behind 'Hum Sub Umeed Se Hain' on Geo Television hosted by Saba Qamar. NFP jokingly also said, maybe Dr Butt is afraid of Altaf Bhai, he gets the least amount of Satire dedicated to him.

The talk concluded with a lot of members in the audience were repeatedly raising Questions as to why Religious Issues, sectarianism and lack of harmony in our society isn't discussed through satire, since a lot of political solutions are achievable through Satire, why not religious ones. To this Bushra and NFP replied that it is because of the extremely sensitive religious nature of our society, even the fairly educated lot (some of whom can be labeled as parhe likhe jahils) that it is at this point even remotely unthinkable of discussing religious issues or sectarianism through satire or through any form of humour. Even though in reality religion is a personal affair, in a society like Pakistan it has become a public spectacle. One can not disagree with them, a good example right in front of us was the back lash media outlets got for promoting even the smallest of stories relating to Valentines day, an event which many on the religious right and this conservative society find immoral and distasteful. I feel particularly bad for those two young people who carried Urdu language banners stating let the love flow. Our society might not be very open minded and ready for humour or satire with respect to religion, but the Question we need to ask is, how do we change all that? Every one talks about the direction our society is headed, but let's start asking Questions now what can we do?

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