The Dawn: 17th February, 2013

The ‘ninth’ festival in Lahore!

Mushtaq Soofi 

“Seven days (in a week) and eight festivals; when will I find time to go home” is a well-known Punjabi saying describing the festival obsessed typical Lahori. And now we will have the ninth if we add to the traditional list, the upcoming Lahore Literary Festival. Nine is an auspicious number if you believe the astrologers.

Lahore can rightly boast of a glorious literary tradition spread over thousands of years. Writers and poets like Ali Bin Usman Hajveri, Madho Lal Hussain and Iqbal are icons of Lahore, expressing the literary flourish and cultural opulence of the city. Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah lived some part of their life in Lahore. Modern legends like Amrita Pritam and Manto too enriched its literary repertoire. The tradition unmistakably reflects linguistic diversity. The pluralistic ethos of the city helped produce writings in the Sanskrit, the Persian, the Punjabi, the Urdu and the English.

Lahore Literary Festival may prove to be an important component of an overall endeavour to rejuvenate the literary waste land which we are condemned to live with as a consequence of the ideology driven politics of last three decades, aimed at creating a monolithic social identity and cultural uniformity.

The denial of conflicts and multiplicity has further muddied the apparently clam societal waters. Literature has little to do with what is displayed as monolithic and settled and if it ever does, it does it with the conscious intent to explore what ticks underneath like a bomb.

The festival will offer the writers, likely to participate, an opportunity to interact not only with their readers but also to generate a dialogue among themselves on the contemporary creative experience and its relevance to the world we live in.

Among the participants we find some illustrious names like Bapsi Sidhwa, Intizar Hussain, Ayesha Jalal, Tariq Ali and William Dalrymple, to name a few. A host of writers from different backgrounds with different perspectives gathered together may cause an excitement whether they will be able to find some common ground to address the issues, we as a society are faced with.

The prominent feature of the festival will be a pleasantly visible presence of woman authors and writers that can make it a memorable event as we get few opportunities to listen to or talk to them due to the constraints of a segregated society which we are.

It will be interesting to hear Bapsi Sidhwa exposing the social and cultural deterioration of a society like ours that treats minorities and sub cultures as a sort of aberration.

Tehmina Durrani can enlighten us on the well guarded secrets of our feudal family structure that reduces woman, however independent she may be, into another vegetative item of its interior garden.

Only woman writers can show us the other side of the wall where whisperings of dreams and despair rarely become a metaphor of what lies beyond the household chores. They can build a narrative how we, the men, lose ourselves by losing them as co-builders of a world that holds a promise of realizing together the unrealized human potential.

The festival will have a segmented programme with a view to offer multiple activities related to literature and culture. On the take will be panel discussion, conversations, book readings and poetry sessions. In addition, two books, ‘Jungle Wala Sahib’ the Urdu translation of Bapsi Sidhwa’s The Crow Eaters and Nadeem Aslam’s novel ‘The Blind Man’s Garden’ will be launched.

We will also be treated with the spirited and nuanced presentation of The Holy Warrior in Pakistani cinema by Hameed Haroon, a man of culture genuinely committed to promoting the Pakistans art and culture. The fragments, hopefully, will build literary ensembles at the end of the day.

The festival can initiate a critical cultural discourse by creating what Terry Eagleton calls a ‘public sphere’ in which intellectual cross currents could mingle in freedom.

Generating a public dialogue may enable us to get a fresh re-orientation in our otherwise disoriented world. The festival is a good beginning but it needs to broaden its base.

At the moment Urdu is under-represented and other Pakistani languages are ignored as if they do not exist. The Punjabi, the language of the city where the event is going to take place, is conspicuous by its absence. Let us hope that next year the festival will reflect the diversity which is a central feature of Pakistani linguistic and literary landscape.

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