- Resilience of Karachi was evident in the packed sessions and overflowing halls at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Sunday
The 14th edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) wrapped on Sunday, bringing together speakers, attendees from all walks of life over a charged weekend enabling discussion, debate and rumination.
The resilience of Karachi was evident in the packed sessions and overflowing halls at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Sunday, as the events of Friday did not dampen the spirits of the literati.
Raheela Baqai, marketing director at the Oxford University Press (OUP), praised the festival-goers, saying “the incidents on Friday definitely affected attendance on Friday and Saturday, but today the response was overwhelming. This, the crowds today, is the spirit of KLF”.
“We had 11 international speakers this year, including two Booker Prize-winning authors, who definitely attracted a lot of attendees. The brilliant mix of speakers, including those from within Pakistan, made it a well-represented and balanced programme.”
Speaking exclusively with Business Recorder, Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka said it’s his first visit here and while the heavy police presence in Karachi was unnerving, he was amazed at the passionate readers who came out to the sessions and book signings.
“That’s always a good sign no matter what the country is going through, that there’s still a readership, he said.
“I’ve enjoyed the experience, it’s just been a whirlwind.”
From silver screen to the main garden
Actor Sanam Saeed, in a session titled ‘From Silver Screen to Mini Screen: Goldmine of OTT Media’, stated how “artists at this point want to make content that feeds their soul regardless of the platform, even Netflix.”
The session was moderated by Safinah Danish Elahi and included scriptwriter Faseeh Bari Khan.
Former finance minister Miftah Ismail too attended a session titled ‘Pakistan’s Economy: Depth and Resilience’ which also featured Akbar Zaidi, Executive Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Board of Investment Chairman Azfar Ahsan, and Muhammad Aurangzeb, President and CEO of Habib Bank Limited (HBL), as they debated the current economic crisis.
The panel covered everything from the expenditure of the armed forces, big business, the current economic subsidies, oil and gas exploration and solutions for the economic crisis.
Amongst solutions discussed was the importance of trade with India.
“We are that country who doesn’t even speak to its neighbors,” said Zaidi.
“We don’t trade with Iran, because the US says so, we have no relations with Afghanistan, aside from the issue of recognizing their government. China is not our friend, as most of us believe. 32% of our entire debt is not the IMF, its China.
“In the next three years, the most economic growth will be experienced by India, our neighbor, and we don’t even talk to them. Instead, we bring Tim Hortons from Canada.” he exclaimed. “We have been at war with India for 75 years and lost each time. We need to move forward from that narrative, and chart a new path.”
The session also featured a heated exchange between the former finance minister and an audience member after the latter asked Miftah Ismail why the government failed to curb the import of luxury cars for ministers during his tenure.
An impassioned Miftah refuted allegations that he had misused the exchequer, stating how he used to drive his own car and pay for his fuel.
“These false accusations of corruption that you level against people mean people go to jail for them. It’s not funny,” he replied.
A moment of satire
The highlight of the evening was definitely the closing session featuring satirist and scriptwriter Anwar Maqsood along with his wife Imrana Maqsood.
Anwar, lamenting about politics, the economy and society delivered a satirical account of the state of affairs as it is today, saying, “10 lakh bachey pichlay 10 maheenon main iss liye yeh mulk chor gaye keh ab kissi burey mulk main ja kar rehte hain, yeh [Pakistan] toh bohaut acha hai.”
“Allama ne jo khwab dekha tha, uss se kahin ziyadah Pakistan hai. Quaid-e-Azam ki mehnat, jagah jagah rang la rahi hai.”
The last word
At the closing ceremony, in his keynote address, Karunatilaka, compared the economic plights of Sri Lanka and Pakistan and spoke about the importance of literature in society asking the question, “why do South Asians write? Who do we write for and what can our books do?
Speaking about the last few months on the literary festival circuit, he talked about what binds South Asian nations together, aside from the shared love for daal and cricket, “all our nations seem to share near continuous political turmoil. Many of us are staring down the barrel of an economic meltdown – some of us have already melted down.”
About his travels through the subcontinent, he realized there is so little we all know about each others’ countries. But there is one gateway to change that, and that is books, he said.
“I do feel that I feel I have some kinship with Pakistan because I read Mohsin Hamid’s allegories, I revel in H.M. Naqvi’s voice and his wit, in Kamila Shamsie’s sensitive characters, in Nadeem Aslam’s lyrical prose and of course in my hero Mohammad Hanif’s biting satire.”
Author and journalist Ahmed Rashid, also a keynote speaker, said he admired the work Sherry Rehman and Miftah Ismail are doing to educate Pakistanis on their responsibility as citizens, and address social issues left ignored for 76 years.
“Why are we being left behind in every indicator of development and progress, compared to our neighbours,” he asked. “Today we only outsmart Afghanistan. Everyone else in South Asia is way ahead of us.”
“We face multiple crisis, yet there is a total unwillingness of those involved to collaborate and compromise with each other. We have narcissistic leaders who believe only in showing off themselves but not the people they claim to serve,” he levelled scathingly.
Arshad Saeed Husain, Managing Director, Oxford University Press Pakistan, also spoke at the closing of the festival citing how he has been inspired by the discussions, new thinking and reading experiences.“
“Truly heartwarming is the unwavering resilience and spirit of Karachi in the light of the events of Friday. Karachi, I salute you for this.”
He noted that the creative energy such as that garnered at the KLF represents hope.
Also notable at KLF this year was the presence a well-curated art gallery enacted by HBL in the main garden, attracting festival-goers. The gallery featured works by veteran artist Imran Qureshi, Ayesha Qureshi and more.