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Key takeaways from the 15th edition of KLF

Published February 19, 2024
A view of the 15th edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) at the Beach Luxury Hotel. Photo: Business Recorder
A view of the 15th edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) at the Beach Luxury Hotel. Photo: Business Recorder

The latest edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) wrapped on Sunday, bringing together speakers and attendees from all walks of life over a charged weekend that enabled intense debate reflecting both local and global strife.

The spirit of Karachi was evident in the packed sessions and overflowing halls at the Beach Luxury Hotel through the weekend, and audiences did not hold back – engaging with speakers and demanding answers from whoever they felt could answer them.

Politics over literature

Whether it was the mix of speakers, or the current political stalemate we are experiencing, audiences at KLF were fired up.

Attendees came armed with questions demanding answers about the incidents of May 9, about the lack of a government – more than a week after the election, where their votes went, and where Pakistan goes from here.

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For where readers and attendees had no access to those governing, they channeled their angst onto the literary class, hoping they can carry their message forward.

They probed, fought, heckled and argued – and the festival was better for it.

At that, wherever the speakers could provide answers, did so, fostering much healthy and open debate around topics that may not necessarily make their way into print headlines and columns.

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A case of missing authors

My very first iteration of the KLF was a pleasant one. It was the third edition of the festival held at the now-defunct Carlton Hotel, and I caught Indian novelist Shobha De among many other notable authors. The year prior, I had missed Bapsi Sidhwa while I was not residing in Pakistan.

The following year, it was reported that De was unable to attend due to a visa issue.

Over the course of the years I have had the pleasure of meeting plenty authors and writers whose works I have long admired and who have long contributed to Pakistan’s literary realm – Kamila Shamsie, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif – to name a few.

Last year’s keynote, was delivered by Booker Prize-winning author Shehan Karunatilaka. Hailing from Sri Lanka, he was able to aptly comment on Pakistan’s economic woes, having witnessed Sri Lanka wrestle with the IMF just prior.

This year, however, the schedule seemed bereft of many literary figures – instead welcomed more politicians, lawyers, journalists, economists and musicians.

Granted, the air was rife with political angst, but writers and authors are also well-equipped to deliver that debate, and the schedule didn’t seem to provide that variety of viewpoints.

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Citizen’s festival

What’s a festival without controversy?

Last week, KLF found itself amidst an outcry following the confirmation of a pro-Israeli speaker – Germany-based author Ronya Othmann.

The author had previously expressed support for Israel along with anti-Palestinian views on social media, leading to readers resisting on X.

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Subsequently, Othmann’s name was quietly removed from the list of speakers on the website and her sessions were cancelled. KLF gave no explanation for this change to the schedule, except just to note on the website that Othmann will be unable to attend.

This of course is no different from Palestinian writers and authors being excluded from global public speaking engagements, and artists being fired or let go from projects for expressing pro-Palestinian views.

However, the festival is truly a democratic one and Karachi’s stance on the war in Gaza, is very clear. What the readers wanted, they got.

On to next year…

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faiza Virani

The writer is Life & Style Editor at Business Recorder


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Mohsin, Muridke Feb 19, 2024 08:11pm
One who controls the culture, controls the masses and narratives. Provide a platform of illusion freedom and freedom of expression.
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Sugon Dzntz Feb 20, 2024 09:57am
It is very unusual for a literary festival to have guest speakers asking military establishment to use force to suppress public mandate. A wise man once called these people blood thirsty liberals.
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Truthisbitter813 Feb 20, 2024 11:48am
Satirists deserve their time to shine who for the longest and most abhorrent censorship periods ( Musharraf era, Imran Khan era) coped with using humour and facades to channel resistance and facts.
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Mirza Feb 21, 2024 10:47am
A gathering of the rich for the rich? Where is bulk of city? Youth? A controlled exercise in controlling the intellect of people!
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Liescallout May 15, 2024 11:35pm
@Truthisbitter813, lol Imran Khan era was fascist hahahaha guess clown forgot which era he lived in 2022
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