Literature Trumps Terrorism in Pakistan: Lahore Literary Festival, 2014

by Aanya F Niaz

Published in the Huffington Post, March 4 2014.

Emerging from the lap of it’s thousand year glory, the city of Lahore has given its people something other than terrorism and inflation to think about: literature and the arts. Discourse has offered a soothing umbrella. Approximately 4,500 of the young, the talented, the curious and even the silent ones emerged on what was a a most auspicious and successful three-day literary festival, attended by the more than 100 speakers, including the likes of delightful Mira Nair, director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Ahmed Rashid, renowned author of Descent into Chaos, Maliha Lodhi, celebrated former ambassador to the United States, Nahid Siddiqi, cultivated dance artisan, Kamila Shamsie, authoring melancholy of the East, Ayesha Jalal, the intriguing historian, Moeed Yusuf, leading the South Asia department at the United States Institution of Peace and many, many more.

Present day Lahore witnessed it’s second annual literary festival, that has sprouted constructive and hopeful conversations once again, shifting minds from the looming satire of politicians and their fallible legacies. It appears what the government has forgotten to do, the masses have remembered to recreate: Lahore, the quintessence of literary affection.

The usual drawing room discussions surpassed the exhausted doldrums of common thought processes. The news had something more to talk about other than the bomb blasts, foreign policy issues, lack of aid and, of course, domestic political characters that have mostly turned into futile caricatures. Instead, the masses were met with humbling and provoking conversations on the arts, literatures, politics, economics and sociology of the forgotten South Asian literary diaspora’s womb: Lahore.

Pakistan has seen, in the past decade or so, vociferous accounts of a bleeding nation and it’s scarred peoples. But now, the three days in February saw what has become a most yearned for occasion, that of settings minds free and engaging the senses in the world of symphonies, only melodious due to being afforded freedom to speak, see and believe in what was once the “Paris of the East” — the city of Lahore.

With various sessions starting in the morning, young authors and artists had active space to come together and encourage each other’s talents, with moderators ensuring high quality of dialogue and engagement. Afghanistan and it’s iconic political anatomy was poured over by some of the most remarkable and academic minds, including Rashid Rehman, Vali Nasr, Ahmed Rashid, Maliha Lodhi and Hina Rabanni Khar. Authors, including Shahan Mufti, Saba Nagvi, Uzma Alam and Rafay Alam launched their books, sharing with the attendees their own flavor of words. An author and director, Mohsin Hamid and Mira Nair, met to facilitate understanding of different mediums of art, that of transforming words into a film. A most classical dance performance, a delectable product of South Asian music coupled with jazz, food and book stalls created what one could conveniently call a most lively few evenings. Even humor was on the agenda, with celebrated Jugnu Mohsin lightening the mood with Ali Aftab Syed on The Making of Political Satire. Foreign speakers who hailed from the U.S., India, Bangladesh, UK, Egypt, Uganda, France and Germany represented their thoughts, sentiments and expertise through featured sessions. Evidently, there was no shortage of topics to be devoured nor attendees. Packed sessions, bustling with optimistic energy and refreshed minds occupied the literary festival.

Most appealing was how eager the masses were to participate and contribute. It became steadily obvious that the average Pakistani is keen on having invigorating platforms to engage on, to share ideas of artistic sensibilities and most of all, to rid themselves, even temporarily, of the constant ache of the political and economic worlds. The conversation appears to have switched from, “What has been happening?” to “How things can change,” and what better way to clear minds than by providing a nurturing outlook through literary means? The Lahore Literary Festival has robustly developed the platform on which the paradigm switch can take place.

Lahore, from before the time of Akbar the Great (Mughal Emperor), held a passionate position in the world, giving birth to poetic justice in all varied forms. It would be almost blasphemous to forget the city even Milton recalls in Paradise Lost, the city that remains at the summit of literary excellence. One can also not dismiss that such art was a result of open-mindedness, liberated souls and wonderful thinkers. Let the Lahore Literature Festival be the sanctuary it deserves to be, for the people, for the nation, and most of all, to heal the wounds of a misunderstood name, that of Pakistan.

 

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