Raining books in Karachi
The 14mm of rain that lashed the city on Friday was unable to dampen spirits at the Fourth Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), which opened with pomp and aplomb at a local hotel in the morning. It was a cool, balmy spring morning, with the lush lawns of the hotel enveloped in the invigorating Arabian Sea breeze.
They all began to stream in about half-an-hour before the scheduled inauguration. They were the sedate citizenry, the young and the trendy elite, the rich, the not-so-rich, the intellectual luminaries both from Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora. There were diplomats, including those from Europe, and heads of foreign cultural organisations in town and the country. Though they were a diverse lot, the common denominator was the look of expectancy on their faces for the words of knowledge and wisdom that would be following for the next three days. It was as if they were all there in anticipation of intellectual nourishment.
However, there was a disappointment for the really enthusiastic literature fans. For one, those anxious to meet and interact with legendary India poet/lyricist Gulzar must have been disappointed when most abruptly, at the last moment, they got to know that Gulzar would not be attending as he had to fly abruptly back home , being indisposed.
Then came the inauguration.
Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director, Oxford University Press, Pakistan, in her very astute and adroit address, highlighted the way the festival had been growing from year to year and how it had registered a steady increase in the number visitors, and sessions.
She said, “On this spring day, we are here to celebrate and do our bit, to promote reading, and to use books to build bridges across cultures. Reading, she said, led to critical thinking and the asking of questions. “The reading habit is especially important for our children who are growing up in an age of violence. The extremist outlook on life is just black and white, untinged by the many bright and subtle colours that make life really worth living. Such an outlook creates alienation and despair,” Saiyid said.
“Books, whether fiction or educational texts, introduced life’s myriads of colours to the barren landscape of extremism,” she added.
“Readers of literature tended to be peaceful and tolerant as they saw a plurality of points of view. The Karachi Literature Festival did just that, promoting reading and enriching minds.”
The festival has grown rapidly from its inception, from 5,000 visitors in 2010, to 10,000 in 2011, to 15,000 in 2012.
Saiyid said in 2010, there were 34 sessions with 37 speakers, while this year there will be 129 sessions with 214 speakers.
Interestingly enough, during her inaugural speech, Saiyid said that in the ancient calendar of the Subcontinent, it was Basant day, a day when winter rains had passed and the season of harvesting, blossoming, sowing, and rejuvenation ushered in. However, immediately after the end of the inaugural ceremony it began to rain with thunder and an occasional cloudburst.
Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi, speaking after Saiyid, said that hopefully this would change the stereotyped image of Karachi as a cradle of terrorism to one of festivity.
Ambassador of France, Philippe Thiebaud, in his tribute to the KLF, said that European participation in the festival was testimony to how the festival was bridging the gulf between cultures and reaching out to other countries to project a positive image of the country.
German ambassador, Dr Cyril Nunn, said, “The city of lights is shining once again”.
Enlightenment, he said, was not possible without freedom of thought and speech. He said that while this freedom had been challenged in Pakistan, the accomplishments of the Oxford University Press and Ameena Saiyid had gone a long way towards the restoration of this right here in Pakistan.
Italian ambassador Adriano Cianfarani said Pakistani authors were helping getting countries closer despite the geographical and cultural differences.
Russian Consul-General Andrey Demidov said Russia found the festival all the more admirable given the stature of Russia herself in the field of literature, which was evident from the number of Russian speakers at the festival.
Martin Fryer, Country Director of Operations, British Council, said it was an honour to be supporting the KLF. He added the festival was a manifestation of the sincere hard work of Ameena Saiyid and her team. They had shown the face of the Pakistan to the world which was often hidden.
Others who spoke were Pakistani British author Nadeem Aslam and noted Urdu writer and poet Dr Intizar Hussain.
Among the foreign visitors was Dr Shamim Hanfi from India.
The festival is being held under the joint aegis of the British Council and the Oxford University Press, Pakistan.