LAHORE, Nov 2: A literary event is like a whiff of fresh air in a city which hasn’t seen many of such activities in recent times. This was the feel the Festival of Arts and Literature offered during its opening at the Alhamra Arts Center on Saturday.

Khayaal Creative Network (an NGO) is organising the two-day festival wherein writers, artists, filmmakers, actors, journalists and educationists have been invited to share with the audience their experiences and knowledge about their respective spheres. The event is broken down into interactive sessions covering various genres of art and literature.

The plenary session began with the rendition of the National Anthem by Meekal Hasan’s Folk Ensemble. It was followed by some other presentations on instruments by the band and the audience thoroughly enjoyed them.

In his keynote address, Syed Babar Ali appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into materialising the idea of the literary project. He said Lahore had been a city of culture, arts, literature and knowledge for the last 150 years and this initiative was an effort to revive those rich traditions.

“It will bring good name to the city all over the world,” he said.

Soon after the inaugural session, there were discussions on topical subjects and the enthusiastic literature lovers found it difficult to opt for the issues of their interest.

A number of visitors wanted to know something about “Publishing in Pakistan: Challenges and Solutions” – one of the sessions the organisers had arranged. Leading publishers and literati highlighted the value of books in our daily lives and issues that must be addressed to keep the reading culture alive.

Oxford University Press (Pakistan) Managing Director Ameena Saiyid broached the subject with the role of a publishing enterprise in setting new trends. She said a publishing house should be a market leader capable of inculcating love for books and reading in people. Festivals such as this one were one of the ways of promoting reading habit, she said.

Although technology was highly important to achieve the objective, she said, printed book would never go.

Answering a question about the common gripe about high prices of books, she said: “Clearly, there has to be a profit to make any business sustainable. What people don’t realise is that the publishing process requires enormous investment. The constantly increasing cost of material, developing market and engaging authors demand investment on a large scale. Taxation and duties on imports add to the cost of a book.”

Having said that, she said, the cost of a book should be rationalised to make it affordable for people. She said there was a need to introduce library legislation and book banks to facilitate people. She also called for elimination of book piracy which shrunk market.

“The challenges are immense but not insurmountable,” believes Zaheer Salam of Ferozsons Publishers. He focused on the need to “inculcate values and create a beautiful society”.

He stressed it was the responsibility of the state to provide facilities and an enabling environment to people to engage in literary pursuits.

Representing Sang-i-Meel Publications, Ali Kamran said publishing seemed a “labour of love” amid struggle to find growth in readership. However, he said, one should not always see the bleak picture of the country because there were many people with hunger for knowledge and information. The Pakistani literature was rated highly in many parts of the world, he said.

Neelam Husain lamented “manipulation of knowledge” and the culture of censorship that prevailed in the country. She said it was high time we created a reading public by ensuring access to books.

“Let’s learn to generate ideas,” was the bottom line of her talk.

She said the emergence of IT tools/electronic media had not adversely impacted on the value of a book.

“The relationship between a book and a reader is different from the one between a viewer and a flickering image,” she feels. “It is the book that offers time to reflect,” she said and urged the students to explore the joy of reading.

The discussion, moderated by Nabiha Meher, was followed by a brief question-answer session. There were suggestions like the need to create mobile libraries, highlight the importance of donating books and follow the best practices of advanced countries.

The organisers described the initiative as “an effort to give back the city for its immense contribution to art and literature and promote a tolerant and compassionate Pakistan.”

They said this was their maiden project for which Lahore was the obvious choice.

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