For many years, the spring season brought with it an onslaught of merriment in the city of Lahore. This ubiquitously titled ‘Spring Festival’ would include events like the much celebrated Basant – the festival of kites and kite flying – an annual book fair, a food festival showcasing specialties from all over the country and a colourful float that lit up the entire length of the beloved tree-lined canal that runs through the city.
Of late, however, the oppression caused by general instability in the country due to conflicting political agendas and religious extremism led to a complete halt of such events; Basant has been officially banned for a number of years now, while the canal has witnessed an urban metamorphosis all in the name of ‘development’.
The duality of our present existence in Pakistan is frightening: on the one hand, massive economic depression, unemployment and perpetual ‘terrorist’ activity has led to social disablement; and on the other hand, rich, urban centres continue to partake in frivolous activity, resolutely oblivious to anything outside their own little safety bubble.
But this somewhat twisted resilience has managed to perpetrate something positive – the boom in Pakistan’s print and broadcast media, our fashion industry that is now globally acclaimed and the recognition of local social development initiatives are just some of the components of this almost-silver lining.
The inaugural Lahore Literary Festival, to be held at the Alhamra Arts Complex on Feb 23 and 24, 2013, is hoping to be another example of civic resilience and to make this silver lining brighter and more beautiful.
Lahore has always been hailed as the cultural capital of the country, what with its deep-rooted historical significance and the contribution its inhabitants continue to make in the fields of art, architecture, music and literature.
It should be acknowledged, therefore, that any meaningful conversation on such subject matters would only be made more meaningful if they physically take place in this city. After all, even a mere reading of a passage from Manto or Intizar Husain – or our more recent literary luminaries like Mohsin Hamid or Tehmina Durrani – could not possibly elicit the same emotion if read anywhere other than Lahore, a city that has served as more than just a source of inspiration to these authors and many more.
And this is precisely what the Lahore Literary Festival aims to do: serve as an ideal platform for facilitating an exchange on existing literature and literary ideas and hopefully would generate novel ones, all the while reinforcing the city’s legacy of cultural heritage.
Razi Ahmed, who is the founder and director of this promising venture, says: “The sheer support, both moral and otherwise, that we have managed to garner during these few weeks of organising an event on such scale and importance makes me feel confident that the Lahore Literary Festival will more than fulfill its objectives,” articulating optimism about the success of the Literary Festival and rightly so.
Fully endorsed by the provincial government, the Lahore Literary Festival has additional support from local civil society, relevant institutions and local educational institutes, like LUMS, who are fully onboard, with their students volunteering their services at the event.
Sana Dar, a recent graduate from BNU, tells me: “I am so thrilled to be able to attend a literary event in my own city of Lahore. The opportunity to meet and witness discussions of some of the most brilliant and inspiring authors not just from Pakistan, but from all over the world, is terribly exciting.”
The Lahore Literary Festival is a free event, open to all and sundry, regardless of their educational and socio-economic background, and will hopefully see a wide representation of attendees.
At this certain junction in history, where countries such as ours seem transfixed in both time and space, where change is more synonymous with upheaval than positive transformation, it is initiatives like the Lahore Literary Festival that will revitalise the sheer power of the written word as perhaps the only true means of conceiving and implementing ideas and perpetuating hope.