KARACHI, Feb 16: British politician George Galloway lived up to his maverick reputation when he sat down with journalist Irfan Husain for chit-chat on the evening of the second day of the fourth Karachi Literature Festival on Saturday.
Talking about the Palestinian situation, he said though he was an Arafatist and did not support Hamas, he acknowledged the Palestinians temerity to vote for the government that the big powers didn’t like. “I’m proud of the role that I played in strengthening of the Palestinians.” He said it was through resistance that the Palestinians maintained their existence. He added he might not see a free Palestine but his sons would. On the Iraq war, he said that Iraq was invaded and destroyed on the basis of a tower of lies. He said when people asked him when he’d stop talking about war he would reply, “When I see Tony Blair in handcuffs at the Hague.” Commenting on the media, he said it was the echo-chamber of political parties.
Mr Galloway said he was loyal to his ideas. He told the gathering he had been with the Bhutto family since Mr Bhutto was under a death sentence and would remain with the family forever.
On the issue of Arab Spring, he remarked that revolution was a process, not an event. As the Arab Spring started only one or two years back, it was difficult to predict its outcome, he said.
Earlier, the penultimate day of the festival began with a session, moderated by Asif Farrukhi, on writer Intizar Husain.
About his art critic, Mehr Afshan Farooqui said Intizar Husain gave a pan-Indian perspective through his stories, something that very few authors were able to do. He moved back and forth in time, splitting reality into two, leading to all kinds of connotations.
Dr Shamim Hanafi said when he read Intizar Husain for the first time it felt as if he was not living in the present but had entered the past. He noted that the writer used the past as a scale to measure the present. He said with the passage of time he had begun to doff the garb of innocence that he wore for long.
Intizar Husain, in his inimitable style, lamented the way Pakistani society had shaped up. He termed it a shattering of dreams. He wished that had M.H. Askari been alive he’d have asked him was this the Pakistan that he used to dream about.
Books launch The first book launched on the occasion was ‘Karachi: Our Stories in Our Words’, edited by Maniza Naqvi. Author Bina Shah claimed that it was perhaps the most important book launch taking place at the literature festival. She carried on with the gushing tribute to the book and said over the next few years, 10 to 15 writers whose stories were included in the book, would be on KLF stage sharing their views. She said the book was a labour of love of Maniza Naqvi.
Writer Nadeem Aslam’s book ‘A Blind Man’s Garden’ was the second launch of the day. The author read out an excerpt from the book, the very first line of the chapter was ‘History is the third parent’.
In the context of the novel, he said his friends told him that Pakistan was a young country and things would improve. To this, he posed the question that what if by the time things improved the Taliban had killed his brother.
Mr Aslam said he was 12 when he wrote his first story, which was in Urdu, titled Riazidaan. It was published in the children’s section of Imroze. Two years later when he arrived in England he didn’t know English. He said he did well in science subjects at school (because they didn’t require proficiency in English) and failed subjects like literature and sociology. At university, he studied biology but left without completing the degree to become a writer. It took him 11 years to write his second novel, because by that time he educated himself by reading the works of known novelists.
He, with an air of simplicity about him, said the first time he boarded a plane was in 1982 and the second time it happened was in 2003.
Cinema industry An interesting session on the rise and fall of Pakistani cinema was held in the main garden. Film distributor and exhibitor Nadeem Mandviwalla said cinema was the strongest of audio-visual media and had a huge significance. “The issue is: have we utilized it the way some other countries have?” he asked, ruing that after destroying our film industry we were now crying over it.
He did not agree with the notion that a revival of cinema was on the cards and termed it a ‘rebuilding’ process.
Filmmaker Meher Jafferi said cinema was an important means of communication but there were issues, such as distribution, which raised obstacles in the way of some filmmakers in screening movies in Pakistan.
A session with writer Tehmina Durrani was conducted by Ameena Saiyid. Replying to a question, she said when she wrote her first book, 22 years ago, things were different. “Now a new generation has arrived and they want a change. Women have realised the importance of being empowered as well.”
Political engagement in writing The session on political engagement in Pakistani English writing was moderated by Muneeza Shamsie. Speaking on the subject writer Nadeem Aslam said to him the subject matter always mattered for his novels. He claimed he was a political person by temperament. The subject would first strike him and then he’d look for characters that could best describe the complexities of that subject.
Kamila Shamsie said she was born and brought up in Karachi, so for her the year (for example, 1988 when Zia died when there were a lot of silences, official and otherwise) mattered. But with the passage of time she had changed and become closer to what Nadeem Aslam had mentioned.
Mohsin Hamid said there were overt political gestures in his books but he didn’t often understand it. “And it is this aspect of not understanding things that he found more interesting.” He told the gathering that when he penned the first draft of his book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the incidents of 9/11 hadn’t happened. He said later he had to tweak the story accordingly.
On rights The session on rights and wrongs with reference to human rights was a well-attended one. Justice Nasira Iqbal moderated the programme and introduced Asma Jehangir as the bravest woman of the millennium. Ms Jehangir articulated that to her there were two issues that needed to be looked into: intolerance and impunity. Explaining impunity, she said it was unfortunate that in the country a highly religious person or someone from the establishment could get away with murder. She argued we needed to shun self-denial and accept things like the brutalities committed by our security forces. She said it was the human rights commission that first brought to light the issue of missing persons in Balochistan. That part of the country was not under civilian control which was the root cause of the problem, she added.
Ali Dayan drew attention towards the plight of the Hazara community in Quetta. He said there were 500,000 Hazaras living in a ghetto. Food prices had risen inside the ghetto and now they were not even safe there because recently people came into the ghetto and killed them.
Social satire The second half of day commenced with a session on social satire, moderated by Nadeem F. Paracha. The host put a pertinent question to panellists Bushra Ansari, Beo Zafar and Ali Gul Pir regarding the current crop of satirists only targeting the politicians and not army generals, religious leaders and judges. Bushra Ansari said when she started working on television there were a few subjects that humour could be written about. And today’s humorists, among other things, kept the commercial aspect in mind.
Beo Zafar said a comedian had to drop their ego before doing comedy. Doing that allowed the comedian to cross barriers and create good comedy.
Ali Gul Pir, whose songs Waderey Ka Baita and Taaru have become popular, said people were not mature enough to respond to meaningful comedy. Hosted by Raza Rumi, a sitting with poets Iftikhar Arif and Kishwar Naheed was thoroughly enjoyed by poetry buffs. Iftikhar Arif talked about the pangs of migration and recited quite a few couplets in that context, while Kishwar read out her poems, including Swat Ka Noha.
Afghanistan A session titled Dateline Afghanistan was conducted by journalist Najam Sethi. The panellists included Declan Walsh, Riaz Ahmed Khan, Najmuddin Sheikh and Zahid Husain. Journalist Walsh said while there were reports about talks with the Taliban and other channels, nobody was talking to anybody. He said the big question for Pakistan was whether the state and security forces had truly had a change of heart and had stopped their support for the jihadi groups.
In the Afghan context, Riaz Ahmed said, Pakistan should play a role that the Afghanistan government wanted it to play.
Journalist Zahid Husain said in case of civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would also get affected.