Something about a literary festival…

Published February 22, 2015
Pervez Hoodbhoy. — White Star
Pervez Hoodbhoy. — White Star

On the second day of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), Dawn asked some delegates about their experience at the festival so far. They included: Saba Imtiaz, author of the popular debut novel Karachi You Are Killing Me; Soniah Kamal, literary critic and novelist; Yasmine El Rashidi, a well-known writer and journalist from Egypt; Pervez Hoodbhoy, famous Pakistani nuclear physicist and essayist; and the much admired Lyse Doucet, BBC’s chief international correspondent and contributing editor.

Lyse was “very excited” to be at the festival.

“I have been coming to Pakistan since 1988, but today I have come here like everyone else to celebrate what is good and endearing about Pakistan: its great literature and great history,” she said.

She went on to say that just like all Pakistanis from all generations and walks of life, she was there to be part of the spirit and so far it had been an incredibly good experience for her.

Yasmine said though it was her first time at the festival, she felt it was very well organised and that the set up was “luxurious and beautiful”.

Saba who has attended LLF in the past thought it had expanded this year and had more sessions about current affairs as people wanted to hear discussions and ask questions related to them. She said it was great to see people buying books and lining up to listen to different writers, a sight she said “we rarely get to see”.

Saba Imtiaz. — White Star
Saba Imtiaz. — White Star

Soniah felt the LLF this year has been “fantastic”, offering new ideas, new visions, new ways of healing and dealing with trauma.

Hoodbhoy was also happy to be at the festival. He said that “it is one of the few occasions where one can breathe as there is a feeling of suffocation across society these days”. He said LLF gave one a chance to be with people who read and write books plus there was a diversity of people at one place; coming from different countries around the world. He felt this was how events should be in a culturally vibrant society like ours.

For Soniah, her favourite session was her own, ‘The Trials of Writing a First Novel’, held on the first day of the festival. She said she was thrilled to see so many people at the session which she was not expecting for debut novelists. Apart from that, she felt all sessions that she had attended were wonderful as they all were bringing something new.

Saba also mentioned her own session, ‘The Return of the Butterfly’, with Moni Mohsin that she will be moderating on Sunday (today) on the third and last day of. She said she was looking forward to the session as she loved Moni’s work and was very excited about it. Apart from that, she recommended the launch of Salil Tripathi’s new book about Bangladesh’s history, The Colonel Who Would Not Repent.

For Hoodbooy, the keynote address on day one, titled ‘The Past and Present’, by Romila Thapar was “brilliant” among other sessions. On being asked about his own session, ‘The Wonder That Was Cordoba: The Legacy of Tolerance’, which was among the most popular sessions on day two, he commented it was entertaining for the audience because of the controversy it generated, yet he felt that people always wanted to know about two or more than two sides of the same issue.

For Yasmine, it was hard to make a choice. She was excited to see so many “great people” in one place, like Lysce Doucet and Roger Cohen among other writers and journalists whose sessions she really enjoyed.

Yasmin, on her first visit to Pakistan, said she still hadn’t got the chance to see much of Lahore but the places she had so far been to were “extraordinary”. For her, being in Lahore felt like she had landed on a film set since the city had a “mystical and a little bit haunting like energy”. Coming from Cairo and discovering it for the first time, she thought it was sad “how we only knew the city as shown in the media abroad”. In her opinion, events like the LLF were really important as to an extent they dispelled that image. It also offered writers inspiration.

Saba, whose hometown is Lahore but who currently lives in Karachi, said it was always great to be back in Lahore especially during this time of the year when the weather was glorious, making the festival more enjoyable.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2015

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