KARACHI: While the non-arrival of Indian actor-turned-political activist Anupam Kher for the 7th Karachi Literature Festival has stirred a debate lately, nothing will be felt more acutely than the absence of Urdu novelist, short story writer and columnist Intizar Husain who passed away just three days before the opening of the festival on Friday.

The three-day event will feature around 100 sessions and 28 book launches in which 262 authors and individuals belonging to showbiz will take part.

Also read: Literary luminaries, showbiz glitterati to attend 7th KLF

On the opening day, literature buffs will get to hear keynote addresses from two of the most outstanding Pakistani achievers in the fields of literature and science, Fahmida Riaz and Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy. The event will come to a close on Sunday evening with the speeches of eminent Indian literary critic Rakhshanda Jalil and the distinguished Islamic scholar Ziauddin Sardar.

Some of the names, which have recently caused a stir in the literary world including novelists Stefen Kopetzky, Mirza Waheed and Italian publisher and writer Andrea Berrini, will be sharing their thoughts on their works with book lovers.

Then there are some very important sessions on art and its efficacy in Pakistan. Paintings, sculptures and photographs will be discussed in detail by art practitioners, critics and art aficionados.

Renowned Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon, too, has been given due importance in this edition of the event, as he will not only be seen discussing comedy and satire along with Indian stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura but will also be doing a stand-up act as the final item of the three-day programme.

Gradually but surely the festival has become a cultural identity marker for intellectual and literary pursuits which despite all odds have been inalienably associated with Pakistani society but were not highlighted in the past the way they merited. The tone was set in the first two editions of the event, which were held at a different venue.

The arrival of literary heavyweights like Hanif Kureishi, Shamsur Rehman Farooqui and William Dalrymple was a shot in the arm for the organisers, chiefly the diligent duo of managing director of Oxford University Press Ameena Saiyid and writer Asif Farrukhi. The festival moved on from strength to strength, with a few negligible hiccups.

This year the controversy over Anupam Kher’s non-arrival has whipped up quite a bit of debate, but the fact remains that nothing will be felt more intensely than the void left by Intizar sahib who had become an integral part of the Karachi Literature Festival ever since its inception. He would wholeheartedly partake in segments where he was required to speak as well as in sessions where he would sit as an audience member.

One distinctly remembers English novelist Nadeem Aslam’s keynote speech a couple of years back when he called Intizar sahib the greatest writer in the world. But as they say, he will be with us in spirit, and it is the lively spirit of extraordinary individuals like Intizar sahib that makes people understand the significance of the written word.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016