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A not-so-funny comedy of errors at KLF's Urdu Digests session

Updated February 09, 2016


From L-R, Noorul Huda Shah, Shakeel Adilzada, Zahida Hina, Haseena Moin, Neelofar Aleem and Mubashir Ali Zaidi. —Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
From L-R, Noorul Huda Shah, Shakeel Adilzada, Zahida Hina, Haseena Moin, Neelofar Aleem and Mubashir Ali Zaidi. —Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

There were a few things that went wrong — uncharacteristically so, one may add — at the KLF this year, mostly related to unannounced rescheduling of sessions and microphones not working frequently.

But what went on at the session on 'Urdu Digests and Digest Writers' was not quite as uncharacteristic as far as the logistics part is concerned.

For instance, the proceedings had hardly anything to do with the subject, and the moderator made it look worse. Admittedly, these things have often happened over the seven years of KLF. But it has never been as bad as this particular session.

Signs were ominous from the outset. While inviting the speakers with the help of the KLF guidebook, the moderator Zahida Hina announced the name of Haseeb Asif, paused, wondered if the gentleman was present in the hall, and then asked someone stepping on to the stage if he knew where Asif was.

As it turned out, she was asking Haseeb about his whereabouts.

As the audience burst into laughter, the moderator added insult to injury by telling Haseeb that she didn’t know anything about him and had taken him for some event volunteer.

Another burst of laughter followed.

Disconcerted, Hina, a couple of minutes later, asked Haseena Moin — a senior and known television drama writer — how her experience had been “as a digest writer”.

“I have never written for any digest…I don’t know what to say.”

Roars of laughter now.

Now totally out of her depth, the moderator added another layer of insult to the worsening injury by telling the audience that she was also wondering about the scriptwriter’s presence in the session, and blamed the organisers for the questionable selection of guests.

It so happened that the co-founder of the festival Asif Farrukhi was present in the hall. He was dragged into the discussion which by then, the audience had begun to take as a painfully lingering comedy of errors.

Examine: Day 1: What's happening at Karachi Literature Festival 2016

Next, the moderator asked another guest, Nilofar Aleem, a former actress who made it big in the 1970s what she thought of the digests and their content.

After a couple of minutes of high-flying verbosity about “the universal triangle of man, words and intellect in the history of mankind”, she had to be reminded of the theme: Urdu digests.

“Well, I have been a reader of them in my youth,” was her remark that elicited more laughter.

After a verbal spat — light-hearted though it was — with the guest, the moderator turned to Noorul Huda Shah, another known name in the world of television drama in today’s Pakistan, who started out with this gem: “I don’t know what to say…in fact, I have not even read digests except for one or two.”

Take a look: Day 2: The performing arts take center stage at Karachi Literature Festival

To her eternal credit, she did try to link the theme of Urdu digests with Urdu drama scripts and she would have almost pulled it off but for the simple fact that her comments rubbed Haseena Moin the wrong way.

That led to a friction that would have been good for a television talk show in terms of rating points, but was too much to digest (pun intended) for the live audience that had started feeling bored with the unintended comedy as three-fourth of the session had already gone by then.

Sure, there were laughs all around but the audience was not there for the laughs.

The funniest — and the most regrettable — part was that Shakeel Adilzada, the undisputed doyen of Urdu digests, spoke for no more than two minutes, which was a massive disappointment for the large audience that had gathered to listen to the man about the stories and characters that he had crafted with literary finesse over such a long period of time.

See: Day 3: Revisiting our roots— South Asian fiction and politics in focus at the Karachi Literature Festival

A little more effort on the part of the organisers to synchronise the theme and the guest-list, and efforts on the part of the moderator in terms of homework would have made a world of difference.

As it turned out, the session provoked only the envy of stand-up comedians, not literature enthusiasts.