Conversations in multiple tongues on KLF’s second day

February 12, 2017

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SENATE Chairman Raza Rabbani speaks during a Saturday session.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
SENATE Chairman Raza Rabbani speaks during a Saturday session.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) is amongst the few events in the country where the multiplicity of languages in Pakistan is celebrated, where Urdu, English as well as other regional languages seem to be in cohesion and acknowledge each other’s literary contributions, cheering each other on rather than merely downplaying the other.

At the KLF this year, there was much on offer yet still seemed to be not enough. Book launches by local and international authors were organised; prizes awarded to fiction, non-fiction and books on criticism; sessions held challenging historical narratives; minorities and the precarious state of the legal system was discussed; and there was lots of political discourse.

However, the overwhelming majority of attendees on Saturday — the event’s second day — were students and young children, and the schedule failed to accommodate them.

Schoolchildren, smartly dressed in their uniforms, from both private and public schools, went from one end of the festival to the other in a bid to find a panel discussion, or a particular activity that catered to their interest, but were let down. Admittedly, the Children’s Literature Festival which, in previous years, has been held in tandem with the KLF, has grown exponentially and managed to attain an independent status. However, its absence was felt and many of the children and teachers accompanying them expressed this vocally.

Dureshewar Aftab, coordinator junior school at Bay View School, was accompanied by several teachers who were keeping a close watch over the students dressed in their school’s signature blue. She shared the idea behind bringing the students to the festival.

“Nowadays, children are so invested in their gadgets and are so deeply engrossed in technology that they don’t read books anymore and don’t know the feel of paper anymore. This is why we decided to bring the students and familiarise them with the literary world.

“Since they have been here, I have seen an awareness initiated within them concerning books. Many have even purchased books from the stalls. The KLF caters to minimise the gap in society especially with regard to reading habits. I have been coming here for three years and this year there are definitely more schools taking part.”

She, however, was disappointed that the schedule was not more inclusive towards children.  

“I wish there were storytelling sessions, activities where they could have had famous characters from classic books so that the interest among children could be increased and associations formed.”

For Salmana Shahid, the ambiance of the KLF has always been one of comfort. “I can come and spend the whole day and attend whichever session I want to without any worry. This is the third year I have been here and so far I have enjoyed the KLF a lot.”

An overwhelming majority of attendees also expressed their delight at being part of the panel with actress Shabnam and recalled fondly her pairing with actor Nadeem.

There were a few complaints about the sound system the first day, which were thankfully rectified on the second, said Sumera. She praised the organisers for making sure the sessions started and ended on time and there seemed to be enough time between sessions to move from one hall to the other with the volunteers remaining attentive towards the needs of the audience.

A few, however, were disgruntled by the overwhelming amount of sponsorship at the festival which has consistently increased over the years, but also defended this as a necessary evil which must be tolerated in exchange for a literary festival which could otherwise die out.

The presence of the Mayor of Karachi, Waseem Akhtar, also created quite a stir and while talking to the media, he spoke about how important it is for the love of literature to be encouraged in all socio-economic classes of the country. He praised the organisers for providing the city with a healthy activity.

The mayor also floated the idea of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation participating in helping to host next year’s KLF.  

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2017