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Discourse on Bhuttos, democracy, art, literature

Updated April 18, 2017

LAHORE: The Benazir Literature Festival started on Monday at the Alhamra Art Centre as Conversation 1, where eminent intellectuals and PPP leaders introduced the festival.

Rosemary Victoria Schoffield read out excerpts from her upcoming book on her experiences in Pakistan in 1979.

A close friend of her since Benazir Bhutto’s Oxford University days till her assassination, Ms Schoffield spoke primarily about the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“I came to Pakistan when I heard about Benazir’s father and her being under house arrest,” she said. “I came for a few weeks thinking that the matter would end soon. How naive I was.”

Schoffield met Ms Bhutto at Oxford, and also succeeded her as president of the Oxford Union Society.

“I came to give her moral support,” she said. “I typed letters for her, and did other things which she could not do herself. I thought I would write a few articles in the few weeks I was here.” But she ended up writing a book called ‘The trial and execution of ZAB’.

“No one documented the cold blooded judicial murder of Mr Bhutto,” she said. “I’m very glad I ended up writing the book because things would have been shrouded in memory otherwise.” Schoffield was writing for the London publication The Spectator. The keynote address was delivered by intellectual Hasan Jaffar Zaidi on how politics was joined with literature and arts and had been so throughout history. He gave the examples of Russia, where in the age of realism the two were brought closer, and in China where a movement by intellectuals in 1919 led to the formation of the Communist Party and eventually brought about the revolution.

He cited Ghalib and Meer who could not separate politics from their verses, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who prompted the age of enlightenment for Muslims, and Sir Muhammad Iqbal who was known as a political poet.

“The progressive writers movement from 1930 to 1960 gave Pakistan some incredible pieces of literature and art,” he said, adding that the PPP emerged because of this movement. He said that Mr Bhutto had promoted arts and literature and freedom of thought. Zia eliminated it not only through the murder of Bhutto but also through flogging journalists. He also wanted to kill society and the freedom of thought that can be seen today in the form on bloody and gruesome lynchings, he said.

He said throughout the 70s, a lot of contribution came from writers and journalists and artists and musicians. From Chughtai to Sadequain to Shakir Ali, and even to cinema, where political films like Zarqa and Yeh Aman were made.

“I always think there is a pre-Zia period and a post-Zia period in Pakistan,” he said. “From 1972 to 1977 it was an era of consciousness but hardly have any art and literature been produced since after that.”PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was honoured to see his mother’s name attached to a literary festival. “It’s a privilege to speak in the city (Lahore) where a pledge was signed in 1940, which led to the formation of the country, where so many poets and artists and writers have walked through the streets,” he said.

Mentioning Abdus Salam, Faiz, Iqbal and Manto, he said Lahore was a city where arts and culture ran through its arteries.

He said arts had the power to build empires and transcend boundaries. “I long to see a country where humanity reigns and wehre differences are celebrated.”

Senator Sherry Rehman said that she was glad to see that some kind of discourse would be present with this ideas forum. “BB (Benazir Bhutto) said that democracies do not go to war with each other, but today it is these illiberal democracies that are dropping bombs on other countries. There is a failure of capitalism and inequality is one of the biggest structural problems. PPP has always aimed to see that there is more distribution of resources,” she said.

Journalist Wusutullah Khan also spoke.

The event was not well managed with there being disturbances in the middle of the speeches. Half the hall emptied as soon as Bilawal left the hall.

OUR STAFF REPORTER ADDS: In a session, Ajoka theatre’s Shahid Nadeem said qualitative theatre always provoked minds and caused socio-political developments.

The session - Theatre and politics - was some an hour late from its scheduled time; a thin attendance at the session was another issue. Among the three panelists - Saba Hameed, Shahid Nadeem and Hafeez Tahir - Ms Hameed did not turn up.

Mr Nadeem said a good theatre was always inspiring that touched heart and sometimes changed lives.

Former PTV producer, actor and writer Hafeez Tahir said no new drama scripts were being written. “How can good writings be produced when young generation is not in the habit of reading literature?” he said.

There was also a play at the festival by the Mass Foundation Theatre titled ‘Manto se miliye’. The play directed by Amir Nawaz was based on life and works of Manto.

A Seraiki mela is also being held at Alhamra Art Centre. The two-day festival features Seraiki culture in terms of pottery, books and dresses stalls. Seraiki music is also part of the festival. On Tuesday, famous singer Attaullah Khan Essa Khailvi will perform and speak at the festival.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2017