KARACHI: The closing ceremony of the 9th KLF resounded with condolences offered by speakers on the deaths of human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who championed the cause of the marginalised and was a believer in democracy, and senior versatile actor Qazi Wajid.
Ameena Saiyid, managing director of the OUP and the festival’s founder, said: “Today we have lost a champion of the cause of the underdog; a towering personality, a fearless and a true democrat, whose departure from this world has left a void. We have also lost a versatile actor, Qazi Wajid.”
She recalled how at the various appearances she made at the KLF, Jahangir’s sessions were also packed.
Homage paid to Asma Jahangir
“My friendship and association with her goes back a long way to the 1980s when we used to go to katchi abadis together on the outskirts of Lahore, sit on charpoys, drink tea and talk about women’s rights. Asma never stopped.”
I. A. Rehman also lauded the contributions of Asma, and said she stood up against each and every despot. “She used to stand on the barricade, get injured with baton in protests.”
He spoke about how she was an undeterred support for women in the country, but she did not only help women. “She was the protector of Pakistan’s women, minorities, labourers and workers, clerks and even vendors on the roads.”
Writer Amit Chaudhuri spoke about his two trips to Pakistan and how his experience of the country has been memorable. He said the two festivals that he had attended had made him realise that the way Pakistani reacted to such events was very serious as in the rest of the world people seemed to take things for granted and applauded ready-made reputations, but don’t think about how such things were possible.
“The emotionally-charged atmosphere in the audience that I witnessed in Pakistan seems to affirm the necessity that such things can be possible,” he said.
Former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar recalled the love and affection he received at each of his visit to Pakistan, and never had he faced any kind of hostility and enmity since he was appointed India’s first consul general in Karachi. “I am interested in good relations in Pakistan and this is also necessary for the millions of Indian Muslims who made the decision to stay back and not migrate. They stayed behind and no act of loyalty was greater. And the task to fully integrate them into our nationhood is still ongoing and can be possible if Pakistan and Indian repair their relationship.”
Co-founder of KLF Asif Farrukhi spoke about how the closing of the festival was the most difficult moment. “The festival has a very intense life of its own, but it has to come to an end. With each festival I feel rejuvenated, more curious and eager as books give us food for thought and ideas to develop and expand. And we need to connect with them time and again.”
The space of ideas and books is being encroached upon rapidly by “rabble-rousers and people who are devoid of imagination and critical thinking. This festival is our chance to reclaim the space which belongs to writers, thinkers, poets and bookmakers. This space needs to be protected and preserved,” he said.
Other speakers at the closing ceremony were Anwar Maqsood and Anis Haroon of the Women’s Action Forum. Poet Kishwar Naheed read out a poem she had once written for Asma Jahangir when she was awarded a peace prize.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018