LLF culminates with its highs and lows

February 26, 2018

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Visitors to the Lahore Literary Festival at the Alhamra Art Centre on its concluding day. — White Star / Murtaza Ali
Visitors to the Lahore Literary Festival at the Alhamra Art Centre on its concluding day. — White Star / Murtaza Ali

The sixth edition of Lahore Literary Festival concluded on Sunday.

The two-day festival brought together intellectuals, writers, artists and activists from across Pakistan and other countries at Alhamra Art Centre for discussions on a variety of topics, book launches and a musical evening with Lal the Band on the last day.

Some events attracted more audience than others because of renowned names such as British actor/rapper Riz Ahmed, author/TV producer/academic Reza Aslan and Man Booker prize winner Ben Okri on the first day, while sessions with Zia Mohyeddin, Aitzaz Ahsan, Amjad Islam Amjad, Shobhaa De and Hina Rabbani Khar were well-attended on the second day.

The sessions with Christopher de Bellaigue, Robert Worth, Sumayya Usmani, Anis Ashfaq, Hanan al-Shaykh, Emma Glass, Sona Datta and Hugh Thompson were also able to gather some audience.

On day two, 29 sessions on a variety of topics were held as well as two performances in the evening -- musical performance by Lal the Band in memory of Asma Jahangir and ‘Why Shakespeare Is Shakespeare’ by Zia Mohyeddin. Two sessions scheduled for the day were canceled without any prior announcement.

Atif Zia came from Faisalabad to attend the festival. “I came here only to shake hands with Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh whose landmark novel Trainspotting triggered me to do research on heroin addicts in Pakistan,” said the young man. He said he not only shook hands with his favourite writer, but also took a selfie with him and got his autograph. Fans also gathered around panelists after their respective sessions for follow-up discussions and, of course, selfies.

People from all walks of life and ages were seen at the festival. Lal the Band’s lead singer Taimur Rahman had brought his two toddlers along. “They should learn about poetry, literature, and art at his age, and this venue offers best of all these things,” he smiled before rushing towards bookstalls.

Several stalls inside Hall 1 had displayed a range of books. Artist and academic Salima Hashmi bought English novels by a Lebanese writer whose session she attended on Sunday morning, and a book on the history of Lahore. A CD stall vendor said they had sold dozens of CDs of last year’s session between Hameed Haroon and Sharmila Tagore.

“This is an added advantage of such festivals where we meet writers and are also inspired to buy their books,” she said.

Shandana Khan was selling English translation of Pashto poet Ghani Khan. She said she had sold eight books in just an hour, which showed people from diverse cultures were at the festival. Some students of the Punjabi University, however, were not happy for not including a Seraiki session in the festival. Similarly, there were complaints about the format of the festival where three or four panelists sit in a session and each one hardly gets 10 minutes to share their experiences.

Tabinda Jabeen, who introduced herself as a literature lover, said a session should be two-hour long where at least 30 minutes were allocated for questions. Similarly, Dr Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a US-based academician, said the festival management needed to revisit the planning.

A few people also expressed concerns about poor job by moderators, who, according to them, were not well-prepared and did not maintain balance during the talks.

SHORT STORIES

Ali Madeeh Hashmi sat with two celebrated writers – Ali Akbar Natiq and Syed Gulzar Husnain – at an LLF session, titled Afsaaney Ke Safeer on Sunday to discuss craft and philosophy of writing.

“Put no or minimum philosophy in a fiction piece. A short story must sail with an incident with ease,” said Gulzar while Natiq also affirmed his stance that too many elements of philosophy or abstract characters killed the spirit of the story. He said his every afsana reflected his own life but he tried to tell these stories in the simplest way.

“How to write simply and prolifically is the most complex skill to acquire for a writer,” he said.

Taking his point forward, Syed Gulzar said Ghulam Abbas was, to him, the greatest short story writer of all times for his simple diction and ease of the flow of the story and very few stories of Saadat Hasan Manto could be called the great one. Natiq named Syed Rafique Husain and Hayatullah Ansari as legends because of their craft. “Writers like Manto and Krishn Chandar tell a two-page story in 10 pages. That’s the waste of paper, ink and time,” he said.

Later, during the question-answer session, writer Anis Ashfaq stood to support the idea of revisiting the works of several famous writers like Abdullah Husain, Qurratulain Hyder and so on.

Ali Hashmi took the talk towards the element of morality in fiction writings.

Poet Iftikhar Arif later added that besides determination, reading and mentoring, another element needed to become a skilled writer was: God-gifted skill.

“It is up to the writer how early they discover their skills,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2018