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LLF opens with Zehra Nigah, Faiz and freedom of speech

February 23, 2019

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PEOPLE gather on the lawns of the Alhamra on the first day of the seventh edition of the Lahore Literary Festival. — White Star
PEOPLE gather on the lawns of the Alhamra on the first day of the seventh edition of the Lahore Literary Festival. — White Star

LAHORE: A refreshing spring evening welcomed the Lahorites to the seventh edition of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) that opened at the Alhamra Arts Centre here on Friday.

The first day of LLF 2019 comprised the opening ceremony, the keynote address by Zehra Nigah and five sessions.

Newsweek Editor Fasih Ahmed, British High Commissioner in Pakistan Thomas Drew, theatre producer Rachael Cooper, US Consul General in Lahore Colleen Crenwelge, businessman Iqbal Z Ahmad and Dawn Media Group CEO Hameed Haroon spoke at the opening ceremony.

Fasih Ahmed said the way the LLF was garnering more and more respect each year showed how it made its place in the mainstream.

He said the influx of people from abroad coming together in the litfest would eventually mean better people-to-people relations across the countries.

Opening ceremony, keynote address and five sessions held on first day

British High Commissioner Thomas Drew remarked: “Culture and literature are bringing our countries together.”

Mr Drew spoke about the inevitable cultural ties between Pakistan and Britain. He lauded the London edition of the LLF, saying it was an important milestone.

Dawn Media Group CEO Hameed Haroon said that it’s time to pay tribute to Razi Ahmed, who despite bureaucratic hurdles, had refused to be pushed back. He said Razi’s hard work and the editions in London and New York had made the LLF unique.

Talking about the state of affairs in the country, Mr Haroon expressed his concern at the shrinking space for freedom of expression in the country.

“A salute to all the Lahore people – from I.A. Rehman to Salima Hashmi, to Ayesha Jalal, to Mohsin Hamid and to Ahmed Rashid who were like soldiers, not prepared to yield an inch (in the face of oppression),” he said while naming some of the prominent fighters for this basic human right.

At the end of his address, Mr Haroon struck a somber note by saying, “this is not a good time for freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. These rights are not handed down on a platter by the dictators or democrats or elected prime ministers or uniformed personnel. They have to be fought for”.

Theatre producer Rachel Cooper of the Asia Society said the New York edition of the LLF was like ‘home away from home’.

“This is an important way of showing Lahore as a city and Pakistan as a whole in a global context,” she added.

Associated Group (AG) Chairman Iqbal Z Ahmed also spoke.

ZEHRA NIGAH: Urdu legend Zehra Nigah made the audiences chuckle as she read out an Urdu essay she had written about her impressions of Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

Nigah’s own introduction was given by educationist Dr Nasreen Rehman, accompanied with a multimedia slideshow, videos and audio recordings.

“Every poet at some point of his or her life wishes to write at least a couple of lines in the style of Faiz,” said Ms Nigah.

She said Faiz’s expressions and emotions flew freely and while he was able to engage his reader, he also illustrated the times he lived in.

“In Mere Dil Mere Musafir, Faiz expresses so much pain that he becomes the strife he is going through.

“When a poet writes poetry, he or she often becomes someone else but Faiz and his poet self were never separate and this to me was always apparent when I met him – in a soft spoken way he conversed in his rhythmic words, sentences full of metre.”

As a person, Nigah added, Faiz was extremely conscious of what was happening around him – as a political person, an editor, and a poet – even during exile or in jail.

“All eight anthologies of Faiz Ahmed’s are important comments on the milieu – they make historical scripts in themselves. Let us not forget his ghazal on the loss of Dhaka – as important today as it was then – Hum Keh Thehray Ajnabi – and every line of this ghazal is a huge question mark.”

She said she had always studied Faiz with the love and respect of a student. In the conclusion, she dedicated to Faiz a couplet by Ghalib, “Jaam-i-har zara, hay sarshar-e- tamana mujse / Kis ka dil hoon kay dou aalam se lagaya hay mujhe”.

The LLF would continue on Saturday (today) and Sunday.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019