KARACHI: “Humein kitab chahiye, humein kitab chahiye ...” demanded the students in school uniform on the stage while setting the mood for the two-day 60th Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) that kicked off at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi here on Wednesday.
Zehra Nigah’s words and Rakae Jamil’s composition combined with the children’s angelic voices at CLF’s inaugural session struck a chord with the audience, most of whom happened to be schoolchildren, including students of special education institutions. The national anthem at the very beginning of the festival was also presented by differently-abled students who sang as well as used sign language.
Baela Raza Jamil, CLF’s founder and the CEO of Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi, also said that CLF was and had always been an inclusive and equalising forum bringing together all children, be they from government schools, private schools or special education schools. “The festival has been designed keeping in mind the interests of all children,” she said.
‘Books that are not a part of children’s regular curriculum can turn them into active learners’
She said that the CLF was a multilingual festival with books as well as sessions in Sindhi, Balochi, Urdu and English.
It comprises 15 interactive strands in some 68 sessions with the help of 160 resource persons. “Good things happen when we work together for them to happen,” she said, adding that books and literature also open the mind to new and fresh ideas.
Ameena Saiyid, co-founder of the CLF, advised the children to enjoy the festival as much as they could since the organisers had done all that they could to make it a fun and learning event.
Giving a bit of history of the CLF, she said that its first edition was held in 2011 after ITA’s Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) brought up the worrying fact that children were not learning and needed supplementary reading besides their textbooks. “Books that are not a part of their regular curriculum can turn them into active learners,” she said.
There were several story-telling sessions but social activist and founder of Tehrik-i-Niswan Sheema Kermani’s session was also a performance. She showed how dance was also a language as she narrated through action and words the story of the Chipko movement for forest conservation and how village women gave their lives when they embraced trees to save them from being chopped down. Though they died, the movement now has saved countless trees.
Another fascinating session at the inauguration was five-year-old prodigy Tawassul Shah who read out poetry and verses by her favourite poets including Iqbal Ashhar, Ahmed Faraz, Ghalib and so many more.
All halls and auditoriums of the Arts Council had been renamed by CLF to commemorate authors, literati, artists, citizens, Nobel prize winners and places of Pakistan. There were multiple sessions all happening simultaneously and one was at a loss about where to go next and what to attend.
The room named Hakim Said ki Baithak had storytelling, theatre workshops, talks and conversations throughout the day. Rumana Husain in conversation with Tom Moore turned out to be an interesting discussion on children’s history of Sindh.
The Sohail Rana Open Air Auditorium witnessed an open mic session for students under an expert panel followed by a singalong with Khaled Anam, a performance by Raagi Faqeers of Bhit Shah and a musical concert by young qawwals.
The inaugural session featured Sindh Minister for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Syed Sardar Ali Shah as the chief guest. There were awards presented to resource persons and institutions that have supported CLF since its inception. Later, there were film screenings and talks by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Shehrbano Saiyid.
There was interesting theatre under way at the Bhitai Auditorium where a theatre workshop conducted by Atif Badar told the story of ‘Tota Khan aur Bakri Ara ka Safarnama’, a story penned by Rumana Husain and published by CLF, with expressions. More entertainment came in the form of string puppetry by Thespianz Theatre, a play by Tehrik-i-Niswan to dramatic readings by Zambeel, music and poetry.
Meanwhile, there were book launches at the Anita Ghulam Ali Auditorium along with a play and panel discussions and talks on Karachi’s heritage buildings by architect Mukhtar Husain.
At Fahmida Riaz ki Baithak, OUP had a morning session on the great poet after whom the room was named and her contribution to children’s literature followed by a full-day activity on the art of bookmaking.
Dr Hamida Khuhro ki Baithak had various sessions on storytelling, emotional and mental health by Arsalan Larik, interactive games for children, a young authors’ forum, a session on reading improvement and one on creating awareness of the welfare of donkeys.
There were arts and crafts on display along with an exhibition of children’s book illustrations and a photo booth at Sadequain Gali.
Bab-i-Hingol featured a sand and 3-D art interactive display while Abdus Salam Labs featured various digital activities. In order to highlight the creative side of the young generation, the Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta Courtyard offered activities such as clay modelling, pop-up learning, documentary and hands-on activities on Makli, which was part of CLF’s Virsa strand along with a mental health camp and a learning and reading corner.
Meanwhile, there were several stalls, including publishers’ stalls, to check out. There was also some delicious food available at the Burnes Road Food Court.
Entrance to CLF, which concludes on Thursday, is free.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2019