‘Relationship between art and power has always remained tricky’

02 Mar 2020


Sardar Masood Khan speaks at the event on Sunday.—Tahir Jamal / White Star
Sardar Masood Khan speaks at the event on Sunday.—Tahir Jamal / White Star

KARACHI: The three days of literary discussions, animated debates, book launches, readings, poetry recitals and presentations in the form of the 11th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) organised by the Oxford University Press (OUP) wrapped up here on Sunday at the Beach Luxury Hotel with a promise to return again next year.

During her keynote address at the closing ceremony, Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator Dr Ahdaf Soueif said that art and literature were very closely intertwined with politics. “Both have to respond to the circumstances they find themselves in and those circumstances are dictated by politics,” she said.

“KLF demonstrates the real value of this,” she said, adding that it was a festival with the perfect size, not too big and not too small. “The function of empathy was born from recognising the similarities from dissimilarities. What literature and art does and what KLF does is not to teach us to tolerate the differences but to celebrate them,” she added.

Harris Khalique, the other keynote speaker of the day, spoke about art and its relationship with power. “Only art subverts power,” he said. “The relationship between art and power has always remained tricky. There is a constant tension at play, a hide and seek, a tussle between subservience and subversion. Many poets, writers and artists in deeply troubled societies like Pakistan are deeply troubled,” he said.

Three-day Karachi Literature Festival concludes

“There is an internal urge that makes us revolve around the axis of literature and an external pull that makes us rotate in the sphere of politics,” he said.

Talking about the shrinking of space for the free mind, he said that “the choice is not to be made between silence and speech, calm and rage, amnesia and memory. There is an artistic choice that also needs to be made between rhapsody and gloom and indifference or compassion. It is a process of creating a space fringed by two options. There is a continuous negotiation that takes place between aesthetic sense and social consciousness for a poem has to be a poem first and last without compromising its artistic value.”

The president of Azad Jammu & Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan, the chief guest on the occasion, said that the KLF was a great space for the promotion of literature and exchange of ideas. “I see faces here belonging to all ages, from teenagers to people my age, all listening to the speakers. It’s great to see that the festival organisers have created and sustained a literary space which was dying because of other available mediums,” he said.

“The attendees look satisfied and at peace, free enough to attend a literature festival but unfortunately, people in India-occupied Kashmir do not have this luxury, not for over six months now,” he said. “I would urge everyone, not just the government or members of parliament, everyone, which means you. I urge you to be politically correct and speak up for the Kashmiris. They are your citizens and they are being brutalised. In the world of today we are not just passive recipients of the news. In the world of social media, we are all, in fact, influencers,” he said.

Britain’s Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi and Trade Director for Pakistan, Mike Nithavrianakis, said it was only five years back that Karachi was considered a dangerous place, but it is now transforming in a safe place. “The transformation has been great,” he said while jokingly adding that earlier he used to stay indoors in his air-conditioned environs but the KLF even pulled him out to get some sun and necessary vitamin D though his bald head.

In his concluding remarks, the festival organiser and managing director, OUP, Pakistan, Arshad Saeed Husain, thanked the speakers, panellists and authors, their advisory board, his team at OUP and last but not least the audience for making the KLF’s 11th edition a success.

“The KLF saw numerous sessions where the burning issues of the day were deliberated on by the panellists. The 11th KLF has examined the emergence of fascist nationalism in many countries, one of the deadliest examples of which is our neighbour on the east. KLF participants reviewed the recent dangerous twist to the Kashmir dispute and the miserable plight of the Kashmiri people. World peace is threatened by turmoil and deepening tensions in the Middle East. We have analysed the issues of student activism, urban decay, climate change and Karachi’s water woes, and Pakistan’s deeply regrettable literacy and education crisis. Yes, clearly, the most consequential issues of our time have indeed been focused upon in the past two and a half days,” he said.

The day’s sessions included discussions about Urdu literature, Karachi’s literary heritage, media crisis, student politics, Balochistan, cricket, young comedians and women classical singers of Pakistan.

There were readings by Zia Mohyeddin and a talk by Javed Jabbar on Mapping Pakistan’s cultural evolution over the past 72 years.

The book’s launched on the day included Arif Mahmood’s P.S. Pestonjee, Zubair Murshed’s Dabi Sanson ka Shor, Harriet Sandy’s Beyond that Last Blue Mountain: My Silk Road Journey, Tanzeemul Firdaous’s Khutoot-i-Ghalib, Hameed Shahid’s Saans Lenay mein Dard Hota Hai, Ahmed Atta’s Rang-i-Purshor, Irshad Abdulkadir’s Prodigal, Yasir Qazi’s Do Meenar: Reportage and Fawzia Afzal-Khan’s Siren Song: Understanding Pakistan through its Women Singers.

The third and final day of the KLF ended with a lively musical performance by Raga Boyz on the main garden stage.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2020