President Dr Arif Alvi inaugurates 13th Karachi Literature Festival

Published March 5, 2022
President Arif Alvi (centre), along with British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner and Oxford University Press managing director Arshad Husain, listens to a speech by Zia Mohyeddin.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
President Arif Alvi (centre), along with British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner and Oxford University Press managing director Arshad Husain, listens to a speech by Zia Mohyeddin.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: There was a hint of cool breeze, just a hint, enough to vindicate the balminess of the Karachi weather at this time of year. As guests, especially writers and poets, started to step into the Beach Luxury Hotel to take part in the inauguration of the three-day 13th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) on Friday evening, things warmed up. After all, last year they couldn’t see or meet each other in person. Thankfully, the effects of the awful coronavirus pandemic are subsiding.

However, the red-tape that one had to face on Friday was something that lovers of literature attending the event had never experienced before. There were sniffing dogs inside the venue and walking into the garden area where the opening ceremony was to be held was anything but a walk in the park… because the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, was the chief guest on the occasion.

President Alvi in his speech said the KLF has become an important part of our cultural calendar. It engages people in having dialogue and discourse.

Touching upon the theme of the event, he told the audience, which hadn’t packed the main garden because of strict security, that he came from a family half of whose members migrated to Pakistan and half stayed back in India. Whenever he visited India, his relative would question the making of Pakistan. It made him think and study. He realised that it was Sir Syed, first, who urged Muslims to acquire education and talked about Muslims’ rights. The Muslims of India kept trying that the subcontinent didn’t get divided. But when in the 1920s the situation went of hand, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal got frustrated and the Two-Nation Theory came into being.

Says annual event engages people in dialogue and discourse

The president lamented what had happened in Peshawar on Friday. He argued that human beings have three things in their DNA — the ability to love, to hate and phobias.

He added the UN did a good thing by deciding not have wars in the West. “But while I feel sad about what’s happening in Ukraine, I’d also like to mention that four to five million civilians died in Vietnam and the Korean War. This hypocrisy is troublesome.”

There were two keynote addresses. The first one was delivered by eminent artist and President Emeritus of the National Academy of Performing Arts Zia Mohyeddin.

‘Bigotry raising its head again’

He said he is dubbed a classicist that implies he belongs to a breed which is conservative in nature, blind to the computer age — it speaks volumes for the anti-intellectual atmosphere. “What is classicism?” he asked and replied, “Any creative work of the past which stimulates the depths of our imagination is classic. It is not the sole prerogative of the West. It just doesn’t belong to an ancient world.”

Mr Mohyeddin went down memory lane to talk about his father who used to take him along on evening walks and would often use the Shakespearian phrase, ‘What a rogue am I,’ his initial introduction to William Shakespeare. He got hooked on the bard when he saw Richard Burton play Hamlet on stage who “created magic” with his performance. It was then that he decided to acquaint himself with Shakespeare. “Shakespeare is a wonderful example of classicism.”

He shifted his focus on culture saying in the 75 years of Pakistan’s existence there’s a great deal of argumentation about culture. He mentioned ‘taste’ with reference to the subject and pointed out that “in our society the taste we profess publically is often in contrast with what we cherish in privacy.”

After discussing the Zia dictatorship briefly about the curbs on artistic pursuits in those days, he claimed that bigotry is raising its head again. He rounded off his speech by making the comment, “Books are the only testament of humanity to human beings.”

Author and historian Victoria Schofield was the second keynote speaker. She talked about the theme of this year’s festival — separation, belonging and beyond, 75 years of Pakistan — giving examples from her personal experiences.

She said she’s been coming to Pakistan for the last 44 years. Separation to her is missing friends when she’s not in Pakistan. Belonging means recapturing the friendship. “I’ve been made to feel welcome. I feel a sense of belonging when I arrive in Pakistan.”

She said she was in her twenties when she first landed in Pakistan in 1978. “I was naïve, knew nothing about the country.” It led her to talk about her friendship with slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which inspired her to take a leap into an unknown society. Benazir Bhutto was under house arrest. Her father was in jail. The country was under military dictatorship. The subsequent visits to Pakistan increased the author’s understanding of Pakistan.

Ms Schofield, referring to Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, spoke about her understanding of the name Pakistan by mentioning what each letter means to her in the name. She mentioned ‘P’ also stands for pride, plurality, the people and perception; A for Afghans, adulthood, aspiration, ambition and the arts; K for Kashmir and kindness; I for Islam and India from which Pakistan was separated; S for stability and sport; T for tolerance and turbulence; A for aptitude and achievement and N for notoriety in a positive way.

She closed her arguments by saying that perception was the missing narrative about Pakistan. “If they have not experienced Pakistan, they don’t understand it.”

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner highlighted the two conversations that he often has about Pakistan. One, the UK-Pakistan partnership and two, perceptions of Pakistan.

Best books awards

Earlier, Oxford University Press Managing Director Arshad Husain delivered the welcome address. Fathima Dada, MD Oxford University Press, UK and Farid Khan also spoke. Ayesha Tammy Haq moderated the opening session.

In between the speeches, Getz-Pharma awards were given to the best books of the year.

They were: best English fiction, Little America by Zain Saeed; best Urdu prose, Dubhida by Asim Bakhshi; best Urdu poetry Khwab Aatey Huay Sunai Diyey by Saleem Kausar.

The Little Book Company’s four awards for books in regional languages were won by authors Zahid Ali Abbasi (Sindhi), Dr Hanif Sharif (Balochi), Ali Anwar Ahmed (Punjabi) and Noorul Amin Yousufzai (Pashto).

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2022

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