KARACHI: One would have thought that the two-day 4th edition of Adab Festival that began at Frere Hall on Saturday would coincide with the arrival of winter… or a hint of it. Not to be. Instead, it was reasonably warm. But warm is the word that could also be used for the writers and book readers that took part on the inaugural day of the event against the backdrop — and inside — of the iconic colonial work of stonemasonry.
Formal proceedings started with the national anthem and the Adab Festival song penned by Sr Elizabeth, Principal of St Joseph’s Convent School, presented by students of St Joseph’s Convent. In her welcome address, the founder of the festival, Ameena Saiyid, said it’s for the first time that the festival was being held in person after the passing of its co-founder Dr Asif Farrukhi. In 2021, the programme was held online.
She said ever since 2010, it’s her endeavour to create a model and movement for literary festivals in the country. “We want to celebrate authors and provide a platform to young writers. This year’s theme is climate change.”
Architect Tariq Alexander Qaiser delivered the first keynote speech of the day. He said he was moved by the way the students had presented the national anthem. “Urdu is one of the most poignant and poetic languages. The words in our anthem are inspirational and the rendition of the young ladies brought tears in my eyes. This is the thing that we need, which is to remember our culture, tradition and thoughts.”
Adab Festival begins at Frere Hall; Moni Mohsin’s The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R launched
He was all praise for the ministry of climate change headed by Senator Sherry Rehman, claiming that the intensity with which they represented Pakistan in Sharm al Shaikh [at the UN climate talks] was inspiring. “Climate change is a critical issue. Have no doubt that these are times of great change. Global warming is causing an existentialist threat to human society. We acknowledge it but do we do something about it? Many of us do. I spend a lot of my time immersed in muddy mangroves water, chest deep,” he said, adding: “We have to be cognizant of the problems that we are dealing with” and went on to give two analogies to back up his arguments.
Ms Rehman was the second keynote speaker. She first showed a short video highlighting the issue of climate change vis-à-vis Pakistan and then said climate change was the existentialist crisis of the decade, and possibly the crisis of the century. “The coffee you drink, the shower you take, it will impact everything. Everywhere in the world, climate action is never successful if citizens are not directly involved and see themselves as stakeholders. It’s a global crisis. The dystopia that you just saw [in the video] came to Pakistan… The world needs to see that because we are the ground zero of climate change. For three successive years, Pakistan has been home to the hottest cities on the planet; 53.7 degrees is not fit for human agriculture, for industrial manufacturing, for any activity outside or even inside. Cooling has its own impact.”
She added, “Climate dystopia is already on our doorsteps. It has disproportionately impacted us because our carbon footprints are less than one per cent. It makes us a clear advocate for climate justice.”
Maria Rehman, country director of the British Council, Prof Nauman Naqvi representing Habib University, DIG Maqsood Ahmed and poet Zehra Nigah also spoke.
Two books launched
One of the eagerly awaited post-lunch sessions on the first day was the launch of Moni Mohsin’s book The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R moderated by Safinah D Elahi.
Ms Mohsin answering a question on a writer’s role, said, “Four days ago I was in Lahore speaking to someone I’d never spoken before. He said he doesn’t read books penned by Pakistani writers because most of them do a disservice to the country. They don’t talk about the good things in our country. They create a very bad impression of Pakistan in the west. I asked that man what he thought was the role of a writer. He replied the role of the writer is to create a good impression of his country. I said to him a writer is not an ambassador, is not a publicist… a writer is somebody who is independent, and writers must always tell their truth as they see it. That is why fiction matters.”
Recalling an interaction with the late Urdu writer Intizar Husain she told the audience, “My latest book is entirely different from my earlier book The Diary of a Social Butterfly. This book is about two young women who want to change the world for the better. They are well intentioned, feminists, very powerful in their own way but they operate and live in a patriarchy. Their ambit is circumscribed by the conditions in which they are. What Intizar Husain sahib said to me was at the Karachi Literary Festival five or six year ago. He lived in Lahore but was born in UP, India, which gave him an objectivity not given to us. He was of the view that two groups had sharply risen in society: one, is of the mullahs and the other, women. He called it a dialectical dilemma of Pakistan that these two groups would one day clash.
“I’m very heartened to see that actually the struggle has begun. The place where it’s happening is in Iran, exactly what Intizar Husain said. And in the west they’re busy with the war in Ukraine, but something cataclysmic is happening.”
Another important book that was launched in the evening was Pramod Kapoor’s 1946: The Last War of Independence – The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. It was moderated by Dr Jaffer Ahmed with Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and CEO Dawn Media Group Hameed Haroon as panellists.
Mr Kapoor, who spoke via video link, said he’s a publisher by profession who founded a company 40 years ago. Eight years ago he decided to go to the other side of the fence. So he took up a book which was an illustrated biography of Mahatma Gandhi. He contacted a friend who said it’s a good idea but you’re a serious publisher so you must read the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi. He came across a letter of Sardar Patel complaining to Gandhi how some individuals in the Congress such as Aruna Asif Ali and Jayaprakash Narayan were inciting the armed forces and people in general. It was an unusual letter. Then he [Kapoor] saw that it wasn’t just one letter, there was so much more to the episode. Subsequently, it took him some years to put the book [that was being launched] together. When he was writing the book he didn’t know that it was as big a topic as it turned out to be.
Apart from that, one of the halls that attracted the most attention of the visitors, especially the young ones, was where children’s storytelling sessions were held.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2022