Talks, interviews highlight of literature festival

Published November 5, 2023
Visitors take interest in books on display at a stall on the second day of the Islamabad Literature Festival on Saturday. — Online
Visitors take interest in books on display at a stall on the second day of the Islamabad Literature Festival on Saturday. — Online

ISLAMABAD: The second day of the 9th Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) was packed with talks, interviews, panel discussions, book launches, readings, screenings and a mushaira.

Held at the Gandhara Citizen Club in the Fatima Jinnah Park, the venue had ample space for three concurrent streams of sessions, a book fair and food court.

The theme of the ILF was ‘People, Planet, and Possibilities’ and it focused – or obliquely touched – upon contemporary English and Urdu literature, current economic and geopolitical challenges, the impact of climate change, and the spread of violence and disorder, exploring the possibilities going forward.

The insightful session, ‘The Dark Side of Journalism-Culture and Political Economy of Global Media in Pakistan and Afghanistan’, moderated by Fasi Zaka highlighted the role of stringers and fixers in the last few decades in KP region.

Syed Irfan Ashraf spoke about the impediments faced by Pakhtun journalists while Afrasiab Khattak shed light about the importance of KP region as a periphery within a periphery.

Moderated by Mina Malik, ‘Ink and Empowerment: Women in Publishing’, was a conversation with Muneeza Shamsie and Mehvash Amin who narrated their journeys to publication, getting the work distributed as well as the role of libraries in promoting local writers.

Mehvash Amin spoke of a sponsorship programme through which she was able to send copies of ‘The Aleph Review’ to libraries allowing students to access and refer to them.

In the session ‘Investing in Human Capital: Tackling Underdevelopment in Pakistan’, Khalid Mahmood said: “The fact is that the number of years of schooling in Pakistan does not equate to the same number of years of learning. Countries are using the Human Capital Index to assess how much income they forgo because of human capital gaps and how fast they can turn these losses to gains if they invest in health and education now. Pakistan has a lot to learn from this.”

Touching on the alarming numbers of out-of-school children, he said almost 10 per cent of the total out-of-school children globally were in Pakistan.

With a focus on sustainability, diversity and the potential of human imagination, ‘AI in Education: Empowering Minds, Shaping the Future of Learning’ explored the potential of AI and Tech in reaching the unserved and better serving the rest.

Dr Shahid Mahmud said: “Noam Chomsky was the first person to use AI for language and literature in 1957. So, today when we say AI in education it is the pace at which it is now being used because technology has allowed it to be used in that fashion. When mobile phones were introduced, the technology was analogue not digital, so the speed was not there. In our day, internet was dial-up; today, with 5G there and 6G coming, the difference is enormous.”

Going on to explain that 5G was

a hundred times faster than 3G and 6G would be thousand times faster connectivity, he said, “AI has been around since 1956 but now, technology has allowed us to use AI. When we talk about AI in education, it is a foregone conclusion that we have to adopt it. How we adopt it is a question we all have to answer ourselves.”

The adoption of AI is contingent on functional infrastructure being present, including electricity, the bandwidth and the storage.

Dr Faisal Bari said: “My interaction is with students and research so from those perspectives, our first interaction with AI was when students started to write their papers using ChatGPT.”

Speaking of the immediate challenges arising from plagiarism and the concerns of the faculty around the effects on learning of this use of AI, and the evolution of assessments, he said, “That stage passed very quickly and now the key question that a lot of universities and faculty are grappling with is how do you internalise AI in a way that it becomes a help in learning and teaching students.”

Saud Mukhtar, author of Dandelion Blooms: The Evolution of Islamabad, said: “I am pleased to attend the Islamabad Literature Festival as it provides access to a wide and diverse audience. For that I am thankful to organisers for including my book in it, which tells the story of Islamabad. Islamabad has become unrecognisable, just like dandelion flowers, for its old residents.”

With a strong message of sustainability and preservation, the book encourages residents to recall the resources that were devoted to building the city and the importance of preserving it.

He said: “It is the story of evolution of a city and this book is a tribute to all of those people who made Islamabad a reality that includes everyone who came here and give life to the city be it the merchants, locals, the government servants and the traders.”

Engaging conversations were held around some thought-provoking and extremely diverse themes including Mahmil o Jaras: Collection of Unpublished Poems by Josh Malihabadi; Pakistani Prose and Verse Exploring Contemporary English Literature; Qaidi by Omar Shahid Hamid translated from English by Inaam Nadeem; Grieving for Pigeons Twelve Stories of Lahore by Zubair Ahmad; Shaping the Future of Learning; Lahore’s Lost Legacy Unveiling the Life and Contributions of Sir Ganga Ram; The Other In the Mirror: Stories from India and Pakistan edited by Sehyr Mirza; and Hans KarJeeyo; The Lost Heritage.

Different panels of diverse speakers came together to discuss the power of literature in representing and celebrating a wide range of voices and perspectives. Democracy, Bureaucracy, and Judiciary: Going Beyond the Colonial Entanglement, Development Pathways: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh at 75 by Ishrat Husain, Fair Assessments: Ensuring Equity and Excellence in Education, Urdu Fiction kaIrtiqa and Investing in Human Capital: Tackling Underdevelopment in Pakistan were featured dialogues of the day.

The day ended with a screening of the feature film Kamli, introduced by SarmadKhoosat, and a captivating Mushaira, presided over by Iftikhar Arif.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2023

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