Last weekend, I immersed myself in the enchanting experience of the 5th Adab Festival, hosted at Habitt City in Karachi, and spearheaded by the publisher Ameena Saiyid, director and owner, Lightstone Publishers. The vibrant ambience amidst the various linguistic offerings and festival’s liveliness was captivating. Insightful workshops, book launches and thoughtful discussions were the life of the festival, transforming the commercial venue into a heritage centre.
During her opening speech, Saiyid mentioned that it has been 13 years since she and the late Dr Asif Farrukhi commenced organising literary festivals. She devoted this year’s iteration of the Adab Festival in his honour. Inaam Nadeem, Pomme Gohar, Farid Ahmed Khan, Munis Abdullah and Sindh’s caretaker Minister for School Education and Literacy, College Education and Women Empowerment, Rana Hussain, also spoke at the event. Also present on the occasion was the renowned poetess Kishwar Naheed, who expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to be in the company of schoolchildren.
The celebrated Urdu poet Iftikhar Arif also reflected on a time, over a decade ago, when literary festivals were making waves globally, particularly in neighbouring counterparts. “It was during this period that Ms Saiyid initiated similar events in Pakistan.”
Observing the younger audience, he elaborated, “while it is crucial to inculcate book reading, it’s equally important for children to explore books beyond those mandated by their school curriculum. Often, parents encourage their children to solely focus on textbooks, neglecting other literary works. It’s essential to provide opportunities for children to delve into diverse readings beyond their prescribed materials.
The two-day 5th Adab Festival was another opportunity for those starved of intellectual discussions and literature in Karachi to immerse themselves in them, even for a short time
“The attendance of school and college-going students at such festivals is promising,” he continued, “it may also encourage their parents to engage in reading. Children whose parents don’t read are less inclined towards reading themselves. Therefore, it’s vital for parents to cultivate a reading habit.”
An award ceremony was held where poet Dr Fatema Hassan and novelist Omar Shahid Hamid were honoured in the Urdu and English categories, respectively, for their significant contributions to Pakistani literature.
The highlight of Day One was the session ‘Standing Up for All Women’, in which journalist Khursheed
Hyder moderated a discussion with
TV network owner Sultana Siddiqui and former
TV presenter and bureaucrat Mahtab Akbar Rashdi, about modern media and societal changes. As a woman with young children, this session couldn’t have been more relatable.
Listening to these ladies about their respective careers and sharing insights about the world primarily dominated by men — ie the media industry and government — and getting to know them up close, as they shared the challenges of their professional journeys, was as fascinating as it was encouraging.
Another interesting panel was the ‘Power Women of Pakistan’, moderated by classical dancer, theatre practitioner and activist Sheema Kermani, in which computer programmer Jehan Ara, fund manager Tara Uzra Dawood, women’s rights activist Tasneem Ahmer, corporate professional and writer Aisha Sarwari and diplomat Mumtaz Zahra Baloch spoke of their journeys. The key theme that Sarwari emphasised was that “no woman has power in this country.”
The book launches were a treat to attend as well. Yasser Latif Hamdani’s book, Jinnah: A Life, focused on political studies of the founder of Pakistan, the literature produced on him and Partition literature in general — categorising them in three sections: produced in Pakistan, in India, and by Western scholars. Scholars Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh and Syed Jaffar Ahmed were in talks with the author as Liaquat Merchant, the grand-nephew of the Quaid-i-Azam, chaired the session.
Safinah Danish Elahi’s book, The Idle Stance of the Tippler Pigeon, introduced us to the underlying problem of classism in Pakistan, peppered with portraits of love, healing, pain and trauma.
A book launch of the Urdu poetry book Dana-i-Raaz authored by Azad Iqbal, a grandson of Allama Iqbal, and moderated by poet/writer and visiting faculty at the Urdu Department, University of Karachi, Rukhsana Saba, featured a heartfelt conversation about the author’s poetry with readings from his diwan (collection) and insights into Azad’s life as a poet. It was nothing short of a treat to hear him recite the verses of Iqbal, Ghalib and Faiz.
Day One concluded with the riveting singing of sufi Bulleh Shah’s kalaam by actor Nadia Jamil and designer Yousuf Bashir Qureshi. Following Adab Festival’s tradition, the night ended with an enthralling mushaaira, moderated by poet Nasira Zuberi. It featured renowned poets such as Asim Raza, Javed Saba, Mehjabeen Ghazal Ansari, A.H. Khanzada, Syed Kashif Raza, Fazil Jamili, Inaam Nadeem, Aqeel Abbas Jafri, Tanveer Anjum, Fatema Hassan and Afzal Syed.
The literary journey continued the promising suite of inspiration, intellect, reflection and celebration of the written word on Day Two. The interview featuring Ambassador and Additional Foreign Secretary Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, conducted by the Managing Director and CEO of the Jang Group of Newspapers Sarmad Ali, set a vibrant tone. Following this was a stimulating dialogue on ‘The Reality of Artificial Intelligence’, guided by the Vice Chancellor of Ziauddin University Syed Irfan Hyder and novelist Bina Shah, with Umer Khan as moderator, with a focus on diverse perspectives.
The panel discussion ‘Human Sciences Education in the Anthropocene’, between Habib University’s Muhammad Haris and Anum Asi, community development practitioner and researcher Shama Dossa and moderated by anthropologist Nauman Naqvi, profoundly explored the pivotal role of education in addressing contemporary challenges, emphasising environmental sustainability and social justice.
Adding to the day’s richness, Atif Badar and Yasmin Motasim orchestrated a spellbinding performance, ‘Adab ki Dastak’, showcasing the artistry of dramatic readings and performing arts and dastaangoi (art of storytelling), captivating the audience with literary finesse and cultural depth.
Audiences were treated to enriching sessions. One on higher education, featuring Aga Khan University’s Anjum Halai, Institute of Business Management’s Talib Karim, experimental physicist, design researcher and academic entrepreneur Anzar Khaliq and former National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, was skillfully moderated by educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali. Another session, ‘A Forest in Peril’, showcased a documentary and narratives from the documentary Edge of Delta. Expertly presented by documentary maker, the architect and environmentalist Tariq Alexander Qaiser, with journalist Umber Khairi as moderator, the session focused on the critical issue of the mangroves.
Meanwhile, a session delving into the gripping bestseller Lost to the World: A Memoir of Faith, Family, and Five Years in Captivity by Shahbaz Taseer had the author sharing his riveting experiences of captivity under Islamist militants, alongside academic Framji Minwalla and CEO Lightstone Education Omayr Aziz Saiyid.
The festival soared to its apex with an electrifying showcase of Art Ya Aata by Grips-Theater, spotlighting the incredible actors Khaled Anam, Faiza Kazi, Khalifa Sajeeruddin, Ameed Riaz, and Aysha Sheikh. This sensational performance, a heartfelt tribute to the late journalist and theatre writer Imran Aslam, was an absolute highlight of the event, leaving one thoroughly entertained.
The Adab Festival, like all literary festivals that have mushroomed recently, is aimed at emphasising the significance of culture and literature in fostering discussions and conversations that lead to a better understanding of society. Having attended the fourth edition as well, I felt the venue was much better, and more spacious, with ample space for eateries and book stalls.
In particular, the Adab Festival endeavours to counter the stigma that Urdu’s golden era has concluded, that luminaries such as Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal, and Saadat Hasan Manto only belonged to a bygone time, and that Faiz Ahmed Faiz stood as a singular figure. And for this it must be commended.
In a nation beset with a minimal zeal for literature and a general disinterest in reading books, it is important to keep the spirit alive, and the literary landscape broad and inclusive, especially in a readers-desolate Pakistan.
The writer is a content lead at an agency. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 3rd, 2022