KARACHI, Feb 11: A dash of glamour and pizzazz and decent doses of thought-provoking discussions on books and their geneses made the first day of the 3rd Karachi Literature Festival worth remembering for literature buffs at the Carlton Hotel on Saturday.
The most interesting session of the first half of the day was with British author Hanif Kureishi. He read out a wit-laden piece from his novel The Buddha of Suburbia with linguistic panache.
Replying to a question put to him by the moderator Muneeza Shamsie that what genre he preferred to express himself in, Hanif said he had worked with a theatre group and was involved in plays of writers such as Samuel Beckett and John Osborne. Then he joined Channel 4, which was looking for a Black or Asian writer and he was the only such writer they knew. It was there that he got to write the script for My Beautiful Launderette. His father had emigrated to England from India and as Hanif grew up Britain underwent change, which was what he wrote about. He narrated an intriguing story. He said My Beautiful Launderette was a huge success in New York. But members of a certain Pakistan Action Committee regularly protested against it. One of them told him that he had written about homosexuals in Pakistan and there were no homosexuals in that country.
Responding to a question about Karachi (he last visited the city 25 years ago), Hanif said it was now more run-down, rough and in decay. To the issue of identity, he said: “I don’t think about who I am anymore.”
The very first formal session of the festival was a conversation with known Indian writer, journalist and social figure Shobhaa De.
As expected the hotel ballroom was packed like sardines to listen to her, and she did not disappoint them. She declared that she was primarily here to interact with people, to meet writers and readers. She said whoever in Mumbai got to know about her visit to Karachi said: ‘Wow you’re going to Karachi’, and talked about warm Karachi hospitality. Karachi and Mumbai were like in an Amitabh Bachchan movie twins separated at birth. She said she had just been to a sangeet and menhdi and told her children about all the hotties and cuties there who danced to different versions of Bollywood tunes like Ooh La La….
Replying to a question put to her by Kishore Bhimani that which medium she preferred, Shobhaa De said it was not what medium you chose, it was what you wished to communicate. These days, she said, TV was a powerful medium for social change. What you said on TV was live and was there for posterity. So you had to live with any goof-up or factual error you made for the rest of your life.
She said when she wrote her first novel, a Penguin classic, her publishers told her that there was no room in the market for women voices. When it saw the light of day, it became a best-seller. (She thought why there were so many bad reviews, 253, of the book. Then she realised it made society uncomfortable).
A Conversation with William Dalrymple, moderated by Kamila Shamsie, was a crowd-pleasing event.
The famous British travel writer and historian talked about the books that he had written and how he opted out of a ‘stable, loved, provincial, stationary’ life in Scotland and became a traveller and travel writer. He read out excerpts from a couple of his books with infectious vitality. Especially when he recounted a scene from City of Djinns (which is on the historic city of Delhi) in which he meets the distinguished but forgotten author of Twilight in Delhi, Ahmed Ali, in Karachi. It was a beautifully described image of a man who was in love with his city and now belonged to nowhere.
An unsung session was A Conversation with Siddhartha Deb, the author of The Beautiful and the Damned, moderated by Nauman Naqvi.
The author told the gathering that the book unmasked the ‘India Shining’ face of India and got him into trouble, including a lawsuit filed against him.
In a session titled Partition and Manto, Ayesha Jalal, read out excerpts from her book and pointed out that the tragedy of Manto was the tragedy of Pakistan.
One of the talked-about book launches was of Koshish-i-Natamam by Shaista Ikramullah.
The book was written in the first half of the 20th century and is experiencing a rediscovery of sorts. Her daughter Naz Ikramullah, talking to the audience said that the marked feature of the book was its plain Urdu.
Earlier, at the formal inauguration of the festival, David Martin, Ameena Saiyid, Asif Farrukhi, Marilyn Wyatt and William Dalrymple (keynote speech) addressed the audience, followed by a dance performance by Nritaal.