PERHAPS it speaks to the condition of the once glorious city by the sea that the Karachi Literature Festival is celebrated more for what it represents than what it does. The mere fact that a demoralised Karachi can be in the news for positive reasons, even if only for a weekend each spring, is seen as a boost for its beleaguered denizens. But with the festival now crawling out of its infancy and having established itself as a significant annual event, it is time to focus more on what the KLF does and has achieved over the last weekend. From a purely literary point of view, this year’s event was somewhat of a letdown. Local literary stars were assembled in strength once again and trotted out in many sessions but there is a growing sense of familiarity about them. After all, pick up a newspaper, flip through a magazine or attend any civil society gathering and one or more of them is present. Missing this year, then, was a strong international contingent of writers. Perhaps this has to do with an over-reliance on star-power from across the border, always a risky proposition because Pakistan-India ties get disrupted frequently enough and this makes for many a no-show. Going forward, the KLF may be better served by reaching out more to authors, writers and performers from beyond India.
Also disappointing this year was the tendency towards the overtly and purely political. Given the region that Pakistan exists in and the existential questions being asked about this country’s future, politics is never far from the surface — and can never be really — but the KLF is perhaps one venue better anchored in the literary than in geopolitics. If going big necessarily means veering away from the core of books and literature, then the festival may want to consider reverting to smaller and more thoughtfully planned sessions for its next edition. The KLF has much going for it: to have come out of nowhere and established itself as a big event in a mere four years is incredible. The next step is to build on that admirable success.