LAHORE, Feb 22: The city plays host from today to a multi-faceted literary festival boasting shades from political to historical highlighted by a galaxy of speakers from Pakistan and abroad.

The inaugural Lahore Literary Festival was officially opened on Friday with a dinner hosted by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and an art exhibition featuring Anwar Saeed, David Alesworth, Faiza Butt and Salman Toor held at the Rohtas 2 Art Gallery.

The list of speakers at the festival includes a large number of Pakistani fiction writers in English, who have emerged over the last decade or so -- Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam and Moni Mohsin. They will be complemented by names that have been around for a while now, both from fiction and non-fiction genres.

Tariq Ali, an old Lahore rebel, will be delivering the keynote address on the first morning, before he joins Ayesha Jalal and Francis Robinson on a search for a modern country called Pakistan a few hours later. Reflecting the diversity of the festival, Ms Jalal will get together with young writer Ali Sethi in a tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto on the second day of the festival.

Among the guests from abroad, trend-setting historian William Dalrymple will take part in various sessions. On the first day, he will combine with Mohammed Hanif, Moni Mohsin, Shazaf F. Haider and Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka. Before that, the same day, Karunatilaka will be talking about his mesmerising literary delivery ‘Chinaman’ – a book which is much more than cricket but one the Pakistanis who are forever fed on cricketing legends easily identify with.

The keynote address today will be followed by Hameed Haroon and Hasan Zaidi’s discussion on film, news media, and music among other forms of expression.

In another room, another story -- meanwhile short story writer Daniyal Mueenuddin, art and architecture critic Ebba Koch, poet, novelist, and musician Jeet Thayil, and novelist H. M. Naqvi are to have a combined session titled ‘A Sense of Place’.

Shehan Karunatilaka, the author of “Chinaman, the Legend of Pradeep Mathew” will be speaking about his unique novel with Owen Bennett-Jones.

Author Nadeem Aslam will converse with Guardian’s correspondent from Pakistan and Afghanistan Declan Walsh and a session on Globalisation of Pakistani literature will be held with panelists Chiki Sarkar, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Moni Mohsin, and Musharraf Ali Farooqi.

Panelists Mohammed Hanif, Moni Mohsin, Shazaf F. Haider and Shehan Karunatilaka will also hold a session on Satire. While no literary gathering is ever complete without a topic on Faiz, speaker Mahmood Jamal will talk about translating the poet’s works.

Other speakers on Day One include Anam Zakaria, Haroon Khalid and Kanza Javed; Bapsi Sidhwa, Ebba Koch, Intizar Hussain and Pran Nevile, Basharat Peer, Owen Bennett-Jones, Sarah Singh and Urvashi Butalia; Afzal Ahmed Syed, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Navid Shahzad, Zehra Nigah, Lyse Doucet and Selma Dabbagh.

The Day Two of the Literature Festival will kick off with a discussion on future of Urdu literature in Punjab, which will include a panel of eminent Urdu writers and critics including Intizar Hussain, Ataul Haq Qasmi, Asghar Nadeem Syed and Tehseen Firaqi. A lecture by Mohammed Hanif will follow on a subject not given much thought: Titled ‘Missing Stories”, this session will revolve around literature in Balochistan written about and by the missing Baloch and others who are very much there and have expressed their thoughts and ideas in their writings.

Once again, Chiki Sarkar, Jeet Thayil, Nadeem Aslam, and Shehan Karunatilaka will hold a talk on the Challenges of Language and Storytelling in the 21st century. In this context Sarkar will be relevant since she heads Penguin Publishing House in India.The second day will focus a lot on Urdu literature too. Afzal Ahmed Syed, Ali Akbar Natiq, Khalid Toor and Musharraf Ali Farooqi will speak about the narrative forms in Urdu fiction and poetry, but at the same time, in another hall, Noor Zehra will have a session titled “The Discreet Charm of the Vina”, an instrument. Zehra is known to have invented a kind of Vina herself, called the Saagar Vina, which is played with a stone. She is part of the Sajan Nagar Institute, Lahore.

If Urdu literature is the theme, then short-story writer Manto can never be sidelined. Ayesha Jalal will speak about this great Urdu author who created waves of controversy in the eastern society with his in-your-face themes and dialogues, and blunt and highly observatory descriptions of his characters. Though rooted in Lahore, after shifting from Bombay, Manto chose to write short stories in Urdu.

Muneeza Shamsie will speak with Faiza Sultan Khan about women’s voices in literature – another very important aspect which must never be sidelined. Children’s literature will be discussed by Baela Raza Jamil, Musharraf Ali Farooqi and Nina Fite. Mohsin Hamid will talk about his new book “How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” with publisher Chiki Sarkar followed by Linda Bird Francke’s conversation about writing the book “Daughter of the East”.

Kenize Mourad will get her chance to talk about her new book which will also be launched during the Literature Festival called “The Story of Begum Hazrat Mahal”.

Shifting focus slightly from Urdu to Pakistan’s English poetry, Athar Tahir, Syeda Henna Babar Ali, Khaled Ahmed, Navid Shahzad, and Samina Rahman will speak about its present situation. Tehmina Durrani will speak on “Beyond the Veil”, Ebba Koch, Kamil K. Mumtaz, and Nayyar Ali Dada on saving Lahore’s historical fabric in terms of architecture, William Dalrymple on cultures in conflict, and finally, Bapsi Sidhwa will have her one-on-one conversation with moderator Nasreen Rehman.

The two busy days will finally come to a closure in a cultural night with bands Laal and Qiyaas performing.



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