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Looking back at the fourth edition of the Karachi Literature Festival after a week, when the dust has settled, I have mixed feelings. It’s the first time in all these years that the duration of the festival was increased from two days to three days, but the participants’ and the visitors’ interest in the sessions did not diminish a wee bit. The shifting of venue, from the far-off Carlton Hotel to a more easily accessible Beach Luxury Hotel was also a happy change. Contrary to the fears aired by the sceptics, the traffic arrangements, including car parking, particularly even on Friday, a working day, were commendable. The flow of traffic remained unimpeded.

The members of the managing committee proved to be inspired and tireless as in the past, and the hotel management, from the owners to the workers, were on their toes.

The one big disappointment for everyone was that the eminent poet, lyricist, filmmaker and what not, Gulzar could not make it. He visited Lahore first, laid flowers on the grave of his guru, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, went to his hometown Dina where he visited his old school and his ancestral home where he had spent the few early years of his life. He was so emotionally drained that he decided to return to Mumbai, the city where he has lived for most of his life. Much to everyone’s disappointment, including his, he could not attend the KLF. For me it was a larger frustration for I had been pursuing him for the last one year to participate in the literature festival. I was crestfallen because I was to engage him in a conversation soon after the inauguration.

Strangely enough, there was a passing shower right at the time I was to share the stage with the great Gulzar. “Aasman bhi Gulzar sahib ke na aane per ansoo baha raha hai,” said one of his countless admirers.

-Photo by Shahmeen Khan/
-Photo by Eefa Khalid/

In her speech during the opening session, Ameena Saiyid, the indefatigable founder of the KLF, read out an apologetic note from Gulzar. Maktabaye Danial, his publisher, had raced against time to produce a collection of his poems compiled by Farhana Mahmood. It was supposed to be launched at the KLF. However, like all the previous collections of Gulzar’s poems, Kuch Aur Nazmein is selling quite well.

The second disappointment was that Shobhaa De, who was the star attraction at the third edition of the KLF and was eagerly awaited this time as well, could not make it also. Her travel agent, who was to carry her passport with the visa stamped on it from Delhi to Mumbai, was made to wait unnecessarily by the visa section of the Pakistan High Commission. Shobhaa was to fly the next morning from Mumbai to Karachi by PIA, which operates two flights a week between the two mega cities, I tried to intervene, the person who was to hand over the visa assured me on the phone that the document would be handed over on time. It turned out to be a false promise. Quite clearly it was a deliberate attempt to sabotage Shobhaa’s visit.

This is not to imply that our High Commission is the only one to play foul, the Indians in Islamabad have been accused of doing so too. Ask the booksellers who were denied visas to attend the International Bookfair in Delhi, and they will have their own tales of woes. Like Shobhaa, those booksellers had flown across the border once earlier also. Every time I hear such stories, I am reminded of Fahmida Riaz’s memorable line “tum bhi hum jaise nikle”.

Dhondy and Richa, lively-speakers. -Photo by author
Dhondy and Richa, lively-speakers. -Photo by author

A delightful visitor from across the border was the chirpy young Richa Lakheira, who writes and presents programmes relating to Bollywood on NDTV. Her debut novel Garbage Beat was also launched at the KLF. She was warned by many people that Karachi was a dangerous place to visit, but luckily she paid no heed to the distracting voices. She co-moderated a session with me when we conversed with the versatile genius Farrukh Dhondy, who has a rich sense of humour too. The March issue of Herald is carrying my interview with the prolific writer. The Poona-born (sorry, Pune-born) Dhondy lives in the UK.

Another Pune-born writer to attend the KLF this year was Saaz Agarwal, who compiled stories narrated by the Sindhi Hindu diaspora. She is 25 per cent Sindhi. One of her grandparents migrated from Sindh after Partition. Sadly, she doesn’t speak Sindhi. Sharing the stage with her were Dr Hameeda Khuhro, who is now more into scholarly pursuits and less involved in politics, and another vibrant speaker Durdana Soomro. Agarwal’s Sindh: Stories from a Lost Homeland was launched in that session. To say that the volume is highly readable is to state the obvious.

The other session that I attended was titled Punjabiyat, which was moderated by Sarwat Mohiuddin. Novelist Nadeem Aslam was nostalgic about his childhood in Gujranwala, while another Punjabi novelist Mohammad Hanif was lively. He had a dig at those who were ashamed of the legendary figure from Jhang, Heer, but not of the extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The London-based Kishwar Desai, who is originally from Delhi, contributed with a couple of delightful anecdotes. A member of the audience rightly suggested that the conversation ought to have been in Punjabi and not in English and Urdu.

-Photo by Shahmeen Khan/
-Photo by Shahmeen Khan/

There were other sessions about which people had nothing but complimentary remarks to pass but there was a limit to what one could attend.

In conclusion, I must say that in the fourth edition of the KLF like the first three there was no minister or high government official, or a multimillionaire to chair the opening or closing, or for that matter, any session. I spotted one highly affluent person but he was there because of his love and understanding of Ghalib and not for his wealth. Normally those of his financial standing are culturally impoverished.


Asif Noorani is a seasoned journalist and author, who writes on literature, music, movies and travels, He speaks at different forums on these subjects. His pet subject is the need for better relations between Pakistan and India. His last work is the revised and updated edition of the attractive coffee table book Journey Through Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.