At one point on the first day of the Karachi Literature Festival, a man came up to me and asked if I was a novelist. Since scribbling a few hundred words on politics or sports is about as much as I can handle, I told him I wasn’t a writer. Undeterred, he then wanted to know if I was an organiser. Nope again.
By now the man should have realised that he was wasting his time on a clearly unimportant person. But he was intrepid. “Aah, so you’re an enthusiast,” he beamed. He then whipped out a business card that identified him as an Author/Campaigner/Consultant and said, “If you are ever on the internet check out my blog.”
Since I have watched American Psycho many times and memorised this scene, I have steadfastly refused to ever carry a business card. That made me an outlier at the Karachi Literature Festival. Books were an afterthought. This was a party for people who never get invited to any real parties.
At the risk of sounding redundant, let me rephrase that. This was a party for journalists; it was impossible to stretch your hands without smacking one. Somehow, the journalists were also able to acquire groupies and hangers-on as they held court in the restaurant area.
I, too, had a couple of celebrity encounters. Mohammed Hanif asked me if I knew where the bathroom was. And the highlight of my literature festival experience was watching former Ambassador to the UK Maleeha Lodhi eat a biscuit while deftly using her handbag as a napkin at a session. I was also able to acquire a flyer from a civil society group which seemed not to have realised that everyone in the room was probably already bickering amongst themselves on its listserv.
For the most part, though, I was oblivious to my surroundings. After I read on Twitter that MNA Farahnaz Ispahani was going to be attending, I excitedly told a friend that she was on her way. With a withering look that combined pity and amusement, my friend informed me that I had been chatting to a former boss of mine at the same time as Ispahani.
There were books and authors there too. Our taste in literature, however, needs some refinement. Towards the end of his session, the brilliant writer Aamer Hussain told his audience that they should feel free to leave if they wanted to be in time for Karen Armstrong’s talk. Over a dozen people promptly got up and left. Still, seeing Sara Suleri smoke and rasp her way through an engaging talk, hearing Hanif add some new quips to his repertoire and being told about journalists and politicians bickering was entertaining.
That aside, I mostly felt deja vu. Having spent a lot of time at the literature festival last year, I had heard most of these guys speak before. In some cases, I had heard the exact same speeches they gave the previous year. I had hoped that the festival would also be a respite from politics, something I think about for eight hours a day. So, of course a full third of the panel discussions were political.
Just as I was leaving I saw a man sitting alone at the hotel restaurant reading a book. Books were being talked about, books were being bought and sold and authors were being gawked at and gossiped about. This was the only time I saw an attendee commit the act of reading. I walked out with a slightly warmer heart.
Nadir Hassan is a journalist based in Karachi and can be found on Twitter.
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.