Islamabad Literature Festival, 2015
The best reflection of a nation can be perceived by knowing what kind of books it reads, what type of movies people watches and what kind of food people eat. There is obvious truth that unfortunately Pakistan has been passing through a distress of terrorism and internal security of its people for the last one and half decade. However, amidst many blood stained dawns like terrorists’ attack on APS Peshawar, unforgettable Youhanabad incident in Lahore and the inhuman assassination of human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi, the struggle to change the world of Pakistan with the power of words, literature and freedom of expression has not stopped.
In this connection, the people of Pakistan must be grateful to Oxford University Press (OUP) which articulately managed to gather the most nourished brains from Pakistan and around the world under one umbrella in the third Islamabad Literature Festival 2015 (ILF2015). The umbrella symbolizes peace, love, goodwill and respect for proliferation of local, regional and international literature in Pakistan. The ILF2015 concluded last weekend, leaving behind countless memories, echoes and melodies of Urdu & English poetry, prose, fiction, art, politics, education and economy from the best and the richest brains of Pakistan, UK, USA, France, India and Australia.
The first of a kind in Pakistan, ILF2015 has celebrated authors writing in diverse languages, genres and traditions. They featured sophisticated debates, fruitful discussions, results oriented lectures, mushairah, book fairs, book launches including a wonderful wild photography book “Birds of Sialkot”, readings, signings, comedy, satire, art exhibitions by Art Now and a farewell theatre performance of sufi music by Balochi folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zahri and others, organized by Rafi Peer Theatre. ILF2015 also featured children’s sessions including the most touching session with the luckily alive students of APS Peshawar, whom fate spared somehow from the bloody showers of bullets, fired by the monsters.
My perspective in this paper is to pinpoint what ILF2015 has taught to the people of Pakistan and what kind of difference such festivals can bring in the unpredictable lives of Pakistanis. Leaving aside the other statistical information about ILF2015, I feel it imperative to mention the names of a few but legendary speakers who graced the ILF2015. The living legend Intizar Husain, the lady in grace Dr Arfa Sayeda Zehra, 14 August ka Musafir Asghar Nadeem Syed, Ataul Haq Qasmi, Rashed Rahman, Feryal Ali-Gauhar, Kishwar Naheed, Masood Ashar, Mustansar Hussain Tarar and last but not the least, the poet & scriptwriter Zehra Nigah.
Many articles can be written on each session delivered by all of them because every one of them is unique, exclusive and history in himself/herself. They are blessing and irreplaceable legacy of Urdu literature not only in Pakistan but around the world as well. Being a layman, I felt a few very crucial lessons of human life which ILF2015 had in store for the every participant, especially the youth. The legend spoke in their language of art and literature to the people of Pakistan with some of the thought provoking ideas as stated below:
ILF2015 left with a beautiful lesson that the best creations come out of best frustrations. The magician of romance in prose, Mustansar Hussian Tarar has been heart throb of the young hearts during ILF2015. He painfully shared that we Pakistani feel happier being sad and dull. He shared that “Main Jb bhi Zindgi say Khush Hoa Hon, Main nay Bht Km Likha Hay, Main Nay Ziada Us Wqt Likha Jb Main Bht Ziada Janoon Aur Praishaniyoon Main Tah”. The people were really captivated by listening to some of the alluring titles of stories in his up-coming book e.g., “Aay Mary Tarkhan” “Dhund ka Pechay Shehr Tah” and “Main Aik Din Aik Pur-Hajoom Shehr say Guzra”.
ILF2015 taught a universal lesson of peace through art and literature, and that the true stories are sometimes more painful and stranger than the fictions. Art and literature can only re-unite the lost generations from around the world. Take pause for a moment, and feel the situation of one of the speakers of ILF2015, Urvashi Butalia (Indian feminist and publisher), who lost her grandmother in Lahore during partition. She was really crying while saying that “living on the other side of border, Urvashi’s mother did not know that Urvashi’s grandmother is alive or dead. It was Urvashi herself who traveled from Dehli to Lahore after 40 years of partition to find out the left over marks of her grandmother where she came to know that her grandmother was alive till 1956 and finally died in the same year.”
ILF2015 has left us with a message of wisdom, reality and a question to look at the world from different perspective. Arfa Sayeda Zehra, speaking Urdu in her gracious accent, emphasized that the younger generation should not to look for compromises in life and always try to seek the truth: “Mufahmat ka aik nuksan hota hay, Sach kaheen beech main chup jata hay”. She further said that “the world is ready to punish Saadat Hassan Manto for writing Thanda Gosht but the world has never tried to understand what made Mr. Manto to write Thanda Gosht.”
ILF2015 has given an excellent chance to know more about gradual development of Urdu literature in sub -continent before partition and in Pakistan after the partition. “Adhoori Kulliyat” by Asghar Nadeem Syed takes the readers into an imaginary world of a sad tale of lost travellers (between Pak- India) who call themselves “14 August K Musafir”. In spite of constant traveling and building bridges of love and hatred between two countries, all of them are still nowhere like Waste Land of T.S Eliot. Mr Syed has painted the story of atrocities on Palestine Muslims in their own language in such an exclusive way that one can’t stop feeling oneself moving with the waves like “Humain Sikkon ki Nahi, Goliyoon ki Zrorat Hay” and “Hamary Pass Sirf Morchay Bchay Hain”.
ILF2015 was not only delivering thoughts to protect human souls. It has also a clear message to save wild life because birds also need similar love, affection and care too like normal human beings. The living legend Intizar Hussain commented “Main Nay Dunya Main Bht Safar Kiay Hain, Kaheen Bhi Parinday Shor Nahi Macahaty Daikhy. Mgr Yh Cheez Mughy Bht Heran Krti Hay k Pakistan Main Parinday Intna Shor Q Machaty Hain” May be, it was a symbol of their protest against massive deforestation and free hunting in Pakistan that birds make noise saying “stop it and let us live as well.”
The most precious out of the most precious literary figures of ILF2015 was Zehra Nigah. The gracious lady was a complete culture in herself. At ILF2015, she imparted touching lessons of culture, civilization, humanity and human relations. She beautifully pictured to make life a balance between love and responsibility. “Zehra Nay Bht Din Say Khuch Nahi Likha” clearly shows her situation during Gen. Zia regime when the intellectual suffocation was forcefully implemented. “Main Bach Gai Maa, Main Bach Gai Maa, Tairy Kachy Khon Ki Por Por Main Rach Gai Maa” artistically depicts the story of a girl from cradle to grave which by chance takes birth in spite of the fact, that parents wanted abortion. “Jan Say Ziada Jism Say Wehshat Hoti Hay, Akhri Umer Main Khuch Aisi Halat Hoti Hay” gives a hidden lesson to all those young brats who abandon their parents in old age when actually they need them most.
In nutshell, my words are not really enough to say all what I felt, observed and experienced at ILF2015 and I hope everyone must have felt the same. There is so much left to share with respect to other literary figures and the activities regarding politics, education, culture and economics. I shall pursue this in the second part of this paper. However, let me conclude that ILF2015 was not merely a festival. It was like an oracle of Delphi for many weather-beaten and hungry people like me who came with garlands of their supplications to quench their thirst for real knowledge from the gods and goddess of art and literature. Pakistan needs such festivals every other day in order to let its people feel what actually life is all about being human.