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‘Karachi is open for business, culture, literature and tourism’

KARACHI: The month of February in Karachi is generally cold and breezy, reminding Karachiites of the benevolence of a coastal city. But on Friday evening, it was warm — warm enough to greet a constellation of writers and their equally — if not more — bright readers and admirers to the Beach Luxury Hotel as the ninth Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) commenced.
In her welcome address, the festival’s founder Ameena Saiyid said that this year the KLF aimed at engaging the youth and so an open-mic session was set up for them. There was also an outreach programme which allowed authors to reach out to communities.
When the event began in 2010, said Ms Saiyid, 5,000 people attended the KLF whereas the number was more than 200,000 in 2017. This year, she added, 250 speakers and performers were participating in the festival and there would be 75 sessions.
The ninth edition of KLF begins its three-day run
In her speech, she talked about the various awards that were to be given during the three-day event. Recalling that the mayor of London during his visit to Karachi said that London was the greatest city of the world and was open for culture and tourism, she said: “As a citizen of Karachi, I say Karachi is the greatest city in the world. Karachi is open for business, culture, literature and tourism.”
On the occasion, co-founder of KLF Asif Farrukhi said that the KLF had helped create and foster similar programmes in all major cities of the country. “There should be light of books everywhere. We must not forget the looming darkness around. Look at the increased fragility of our society. We are a society that nurtured monsters. A society which has to be brought to books.”
Managing Director, Asia Education, of Oxford University Press (OUP), Adrian Mellor, said he had a great deal of responsibility working for an institution which was more than a 100-years-old. The OUP, he said, was one of the ways in which Oxford University reached out to everyone as access to literature was important.
In his keynote address, British historian Dr Francis Robinson focused on literature and history in Muslim South Asia. He asked what literature could tell us about a society and gave three examples from the Mughal era, terming Babar’s memoirs a remarkable literary source. “Babar didn’t think much of India but only took it as a large country with lots of gold and money,” he said. Not all rulers were damning, Dr Robinson argued but most were sure of the superiority of their civilisation, an important pointer to this [ruling] class.
Letters of Emperor Aurangzeb, he said, showed his concern for good governance for all his subjects— Hindus and Muslims. The most striking letters, said the historian, were about his [Aurangzeb’s] father. Aurangzeb told his father that he remained [true] to him until he came to know that his other son, Dara Shikoh, was to come in power instead. “So blood was shed because his father did not love him,” Dr Robinson said quoting one of the letters.
“The phrase ‘you did not love me’, gives historians a powerful pointer,” he said.
During the British Raj, Dr Robinson said poets such as Akbar Allahbadi through his verses expressed the impact of British rule.
Citing another example, he said Altaf Hussain Hali’s Musaddas, 1879, should be seen as part of North India’s Muslims’ shehr-i-ashob poetry [mourning the loss of power]. It depicted how they wanted to preserve as much of their power as they could, said Dr Robinson.
Dr Robinson said in the post-Pakistan scenario he found three themes important— martial law, the great transformation of feudal class, and the nature of upper-middle class life of the urban areas. He gave examples from the novels of Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Moni Mohsin and Daniyal Mueenuddin’s short stories to illustrate his point.
Concluding his arguments, he said the books being celebrated at the KLF represented raw material which historians of the future would be consulting.
“They tell us what is going on in the society. They tell us about society’s thoughts, feelings and fears. They tell us about the aspirations of women, the assertion of ethnic groups. They tell us about the connections of increasing numbers of Pakistanis to the world outside Pakistan.”
Writer Noorul Huda Shah delivered the second keynote speech. She said nine years ago, when KLF began, it was a city of fearful people who were fearful about everything. But, she said, things had now changed.
Wamiq Bukhari of PPL, Ali Habib of UBL, German Counsel-General Rainer Schmiedchen, Italian Counsel-General Anna Ruffino, French Counsel-General Francois Dall’Orso, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, British Deputy High Commissioner Alan Burns and US Counsel-General Grace Shelton also spoke on the occasion.
In between speeches, awards were also given. The best KLF non-fiction prize went to Imagining Pakistan by Rasul Bakhsh Rais. The KLF best fiction book was given to Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Party Worker. The award for the best KLF Urdu book was given to Deed Wa Deed by Altaf Fatima.
Book launch cancelled
Meanwhile, the organisers cancelled the launching of a book by senior politician and former ambassador to the United States Abida Hussain on Benazir Bhutto, after a legal notice sent by her daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari. The book, Special Star: Benazir Bhutto’s Story detailed different aspects of the life of the former prime minister of Pakistan.
“Yes I have. Disgusted,” tweeted Ms Bhutto-Zardari. “Absolute lies against my mother, 10 years after her death, when she cannot defend herself. Will not stand 4 it. Appalled at OUP Pk [Pakistan] & KLF 4 [for] entertaining such fabricated, no referenced garbage.”
Bakhtawar, in her legal notice sent to the concerned individuals and organisers of the festival, alleged that Ms Hussain tried to give wrong perception about Benazir Bhutto by showing her “fake affiliation” with the former premier, and hence tried to defame the Pakistan Peoples Party.

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