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Literature revitalised


The 13th edition of KLF inaugurated by President Dr Arif Alvi offered invigorating discussions, vibrant performances

Literature revitalised

The theme of this year’s literature festival was ‘Separation, Belonging and Beyond: 75 years of Pakistan’. Image: File

KARACHI: The 13th edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) has revitalized the metropolis’ literary scene once again with invigorating discussions and vibrant performances.

The three-day KLF, which is a flagship literary initiative of the Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan, concluded last week with all its colour, excitement and salient features. The President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi was the chief guest at the inauguration ceremony held at the Beach Luxury Hotel.

The event’s inaugural ceremony also saw speeches from renowned thespian Zia Mohyeddin and Victoria Schofield, a leading author and historian on Pakistan. Moreover, several book awards were announced at the event.

In addition to this, the festival comprised eventful days of over 60 panel discussions, 20 book launches (10 in English and 10 in Urdu), a mushaira, qawwali, dramatic readings, a film screening and a variety of performances.

The theme of this year’s literature festival was ‘Separation, Belonging and Beyond: 75 years of Pakistan’.


In his opening address, President Dr Alvi said literature festivals such as the KLF and many others around the country should be a key part of the country’s cultural calendar.

Highlighting the significance of reading books in the digital age, he stressed on the importance of doing more to ensure quality reading. “A good book often makes me feel that life is too short to truly appreciate the value of cultivating a regular reading habit”. He emphasised the significance of dialogue, debate and discussion in creating a tolerant society and highlighted the importance of ‘morality in ensuring justice’ around the world.

In his inaugural address, OUP Pakistan Managing Director Arshad Saeed Husain threw light on the essence of the theme of this year’s event.

He stated, “Since our founding, our quest for progress has helped us shape and define our identity and place in the world. That is the essence of the word ‘belonging’ in our theme. This year’s festival represents an examination of our past, our steps to achieve our founder’s vision as well as our continuing efforts to thrive as a nation despite many challenges — internal and external”.

Speaking about the need for commitment to Pakistan’s education system, Husain added, “We are playing a key role in the promotion and introduction of online learning and digital education, which were a vital part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic”.

Moreover, there were sessions on women’s contribution to Pakistani society and politics, and the changing role of art in contemporary society. In the Pakistani Siyasat Aur Samaaj: Khawateen Ka Kirdaar session, the panellists highlighted the important role women have played throughout the country’s history. They regretted how so many have been held back by patriarchal restrictions, tribal holdovers and reactionary traditions.


Speaking about the legal aspects of court trials that affected women have to face, former Lahore High Court Justice Nasira Iqbal, a prominent name in the country’s legal system, stated that our society cannot function or even exist without the participation of women. “We faced serious challenges during our days and women’s struggles during the past 75 years have brought the modern privileges that citizens have today. Article 25 of the Constitution has guaranteed equality for our women. Efforts are now being made at the legal front to ensure property rights for women and make it easier for them to inherit from their parents. In addition to this, work is underway to prevent child marriages in parts of the country”.

Former Sindh MPA Mahtab Akbar Rashdi said that if you look at political photos these days, the representation is no longer as strong as it was in the early days of the partition. “After a prolonged struggle, women were finally given seats in the legislative assemblies. It is time we need to realise that women have a significant role in our samaaj (society). But if we still want to hold that mindset that women don’t deserve any status in society, then I would suggest you try and do everything we do on your own.

Working women wake up early in the morning, take buses and bicycle rides to work in our homes as maids. Many of these domestic workers are also the breadwinners of their families and yet, they face abuse at home”.

She added, “In today’s economy, the household no longer works with just the man going out and earning. It is inevitable that women have a central role in siyasat and samaaj. Even in the political sphere, women party workers are often valued in juloos and jalsa for sloganeering but we still don’t see that treatment in the legislative assembly”.

Meanwhile, a mix of renowned sculptors and writers, art exhibition curators, and creative technologists looked at how technology was shaping contemporary art. They spoke in depth about how developments in social media were expanding the reach and impact of art and were optimistic about how the development of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) could be a boon for artists around the world.

The book launch for Haroon Khalid Akhtar’s ‘The Liar’s Truth’ was moderated by Bol News Op-Ed Editor Maheen Usmani with the panel consisting of the writer, Arfa Sayeda Zehra, Muneeza Shamsie and Chairman Board of Investment Azfar Ahsan.


One of the most entertaining sessions was a talk by renowned English author Hanif Kureishi. When asked about the growing trend of moral policing in literature, he replied there was nothing new about banning books. “The most interesting books ever written had been banned and that step acknowledged the importance of books to society. However, literature survives, and books return to the limelight despite bans”, he added.

Another session on translation by poet Inam Nadeem and journalist Ghazi Salahuddin spoke on the importance of ‘translation’; they noted that literature couldn’t stay alive without it. “In the absence of translation, beautiful writing would be restricted to the author’s country of birth instead of being enjoyed by the world”, they added.

Two of the most eagerly awaited and well-attended sessions were the book launch of The Reluctant Republic Ethos and Mythos of Pakistan by Nadeem Farooq Paracha, and the panel session Empowered Local Governments: Essential for Strengthening Democracy that was attended by Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, renowned journalist Mazhar Abbas and lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed.  The session on local government revolved around the importance of devolving power as the strength of democracy, associated with the importance given to its lowest tier. Umar said, “In our political history, the dictators gave a great deal of importance to local governments as it helped them consolidate their power. However, despite this misuse, it was a powerful concept that could improve the efficiency of governance”.

Lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed explained the concept of subsidiarity stating that giving decision-making powers and accountability to the lowest level could ensure swift resolution of the public’s concerns.

The final day of the festival began with special sessions on Sindhi, Punjabi and Balochi literatures. The panels had animated discussions on how to best represent each province’s culture in the arts, how regional prose and poetry could be a valuable addition to literature in Urdu, as well as the role of the government in promoting the arts.

Moreover, a special session on the KLF’s final day delighted literature lovers. To his fans’ surprise, veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah spoke about his creative journey in an unscheduled, live appearance.


This special addition of the veteran star to the line-up of international speakers, who appeared for the online session, left his Pakistani fans stunned. Shah shared personal stories on his life as well as creative work.  Speaking about the importance of literature to his craft, the actor acknowledged the role of poets such as Mirza Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in his creative journey, and emphasised his love for literature festivals. “I am thrilled to be a part of the KLF virtually but would have been even happier to attend in person”, said Shah.

He also said that it has been more than 50 years in the film industry and still he feels the stage is a ‘confusing place’.

“For the young actors today, I want to tell them that while performing online, it was for the first time in my life I was afraid prior to the act. On stage, we already know our audience but this does not hold true for the digital audience. However, the quality of your acting should not depend on the audience’s reaction”.

Although Urdu is my mother tongue, our linguistic preferences changed after we enrolled in English-medium educational institutions, the actor revealed.

Nevertheless, my interest in Urdu language and poetry reignited after I went to Aligarh Muslim University, the veteran star explained. “While working on the historical television drama series Mirza Ghalib, I learnt from the director that I should understand the influential shair’s poetry through empathy. I learnt that the answers to my anxiety was in the script. I learnt more about Ghalib and the value of life through his literary work and this inspired me to read Urdu shayari by Faiz Ahmed Faiz”.

The late composer Jagjit Singh’s work would transport the listener to a different era, Shah commented. “There was no singer at the time who had the vocals or musical experience to evoke the right emotions in the listener other than Singh. As the actor in this drama series, I was in unison with his voice while lip syncing. Singh’s death was a huge loss for the film industry — completely irreparable for us artists”, he regretted.


Another interesting session outlined recent results from new excavations in the ancient Indus Valley. Dr Aurore Didier, Director of the French Archaeological Mission in the Indus Basin, noted how new field work had shed light on the architectural design and early industry of the civilization. “There is still so much to explore about the valley which is part of Pakistan’s ancient roots”.

Another panel, Journey of the News: from Pen to Keyboard to Camera, traced the development of the media from print to digital platforms. Panellists noted that while the flow of information had increased enormously in the digital age, there was an enormous challenge of misinformation and disinformation. They also stated that while technological advancements meant that digital platforms couldn’t be censored as decisively as the print media had been in the past, a lack of quality journalism continued to be a persistent problem.

One of the highlights of the day was Reimagining Pakistan’s School Education which saw National Curriculum Council Director Dr Mariam Chughtai, OUP Managing Director (Education) Fathima Dada, Institute for Educational Development Dean Dr Farid Panjwani, and The Citizens Foundation Executive Vice President Zia Akther Abbas, emphasising how inequalities in society were hurting learning outcomes, and having a disproportionate effect on the most disadvantaged students. They also discussed the challenges of the digital age and the best ways to ensure that children develop a passion for learning.

Dr Chughtai outlined, “The Single National Curriculum had two key objectives: to stop rote learning and to move towards concept-based education. We need to focus on enhancing the four components of the curriculum: standards, textbooks, teachers and testing. This will help create a system that is better for all”.

In her comments during the session, Dada spoke about how the child was at the heart of the education system. “The stakeholders should focus on more than just literacy and numeracy, and consider well-being as well as psychological health and safety as critical elements too”.

The visitors also enjoyed satire and humorous readings by Anwar Maqsood, as well as a qawwali by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammad.


All in all, this year’s KLF was, again, an affair full of invigorating discussions and vibrant performances. A book fair was also arranged for the ‘book lovers’ of the city. With each passing hour, the local literature festival offered a fascinating mix of enlightenment for the youth and entertaining sessions amidst an influx of visitors as well as an online audience.


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