The first Islamabad Literature Festival proved a huge success with big names of the literary intelligentsia and packed sessions, as thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life thronged the festival.
The festival, organised by Oxford University Press, opened Tuesday and attracted nearly 6,000 visitors on the first day. The two-day festival features more than 35 sessions/events on literature, social and political issues, book launches, plays and mushaira. Around 70 writers from different areas have been participating in the festival. Bookstalls set up by various publishers are one of the main attractions that offer books on concessional rates to promote reading culture.
European Union (EU) Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark addressing the inaugural session of the festival remarked, "As we celebrate democracy moving forward, there are forces who want to silence the forces of democracy. As Pakistani society has diversity it is not possible to impose one school of thought, which is being tried by some forces."
Writers and poets capture the society ethos as no one else and such festivals should be held in other cities of Pakistan also, as it expresses the country's diversity and ability to have discourse on different issues, he added.
Managing Director Oxford University Press, Ameena Saiyid, said through such literature festivals, OUP intends to create an intellectual space and an understanding of the creative growth. She opined that a common system or syllabus is not the solution rather teacher training, improving curriculum and providing children better quality books to encourage the reading habit can work.
Asif Farrukhi, co-founder of the festival, said that literature remains the medium to express the society's feelings and status and this festival comes as a tribute to Pakistani literati, and thinkers.
Eminent writer and Fictionist Intezar Hussain sketched a brief history of the evolution of Pakistani literature. He said, "The last century through which I have lived most of my life started by promising a bright future but it turned into a century of two world wars, fascism and now intolerance too has spread to Asia."
Kamila Shamsie, winner of Granta magazine best of young writers award for her contribution as a novelist, paid tribute to Intizar Hussain and his novel 'Basti'. 'In Pakistan it is taught that history is confluence of religion, actually history is confluence of geography. We deny our thousands of years of historical background in Pakistan', she lamented.
In another thought-provoking session on his book 'Pakistan on the Brink' Ahmed Rashid said he still feels that Pakistan can be salvaged if our foreign and national security policies are changed diametrically. "We have to stop thinking that we have the right to decide the faith of Afghanistan and stop relying on Jihadi groups to achieve the foreign policy objectives. We have failed to take the advantage of our geopolitical position to build our economy. We need ceasefire in Afghanistan to help bring peace to Pakistan," he observed.
He pleaded for ending the paradigm whereby Pakistan has become a security state because of the policies followed by the military establishment. The civilian government should take back decision-making on foreign policy from the establishment.
Ilona Yusuf, Athar Tahir, Harris Khalique and Muneeza Shamsie in a session "Pakistani English Poetry is Alive and Well: New Directions, New Voices" viewed that English poetry is being written in Pakistan and has considerable audience thus there should be some publication or means of promotion of Pakistani English poetry.
Abdullah Hussain and Ahmed Shah captivated the audience through their readings and conversations. Amjad Shahzad, Zubair Hasrat, Arif Tabassum, Muhib Wazir discussed "New Voices in Pashto Poetry" with Raj Wali Khattak and Ahmad Fouad; in "Shah Hussain and Sufi Classical Poetry in Punjabi". Muneeza Shamsie with Ahmed Rashid elaborated on "Pakistani English Novels in the New Millennium".
At a talk 'On the Politics of Child Labour' the social activists highlighted the ordeal of children involved in child labour and the politics involved in the whole process that is making Pakistan one of the few countries where the number of child labour is on the rise.
Child rights activist Anis Jilani said, "There are around 90 million children involved in child labour in the country and there are no laws that protect children working in informal sector. It is unfortunate that this issue is still low at the priority list of our political parties only because children do not posses right to vote".
Poet and reformist Taimur Rehman said issue of child labour always existed in every part of the world but character of child labour turned brutal with industrialisation. "Child labour in agriculture sector does not have the extent of negative psychological and medical impact as working in a factory has on a child," he said. A documentary on child labour was also screened by Samar Minallah on the impact of child labour on psychology of a child.
In the session on 'Dynastic politics' eminent historian Hamida Khuro said that political dynasties are disliked because in democracy people like to have meritocracy and politicians have power to affect the lives of the people.
Senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said the dynastic politics in South Asia is attached to the charismatic leaders like Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in India and Bhuttos dynasty in Pakistan. Academician and member of Awami Worker's Party Aasim Sajjad Akhtar said while middle classes dislike political dynasties, they do not talk about institutional dynasty of Pakistan army, which has directly and indirectly ruled the country.
Other interesting sessions included "Conversation with Intizar Hussain and presentation of special Man Booker International Prize issue of Duniyazad" and "Kalam-e-Shair ba Zuban-e-Shair: In Conversation with Amjad Islam Amjad and Izharul Haq".
Books Clifton Bridges by Irshad Abdul Kadir, Saints and Sinners by Ali Mahmood, From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History by Tariq Rahman, The North-West Frontier (KPK) by Sultan-I-Rome, The Frontier Crimes Regulations: A History in Documents edited by Robert Nichols were launched during the festival. The first day of the festival ended with a mushaira that featured prominent poets.