Karachi Literature Festival 2015

February 10, 2015

Keynote Speaker: Nayantara Sahgal

Karachi Literature Festival 2015 is the sixth festival organized by Oxford University Press. Held at Beach Luxury Hotel, the event has broken all previous records of attendance. About 125,000 people attended the 3-day festival of which the first day was only inauguration.

While this fact calls for a celebration, much else is a cause for concern. Once held as the king of literary activities in Pakistan, within two years Karachi Literature Festival lost much of its glitter. The 2013 edition (a detailed review of mine can be read here) currently stands as the best literature festival in terms of quality where big names such as Cameroon Munter and George Galloway spoke at length and journalists such as Declan Walsh freely interacted with the common people. The anticipation for the event was so high, twitter was abuzz with frantic book lovers for two days before the start of the festival and each session was non-stop tweeted by participants, prompting many to progress towards those which were more interesting. The 2013 edition was the liveliest Karachi Literature Festival ...


Bina Shah signing her book "A Season for Martyrs"

And all of that enthusiasm was missing in 2015. The slow decline of 2014 progressed quite rapidly and despite larger initiative like Coke's Twitter screen at the food court didn't do much to promote the same zeal of twitterati that was in abundance two years ago. The sessions were the same as before, the panelists also seemed the same as before and there was a distinctive lack of content from the organizers. There was shortage of programs for children compared to previous editions, many of the topics were on the repeat and even book launches were not so highly anticipated as they used to. When Nadeem Aslam launched The Blind Man's Garden or Omar Shahid launched The Prisoner it was difficult even find a place to stand in the room. The same was not visible this year even though many people attended book launch sessions of Arif Hasan and Bina Shah. Osman Samiuddin's The Unquite Ones was also highly sought by cricket lovers and the history behind Pakistani Cricket, as unpredictable as the Cricket team itself, made sure the hall would remain more than half full.


Indie author Khalid Mohammed was signing his debut novel "Agency Rules"

All is not in vain however. The literature festival, even if not in its glory as it used to be, is still a great place to meet fellow book lovers and authors. Many sessions were sacrificed to meet emerging authors and attend book signings held at stalls. Well respected names such as Muntansar Hasan Tarar, Haseena Moin, Mohammed Hanif, Arif Hasan, Bina Shah, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Kamila Shamsie, Osman Samiuddin etc were present, some of them launching their new titles. Most authors, both new as well as established, signed books at the stalls and at the end of their sessions. Many were surrounded by fans getting pictures and selfies. Most would run into various authors while moving from one room to another or while going for the food court or heading towards book stalls. Some were standing with friends and family, interacting with fans and attending sessions like everyone else. Indie author Khalid Mohammed was signing his books at Book Mart stall and spending time with fans and authors in the food court.


Mustansar Hasan Tarar signing book

Similarly some of the sessions were enlightening. Pakistani and global cinema session was well attended and hall for Compassionate Karachi was full to the brim. Amar Jaleel, Bushra Ansari, Najam Sethi, Jugnu Mohsin and Mohammed Hanif drew crowds like magnets and newer faces like Ali Salim (Begum Nawazish Ali) and Meera caused a stir. Aitzaz Ahsan, Hamida Khoro and several other regular members of KLF went through their time with the same zeal and passion as always. Quite a few names were missing, such as Ahmed Rashid and Javed Jabbar (who had published an open letter to announce non-participation in protest) and protest against hunting license for Hubara Bustard given to Saudi Royals also took place outside Beach Luxury Hotel, later on moving inside to the corridors and near Garden.

Musical performances, including dance by Nighat Chaodhry and performance by Ali Sethi were highly appreciated by the audience. Karachi Literature Festival is a great event to attend but the 2015 edition is a step below the heights it has previously achieved and that's not a good omen.

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