Sunday, March 21, 2010

Karachi Literature Festival off to auspicious start

Sponsored jointly by the British Council and the Oxford University Press, the first-ever literary extravaganza in town, the Karachi Literature Festival, got off to an auspicious start Saturday, March 21 morning at a local hotel with two days (March 20 and 21) of intellectually refreshing and productive programmes.

Mahshood Rizvi, Director, British Council (Sindh-Balochistan), welcomed the guests to the two-day round of activities with a resolve to make the festival an annual event and to make it a major international one. Mrs Ameena Saiyid, Managing Director, Oxford University Press (OUP), said that publishing faced many challenges in Pakistan. One of these, she said, was cultivating the reading habit among the public, which she thought was at a really low level. “We have to bring them from the jewellery shops to the bookshops. The field was really wide in Pakistan, she said, but stressed that what was needed was for publishers to be innovative and imaginative. Pakistan, she said, was a researcher’s delight and the opportunity awaiting the publishing industry in Pakistan was like an unborn spirit anxiously waiting to come into this world.

Shamsur Rehman Farooqi, a noted literary figure from India while felicitating the organisers of the festival, lamented the very tardy pace of transportation and communication between India and Pakistan. He said that when coming out to Pakistan for this trip he was dismayed to learn that there was only one flight to Pakistan every week and that for the coming two weeks, he could just forget travel.  He was of the opinion that festivals like these entailing people-to-people contacts could go a long way in mitigating the absolutely futile hostility between the two countries, a hostility that has proved mutually detrimental to the people of both countries. He said those born in the 1950s and the 60s on both sides of the divide had no idea of, and no affinity to, each other. It is this category of people between whom interaction should be initiated.

After the inauguration, noted literary figure and an authority on Shakespeare, conducted a workshop on creative writing. He lamented that the overall decline and change for the sake of change, had brought about some rather unwanted changes if the novel today, which he said today was not at all character-centred. Quoting novels by Dickens and others, he said novels in the past were character-centred which gave them a profound and poignant quality. He said the undesirable change began in the 1960s with Saul Bellow’s works which sounded the death knell of classical fiction.

He lamented that today, writing of fiction was market-driven.

Another session with US-based Pakistani novelist, Bapsi Sidhwa, was a very profound exercise. The session, moderated by Ishrat Lindblad, got all the participants involved in a lively discussion about issues arising from her novels, like, The Bride, The Icecandy Man Cometh, and others. The discussions of most of her novels were a nostalgic trip back in time, to the time of the partition of the sub-continent and the traumatic events that entailed, and how it profoundly affected lives.

Full report here The News

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