Islamabad Literature Festival 2014: Literature in the time of crises

This article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 26, 2014.

Islamabad – April which to TS Eliot apparently is “the cruelest month” turns out to be the most benign for the literature buffs of twin cities. They – before it departs – will have a chance to listen and interact with as many as 122 authors, writers, artistes and journalists from home and abroad.

The organisers of the three-day event — Oxford University Press with the support from Italian embassy — expect a rerun of last year’s jam-packed sessions with 70 sessions and around 122 authors lined up in the schedule.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Second Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) on Friday noted poet Zehra Nigah said that in times of uncertainty, literature festivals are proof that people want to be culturally aware. The festival is also a transformation of the impossible into the possible, said Nigah. “We are all passing through uncertain times.”

In the second keynote speech, the UK-based writer Aamer Hussein said there was time when Pakistani writer had little access to foreign readers. But over the past 15 years, Pakistani fiction writers have put their country on the world map. “Our isolated voices have become a chorus,” Hussein said.

ILF’s opening ceremony also provided a call for protecting Pakistan’s literary heritage.

The OUP Managing Director and ILF founding director Ameena Saiyid appealed to the Punjab government to protect Saadat Hasan Manto’s house in Lahore which has been taken over by commercial builders.

“We appeal the Punjab government to save Manto’s house and convert it into a museum to conserve its history.”

Saiyid said the ILF is a celebration of literature and an attempt to enrich the minds because books spread tolerance.

“It is an opportunity to further confirm Pakistan as being rich in culture and creativity,” she said.

Writer and ILF organiser Asif Farrukhi said the first edition of ILF proved an unusual success and the second one will further promote literature.

“Literature not only shows us light at the end of the tunnel but also gives a sense of the tunnel itself,” Farrukhi said.

The festival will also attempt to bring together cultures.

“ILF plays a part in bringing diverse realities closer,” said Federico Bianchi, the First Secretary, Head of Cultural, Economic and Press Section at the Italian embassy.

Bianchi said culture and literature are powerful bridges between nations. He said both in Italy and Pakistan, translated texts of each other’s countries are helping foster understanding.

Talking to The Express Tribune, veteran writer Intizar Hussain quipped that if Islamabad did not have a reputation for being a literary and cultural city previously, “it would now.”

“These festivals are a pleasant experience for us writers because we get face-to-face with our readers,” Hussain said, as his fans tried to get their photos taken with him.

The festival is also an encouraging platform for the youth, said Saeeda Asadullah, an Islamabad resident.

“It is heartening to see the younger generation here, so there is hope,” Asadullah said. “I am hopeful because we have a critical mass of people taking interest in literature and we also can see a practical demonstration of it.”

The festival, being held at the Margalla Hotel, also features book stalls and discussions on arts and politics by experts.

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