Islamabad Literature Festival: View From The North

Image

The 2nd Islamabad Literature Festival organized by Oxford University Press kicked off in the federal capital on Friday. It generated a lot of interests in not just the intellectuals and literary figures but also amateur writers and avid readers of the twin cities. Extravaganza, crowd and noise are not the words usually used with “Islamabad” in the same sentence. However, because of the Literature Festival, these words will be definitely used alongside the otherwise slow-paced capital city. The 2nd ILF was bigger than its previous version. More book writers, more book launches and more panel discussion.

ILF  included over a 100 writers, intellectuals and literary figures from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Italy and Britain. It consisted of various panel discussions, book launches, and book and poetry reading sessions. Some of the highlights of the second day of the event are given below.

The Eloquent, Literary and (Yes) Funny Faryal Gohar:

The highlight of the event for me was the book reading session by Faryal Gohar. While working for a non-profit initiative in the heavenly Gilgit Baltistan she was able to connect with the women at an emotional level, she recalled. Her travel enabled her to converse more often with the women from this (and other impoverished) areas surrounded by killer peaks. It inspired her to write a book to be named “Darwaza”, which later she said, will be turned into a movie. She read a few passages from her book “No Space For Further Burials”. It was like a roller coaster ride. With ups and downs in the emotionally charged text, her voice trembled, exhibited pleasure and excitement, eloquently, before finally breaking down at an emotional narration in the story. Everybody in the audience was hooked-up, carefully listening to her majestically articulated words. However, later the discussion took a lighter turn. She was asked by Ritu Menon, the moderator of the session, to present mimicry of Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. And she did it wonderfully, of course with a pinch of salt. Taunting The Metro Bus System and The Sindh Festival. Later on, while responding to the a question from the audience both Ritu Menon and Faryal Gohar reiterated the need to dislodge the concept that the sole purpose of a woman’s life is to get married.

Image

In the end, Faryal Gohar also had a go at Gordon Brown and the western media for cashing on what happened to Malala. On one such instance she recalls, when they presented the budget for building around 400 schools in the earthquake hit northern areas of Pakistan, Gordon Brown was indifferent. But now it is shameless how he is now treating Malala, from the same northern areas, like a mascot to further his political gains.

The Hollow Diplomats:

The discussion on the next chapter of Afghanistan by a panel of retired Pakistani diplomats seemed hollow and plain boring. One, there was a disconnect between the discussion and the ground realities. And two, it was uninspiring and dull. The discussion was not able to engage the audience. And Furthermore, questions raised by the audience on Taliban’s participation in the peace process, a puppet American govt. in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s image in the streets of Kabul went unanswered. None of the panelists entertained these questions. Also, the discussion failed to address key issues like how Pakistan would deal with the potential problems American departure from the region might cause.

Image

The turnout in this session was also comparatively low. Perhaps, most of the people wanted to stay indoors in the air-conditioned halls than listen to a bunch of old, overweight and suited-in-the-hot-weather diplomats dissect the many times failed Afghan policy.

The Incomplete Panel of Pashto Poets:

It was encouraging to see regional languages such as Pashto getting attention and recognized at a national stage. Even more encouraging was to see non-Pashto speakers (such as Punjabis and Sindhis) in the audience. It was heartening to see Pashto generating such interest among the people at the Literary Festival. However, disappointing was the lack of effort put into the selection of the panelists. Apart from one of the panelists, and chairman of Pashto Academy at University of Peshawar, Ms Salma Shaheen (who couldn’t make it to the event), most of the poets were unknown even to the most literary Pukhtuns in the audience. None of the mainstream Pashto poets was invited to the event. Even more bizarre was the non-availability of a moderator.

Image

Pleasure of the audience would have found no bounds, had there been more poetry (and translation). But, it was more talk and less poetry, against the promise of more poetry and less talk. The session could not do justice to its title “Poetry from the troubled land: Pashto Poetry Reading with Translation”.

Mission Possible, Reforming State Schools in Pakistan:

Despite the fact that this session was also organized in the open, it turned out to be as good as it gets. A panel of experts on education providing solutions about how we can improve the quality (and quantity) of public education. To begin with, the moderator of the session, Baela Raza Jamil, presented some staggering figures that showed the dismal picture of public education in Pakistan. Later on, the panel stressed the need for a coordinated effort from parliamentarians, lawmakers, media outlets and the public.

One of the panelists, Faisal Bari, a faculty member at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said that unless the parliamentarians admit their kids in a public school, they will have no stakes in the improvement of that school. One interesting case in point is the parliamentarian from Faisalabad, who despite the stern opposition of his family, admitted his kids in a public school. Thus, leading him to frequently visit and transform that school. Faisal Bari further stressed that the discussion, even in the development circles, was on ‘testing’ and ‘monitoring’ and not the quality of education which needs a complete rethink.

The Book Fair:

Fortunately, literary festivals are accompanied by book fairs. This time was no different. There were around half a dozen stalls of different book publishers. And while I was standing at one of the book stalls. A salesperson came forth and gave me a card. It read, where would you prefer to attend our next book fair? The options included preferred locations in Islamabad only. However, to my endless pleasure there was an “other” option at the bottom of that card. The bookseller expected me to write a location within Islamabad. But against his expectation I wrote “Peshawar”. When he read the card, he gave me a smile. He understood why I wrote that. I have come all the way from Peshawar to attend this event. And I want such festivals to come back to my beloved city Peshawar as well.

An edited version appeared in The Friday Times on the 2nd May 2014 under the title “View From The North

Link: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/view-from-the-north/

Advertisements

Politics 2.0: Imran Khan’s triumph through the social media

2012 is fast approaching. Everything is changing fast, at the speed of light and politics is no exception. Gone are the days when political parties and candidates used to communicate with their potential voters only through public gatherings, because now is the time of Social media.

What we have seen in the previous couple of years is a real change in the way politics are done in Pakistan.  Now presence of almost all the major parties and its candidates can be observed on twitter, Facebook and Youtube. What it shows is a change in the mindset of the political parties. there is a complete paradigm shift in politics, now the political parties realize that the voter in Pakistan is far more politically aware than let’s say what they were a couple of decades back.

Use of social media in politics is not unprecedented, the recent uprising in the Arab world started from the social media and perhaps the same is happening in Pakistan. Although the movement and uprising, in Pakistan, might not be as troublesome as it was in the Arab world. A common perception was that advocates of various issues and causes on the social media would hardly do anything for the same issues on the ground, but recent developments proved otherwise.

Couple of months back PTI and Imran Khan launched a social media movement Jaag Utho, which means Wake up, on various platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. The basic purpose of starting this movement was to interact with and mobilize the youth of Pakistan, and PTI is very successful in achieving its goal.  The recent public gatherings of PTI in Lahore and Karachi clearly show the penetration Imran Khan and his party has achieved, to a great deal, through the social media. What social media does is, it leverages interaction, and that’s what PTI has done. It has interacted successfully with the public and especially with the youth of Pakistan. It shows the start of a new phenomenon, Politics 2.0 which means that now politics would be done online through social media, instead of spending billions on promotions and demonstrations fewer bucks would be spent on social media to achieve greater results.

Others are also following in the footsteps of PTI in launching their own social media movements and that clearly shows the power of social media. After the successful public gathering in Lahore and Karachi compelled the Sharifs and Co. to start taking the social media seriously and not overrule its role. The current trend would bring almost all the parties to follow and that would do one thing, only concise and clear messages would bring in more followers. So in the coming future, for the projection of ideas, we would see the parties giving more importance to the social media and more money would be spent on online political activities.