Islamabad Literature Festival: View From The North

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

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India-Encircled by Illusions

In the aftermath of Mumbai attacks the Indian media and GOVT is in a very aggressive mood. This is not something unusual for us keeping in mind their past record. Since the inception of Pakistan the Hindus are reluctant to accept the very existence of Pakistan.

The Indians are so used to blaming Pakistan, no matter  what happens in their country so Pakistan is blamed for it. We the Pakistanis are used to blaming our own self no matter what happens but this thing is completely opposite in the case of Indians they blame others for anything that goes wrong. If somebody attacks Indian parliament Pakistan is blamed for the attack, if a train which is carrying most of the Pakistanis is bombed in India (Samjhota Express) so Pakistan is blamed for it. there are 16 freedom movements in India and Pakistan is blamed for all of them, even if Manmohan Singh sneezes so they will say that the virus has come from Pakistan.

I was surprised to see that during the first few hours of the Mumbai blasts the Indian were blaming Pakistan without any investigation, evidence and proofs. Indian media is used to presenting their Police’s perspective and over reacting. they are used to presenting their army, Police and country above anything in the universe. That’s why it was quite hard for them to accept the intelligence failure on their part. Every hour they were denying whatever they earlier. Once you lie, you will always have to lie to protect your lies that’s what the Indian did. their media kept on lying. Everybody was expecting that the India media will show maturity because they have spent all their time in a democratic environment unlike ours. There are some examples where Indian media has done some good job but this one is not the greatest of examples.

The first reason the Indian GOVT attacked Pakistan is that elections are round the corner. The BJP has already accused the Manmohan Singh GOVt to be softer when it comes to terrorism, the other accusation is that Congress is eyeing on Muslim votes, so to acquit itself from these accusation and get away with its failure to stop the terror attacks the Indian GOVT opted for the traditional recipe that was to throw everything on Pakistan’s shoulders.

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Tentative Media

Media is the first and foremost front in any war in today’s globalized world. if we talk about our media (Pakistani) so it is believed to be one of the most outspoken media in the region.

sometimes back there were blasts in mumbai, what we saw after that attacks was in instant uproar in the media about the condemnation of the those bombings. All the politicians and celebs were decrying and calling down the bombings. There was an immediate campaign against those attacks, keeping aside indian media’s silence on other issue like Babri Masjid, Gujrat etc.

But that uproar in Indian media about the 7-11 bombing was a perfect example how media can play its part when it comes to condemning the terrorist attacks.

Now if we talk about Pakistani media, i haven’t seen a single media campaign except ” ye hum nahin” which appears on TV once in a week. The media is tentative in its stance to deprecate such attacks in Pakistan. None of the anchors is ready to launch an aggressive campaign to boost the morale of the nation. Every now and then we just see a new bulletin that a bomb blasted.

What ever we are watching on tv these days about these attacks is “NEWS”, only information. There is no investigative reporting which is the very essence of sinewy media. But what we get to see on TV are the so called intellectuals, who present and propagate what ever they think is right rather than talking about things which are of national interest. But because of the mushroom growth of media we have a dearth of Intellectuals and anchors who can talk people.

The anchors should support and set the agenda according to the national interest instead of talking fun, and delivering information instead of knowledge. That’s how they can help the nation and will be thanked for their services.

What we need to do is to combine as a nation, be it the media, politicians, celebs or be the ordinary man to save our coming generation from this menace.