There’s much to see on the third and last day of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) that I think I’ll be session hopping because the panels I’m interested in will unfortunately overlap – unless of course I’m so glued to one that I’m not tempted to listen to another at the same time.
In hall one, historian and founder of the Jaipur Literary Festival, William Dalrymple will be presenting his latest book, The Anarchy: Post-Mughal Politics which given his past writings promises to be a stimulating session on the rise and fall of the East India Company and the dangers of corporate greed. So that’s between 10 and 11 am though another panel focused on new writing from Pakistan discussing the Zeenat Haroon Rashid Prize would also be interesting because as an editor I’d be curious to read and explore contemporary fiction and nonfiction coming out of Pakistan. Another panel — yet agin at the same time slot though timely given the Lahore Biennale is still on in the city until February 29 so go see that if you can — is on art in public places with French museum consultant, Alexandre Colliex in conversation with Zahra Rashid Khan, the curator of Foundation Divvy Art. With the biennale showcasing artists from Pakistan and abroad with works displayed in public spaces including museums, historical sites (Lahore Fort) and old marketplaces, this session is important as a way to discuss whether a city such as Lahore interested to conserve its art and history is able to do so with its resources or does it need attention from the experts. Also, this one should be interesting because Colliex is a roving museum advisor to governments in the Global South; he’s been involved in the Shenzhen government’s new Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition, for example.
The next hour (11:15-12:15pm) has two slotted sessions that will definitely pique everyones’ interest as both panels are relevant to important debates that interest us. So you’ll be spoilt for choice in this time slot. A discussion of how traditional media outlets are coping with the rise of social media will definitely bring some important insights to the fore given the panelists who know the digital medium well. Unfortunately newspapers literally shrinking in size the world over given the rise of digital platforms is clearly evident. Even 24/7 TV now left behind as news breaks on social media and political debates have twitter as their next battle zone, so we see it is the beginning of the end for print (as the demise of Herald and Newsline magazines have demonstrated)— unless it reinvents its model and its content dissemination methods. The Current’s founder, Marium Chaudhry will be on this panel so go see what she says about an increasing younger readership and their interests and shares her insight into how digital news mediums will capture the market share.
Dare I say the session in hall 2 with American-Iranian analyst and a former US State Department advisor, Vali Nasr and Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan in conversation with journalist Ahmed Rashid will be a big draw in this time slot because firstly, it’s very pertinent to current political challenges in Afghanistan and second, both men have first-hand experience in Afghanistan — Nasr was part of the team with Richard Holbrooke that recommended negotiations with the Taliban instead of opting for a military solution during the Obama administration; and Khan, the author of Pakistan-Afghanistan: The Way Forward for Bilateral Relations and a former foreign secretary has vast experience in this region.
After lunch, (1:30-2:30pm) and on a lighter note I’ll go listen to author and police officer, Omar Shahid Hamid on cricket, citizenship and the post-colonial narrative. I’ve read Omar’s latest novel, The Fix, so I highly recommend this session with Sri Lankan author, Romesh Gunesekera. Happening at the same time, if you’re interested in how Urdu reads in translation, then go listen to Spanish writer, Rocio Moriones Alonso, translator of the worlds of Manto and Fahmida Riaz — appears to be an ambitious project worthy of the spotlight.
Mahira Khan and journalist Fifi Haroon will be up next at 2:45pm talking about Pakistan’s new cinematic wave — I’d recommend getting your seat in time because even though Hall 1 will squeeze everyone in, Mahira is the superstar for this weekend. I’m going to see what she has to say considering she is also an UN advocate for refugees. At the same time, there’s a a session on Punjabi drama and more art talk — this year the curators have widened the parameters of the festival to bring in the best.
As they say, leave the best for last. However, in this instance, the first because the inaugural session on Friday will have presented an interview with Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. [Book suggestion: If you have an interest in his works and in Turkey, The Last Word bookshop has copies of an illustrated version of his novel, Istanbul, with old black and white photographs of the city when Pamuk was an adolescent which is worth buying and getting signed cause it’s like a collector’s copy.] The last session (4-5pm) will see Pamuk and Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist; Moth Smoke) talking about how literature can shape a more democratic world which I know will be an engrossing one when both writers are adept at telling stories highlighting pressing sociopolitical issues through their fiction. It will be interesting to see if they have similar or divergent views — is fiction essentially a voice for the voiceless? For writers, it all starts with ideas and stories and telling it as you experience and imagine.
Eight years on and LLF is still thinking, embracing a wider global vision and themes abound: freedom of expression; Afghanistan and Taliban negotiations; India, Kashmir; cricket; new Pakistani cinema; children’s story books; Urdu literature in Spanish and more. For me, it’s all about books, writers and thinking. Writers can take our reality and turn that into fiction something our politicians — and even journalists forcibly muzzled and strapped in current times — often don’t dare to do.