View Full Version : Uses of literature By Ghazi Salahuddin - 7th February 2016

7th February 2016, 09:04 AM
When the seventh edition of the Karachi Literature Festival – KLF – was launched on Friday forenoon, the proceedings were dominated by an individual who was not there. And it is this magical relationship between a festival, inspiring joy and festivity, and the passing of the most distinguished writer of Urdu fiction in our times that truly validates the significance of the KLF that is continuing this weekend.

My reference, of course, is to Intizar Husain who died in Lahore on Tuesday, just three days before the KLF was to begin. In the first place, the death of a writer of this stature would be a major event not just for Pakistan but for all Urdu-speaking communities across the world. In fact, he is also recognised in the literary world as such, having been nominated for the International Booker Prize. The English translation of his novel ‘Basti’ has won wide critical appreciation.

In addition, he has had a close relationship with the KLF. He would be there year after year, having been a keynote speaker more than once. I remember that in 2013 Nadeem Aslam, a prominent English novelist of Pakistani origin, had passionately applauded the writings of Intizar Husain in his keynote address and had judged him the best writer in the world.

Intizar Husain’s name figures in the present KLF programme as a panellist in some sessions. In particular, he had to offer his comments as the chief adjudicator of the UBL Literary Awards to be announced on today. As one of the judges for this award in different categories, I can vouch for the great value that he brought to this exercise. He was as exceptional a human being as he was a writer.

There may have been some thoughts in some minds that the death of a great writer almost on the eve of a major literary festival should have prompted the organisers to postpone the celebrations. This, obviously, would be very difficult to do considering the extent of the arrangements that were in the works. After all, the KLF has brought together international and Pakistani writers, intellectuals and artists in these difficult times, also in a logistical sense.

This event, spread across three days, is composed of about 100 sessions and 28 book launches with the involvement of more than 250 authors, moderators and speakers. In any case, after sitting through the inaugural session in which co-founder of the festival Asif Farrukhi spoke about Intizar Husain in such a touching manner, I felt that the proximity of the KLF with the death of a great writer has a story-book dimension in the sense that it allows the celebration of the life and work of Intizar Husain on a grand scale. Fehmida Riaz, one of the keynote speakers, reminisced about Intizar Husain in her poetic style and a special session on him has been scheduled.

Now, a critical appreciation of the life and work of Intizar Husain as well as a review of the star-studded sessions of the festival would seem to be in order. But that is not what I intend to do, particularly because these assignments are beyond the capacity of this column. Intizar Husain lived for over ninety years and was writing his columns to the end. His four novels and many short-stories will always stand out in the annals of Urdu literature.

As for the many splendours of the KLF, I do not have the space to even list the names of the participants or refer to various sessions on issues that cover the entire spectrum of literature and arts. Besides, the festival is to continue until this evening and an impressionistic summing up would be possible only after that.

Hence, I can only share some of my thoughts on what the KLF means to Karachi and to the overall intellectual and cultural environment of the country. Once again, it is encouraging to see the great excitement that the KLF has generated in the educated circles of the city. It is expected that more than 100,000 visitors will visit the venue – the Beach Luxury Hotel – in three days. This, though, does not mean that all these people are lovers of books. For many, it would be a social event in which a number of celebrities can be spotted. Still, the very exposure of this kind is gratifying and may be restorative in a spiritual context.

Reading habits, we know, are very poor in our society and this may be one of the many reasons why it is so deeply infected with primitive urges. A literary festival inherently encourages reading and highlights its pleasures. Literature encourages acceptance of diversity and the variations that exist in human experience and feelings. There is no dispute that books can change lives in a positive sense and enhance the creativity of individuals as well as societies. Literature and the arts teach us to be human – something we desperately need to discover.

In some ways, the KLF provides a kind of refuge, for a short period, from the chaos of our lives in this city. The ambience it creates and the hectic activity it generates is unique. It is intoxicating for your senses. Casual encounters between writers, critics, artists and lovers of books foster creativity and build fruitful relationships. It is a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas. Essentially, a literary festival should manifest freedom of thought and expression.

When we look around us – in this country and beyond – we realise the urgency for building defences against extremism and intolerance. Literature and the arts would serve as a weapon in this war between the forces of enlightenment and of obscurantism. Education and culture go together. With reference to what is prescribed under the National Action Plan, our leaders tell us that we are in a state of war. We somehow feel a bit more insecure in the wake of the terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University last month and the social disquiet that was created on the issue of the security of our educational institutions

Last week, I had commented on Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s statement that while we are winning our war against terrorism militarily, we are losing it on the psychological front. He should try to understand the meaning and the value of events like the KLF to be able to wage and win the psychological war. Our young people should be inspired to read, and to participate in cultural activities. It is fine to have motorways and bridges but where are the libraries?

The writer is a staff member.