LAHORE: It was in the midst of a late winter drizzle that the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) finally returned home to the Alhamra Arts Centre, as literati from all over the city thronged to the cultural center for the first day of LLF 2018.
Headliners for this year’s event included the likes of Ben Okri, Reza Aslan, Audrey Truschke, Riz Ahmed and many other writers and performers from across the world.
33 talks took place on the first of the two-day event, with 6 talks taking place simultaneously in 6 different halls.
‘OBAMA HAS MURDERED THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF PAKISTANIS’
The event began with the organisers bringing out this year’s big guns for the first session, with acclaimed writer and scholar Reza Aslan joining Booker prize-winning author Ben Okri accompanied by the European Council on Foreign Relations Director Mark Leonard in a talk moderated by Ahmed Rashid.
The session entitled “Light at the End of Trumpian Disruption” was curious in that it offered very little light at the end of the tunnel. Reza Aslan kicked things off by promptly telling the crowd that “things are far far worse than you imagine.”
Speaking with a certain comic pessimism, Reza addressed the problem of America’s “Racist in Chief.”
Mark Leonard corroborated Reza’s remarks, mentioning the ever-increasing relevance of identity politics, and how “Trump is much more a symptom than he is a cause, and it really goes down to the heart of who people are.”
However, Leonard’s insistence that dialogue was the answer resulted in some lively debate between him and Okri, who argued that the afterglow of colonialism and oriental outlooks should not be an excuse and that there was no room for being apologetic.
Reza proved to be the crowd’s darling as he settled the matter in favour of Okri, and answered a question by asserting that the problem goes beyond Trump and had more to do with the American policy.
“Obama has murdered thousands and thousands of Pakistanis,” he said to the thundering applause of the audience. However, the talk ended on a pessimistic note, and when asked where the light at the end of the tunnel was, Reza laughingly responded, “well I hear death isn’t too bad.”
‘A MUCH MALIGNED MUSLIM MONSTER’
Historian Audrey Truschke sat down with F S Ajazuddin to discuss her book on the last great Mughal emperor, titled “Aurangzeb, The Man the Mystery.”
An illuminating conversation on a man greatly misunderstood, and misinterpreted by both his ardent supporters and vehement detractors, the discussion was a glimpse into the discourse that Truschke has engaged in regarding the puzzling life of an enigmatic ruler.
Describing him as “one of the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the 17th century,” Truschke in conversation with Ajazudin managed to touch upon a character who has caused great polarisation even in today’s subcontinent. The discussion brought to light the many nuances of the historical Aurangzeb, and the many myths surrounding the man.
The IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND
Moderated by Robert Worth, fiction writers Mohsin Hamid, Nadifa Mohammad, and Kaya Genc came together in a talk titled “Writing of Nationhood in an Age of Rage.”
The heavyweight fiction writing panel discussed at length how their fiction was affected by the ever-increasing globalisation of communities across the world, and the many different immigrant experiences that they went through and the adverse impact it has had on their writing.
With a panel consisting of a Somali immigrant to the UK, a Pakistani-American who has returned to Pakistan and a resident of Istanbul, a hospitable home to millions of Syrian refugees, the discussion proved to be an Afro-Asiatic take on immigration that is rarely seen.
Much removed from the popular American or European rhetoric surrounding immigration and its concerns, the panel focused on the issues of the immigrants themselves.
However, Mohsin Hamid did end on a hopeful note, labeling Pakistan’s continued existence a major achievement in immigration given the obstacles of identity crises that the country has had to face.
“Just that we aren’t actually openly at war and cutting each other down is enough of a milestone and something many others have not been able to manage,” he said.
RISKY JOKES UNPLUGGED
A hilarious change of pace, “Pushing the envelope” was different from the rest of the event as it was straight up stand-up comedy with no pretence of being any sort of a literary talk.
Shafaat Ali actually took a dig at the rest of the event, joking with the crowd that he “can tell what all these goras are going to talk about just by seeing their faces.”
The title “unplugged” for the session was aptly named as it was nothing more and nothing short of an entire hour of a stand-up routine sprinkled with some light self-promotion.
However, Shafaat maintained awareness throughout his bit and touched on many sensitive issues in the country. A long joke which represented the country as a marketplace and political parties as shops took a dangerous turn when he began describing the role of the ‘security guards’ in the market and the armed ‘strategic assets’ they used to do their bidding.
While his constant reminders to the crowd to not upload recordings on Facebook were said jokingly, there was a hint of being careful, an astute thing to do given the many disappearances of journalists in recent times. And as he said himself, “I have gotten into a difficult profession: joking about politics.”
The more morbid of the themes did not do much to dampen the mood, however, as Shafaat’s inclination to break out into song frequently kept things paced well and the crowd in stitches.
A DELIRIUM OF STORIES
Fans of Booker prize winner Ben Okri will have been especially pleased by the one on one session between him and Zareen Saeed, in which the writer talked about his latest work and the process of both reading and writing that he believes in.
An event for thorough lit-heads, Okri mentioned the art of reading slowly, and how the general measurement of intelligence by the pace of reading was something that reduced textual engagement between the reader and literature.
Zareen Saeed also brought up Okri’s “fictive philosophy” style of writing, which proved to be a praise (and a label) that Okri was reluctant to accept, but talked about nonetheless.
Carried forward from his earlier session was also the idea of “finding a new language.”
According to Okri, one of the needs of the time was to discover a new way of communication and to stop using overused terminology which has become redundant to the ears of changemakers.
Today’s event is expected to have an even higher attendance than Saturday, and talks involving Raza Aslal, Ziya Mohiyudin and a performance by band Laal are the main attraction.