- Baghdad Blues—the breakout session of the LLF
- Ziya Moheuddin wows crowd with Shakespeare
- Poets’ vivid imagery mesmerises crowd, panel
LAHORE: The Lahore Literary Festival concluded at Alhamra in resounding applause, as the day’s final two sessions swept crowds of literati into a zealous clambering for more of such events.
The first and final session of the event began and ended in Hall 1 of the cultural centre, in the honour of recently deceased lawyer and activist Asma Jehangir.
The first session of the day featured IA Rehman, Ahmed Rashid, Salima Hashmi and Asma’s two children Munizae Jehangir and Jilani Jehangir. The final session at Hall 1, too, was dedicated to the memory of Asma and featured the prominent leftist band Laal celebrating the life of Asma Jehangir with a new collection of Urdu and Punjabi poetry from their latest album Raang.
The weather had turned from the previous day to present those flocking to Alhamra with a pleasant day without much to toil in the sun. Without the sporadic rain that had been a sometimes charming and sometimes annoying feature of Saturday’s event, the crowds were much more easily able to enjoy the outdoor bethak adorned with colourful stools and pillows.
While the food stalls continued to lack the sort of excitement and variety that is coveted on such occasions, it was enough for sustenance and the numerous book stalls with the latest releases proved to be sizeable compensation.
It was a strange sort of experience where a person could buy a book outside a hall, go inside to listen to its author speak, and proceed to have their copy signed. But this remained the practice as authors Reza Aslan, Ben Okri, Audrey Truschkle and so many others interacted with and imparted advice to their many admirers.
Tight security carried forward from the first day of festivities as the roads adjacent to the venue remained sealed off and a large deployment of police stayed on premises throughout the event.
Other fascinating experiences included talks about literature, politics, history and poetry all taking place simultaneously. There were some complaints among the attendees, but even these were about them not being able to attend all of the sessions as they were taking place simultaneously.
THE INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS OF BLAMING SECTARIANISM:
It would not be a stretch to say that Baghdad Blues was the breakout session of the LLF.
At almost 4, 000 KM away from Lahore, one wonders what the current situation in Baghdad would have to do with the people of this city. One may wax and wane about regional stability and international terror networks, but there will still not be any link to the material realities of Lahore.
Yet the conversation between Sinan Antoon and Ghait Abdul Ahad flowed in such a way that the harrowing details of the realities of Baghdad and Mosul turned into lessons for Pakistan.
Discussing Sinan’s book ‘The Corpse Washer,’ the two moved about the topic of sectarianism. Both agreed that to blame the situation in Iraq on sectarianism was intellectual laziness, and was unappreciative of the many nuances of conflict.
Yet at the same time, there seemed to be great reluctance in blaming any one point, as it would continue to go backwards.
And while Sinan did say that the ‘original sin’ was Bush’s 2003 invasion of the country, it would be prudent to look at the imperial recklessness with which the invasion was conducted.
“If we go back far enough, you will see that while it had its own problems, there remains the fact that Christians were allowed to practice their religion during Islamic rule of Iraq, something which does not exist now,” said the Iraqi-Christian Sinan to thundering applause to conclude the session.
A POETRY RECITATION TO CHERISH:
Every year the LLF has a headline. Last year it was Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. This year it was Booker Prize winner Ben Okri. And while Okri has had some mesmerising session since Saturday, it was during the Poetry Slam in Hall 3 that he was truly in his element.
Moderated by Shaista Sirajjudin, the poetry recitation involving Okri, Salman T Qureshi, and Sinan Antoon shifted from the very political to the very personal and back as the raw energy of poetry old and new had the crowds tired from applause.
Sinan kicked things off with his poem translated from Arabic, “Postcard from hell.” The themes of this particular piece were carried forward as “The Poet” and “Dismemberment” both sent chills down the collective spine of the audience as they were transported to the dusty fields of battle in the Middle East.
After a surprisingly strong performance, Okri was not one to shy away, starting with his very political poetry such as “Liberty” and “Revolution.” It was at the request of Shaista and a crowd heckler that he also recited his “New dream of politics” and “Migration.”
The mood was shifted by Qureshi, who began with the five-part “Honour him,” written in memory of his late father. The vivid imagery of the orthodox poet caught the attention of the crowd and the panel.
Okri followed him by reciting some of his most personal work such as “My mother is sleeping.” It was in this that Okri’s free verse with elements of classic poetry truly shone as the crowd was transported from Nigeria to London in the space of a few verses, with Okri getting time to breathe only in between applause.
However, it was Sinan who upstaged his fellow panellists by reciting the harrowing and heart rendering poem titled “Heavy Heart.” It was indeed with heavy hearts and a desire to read more of the locally obscure Sinan that the audience exited the hall, after being privileged to hear some of the best contemporary poets duke it out in an often contentious and electrifying back and forth of poetry.
ZIYA MOHEUDDIN WOWS THE CROWD WITH SHAKESPEARE:
The crowds packed not only the chairs, but the stairs of Al Hamra’s hall 2 as they anxiously awaited the arrival of the great Ziya Moheuddin to for the longest session of the entire event, “Why is Shakespeare Shakespeare?”
The moments before the event began were often tense. There was bickering between literati over seats. There was shuffling as the organisers fretted over possible fire hazards or emergency situations. People were shut outside as the gates of the hall were closed, and all the while when the stage was being set, lighting, podium, microphone and all, for the arrival of Moheuddin.
But the ready to explode crowd all rallied to one when the man of the hour appeared on stage,
giving a standing ovation to the veteran theatre and film actor.
It was with a sense of wonder and privilege that those lucky enough to find seats, or even a place on the ground, allowed themselves to be transported from the hall of Alhamra to the globe as the master actor lay bare the wonders of Shakespeare.
The session was about “what makes Shakespeare so uniquely Shakespeare” in Moheuddin’s own words, as he began with lines from ‘As you Like It,’ before moving on to other plays, including Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet as well as a brilliant bit from The Merchant of Venice.
As one saw him performing so many roles in the two hours he occupied the stage, one could barely tell that this man with such seemingly endless energy was bordering on 90 years of age. The lines he chose and the performances he gave can be called nothing short of experience mixed with inspiration.
In his infinite Shakespearean wisdom, Moheuddin saved the unquestionable jewel in Shakespeare’s crown for last. His inspiring performance of many of Hamlet’s famous soliloquies was a bone-chilling experience, and perhaps the first such experience that many of those in the crowd were having.
The actor bowed out to another standing ovation and a literal showering of petals and praise. It was perhaps fitting that outside the hall gates, another sort of Shakespearean tragedy was taking place, one of those unable to see the great man in action.